Review: ‘Casino Royale’ (2006)

Daniel Craig tries to bring everything to James Bond that Timothy Dalton failed to do: put the cold-blooded assassin back into 007. With a superior script, exotic locations, and the forethought of going back to the beginning, Bond is back and closer to his literary counterpart than ever.

As a newly appointed 007, James Bond (Daniel Craig) oversteps his bounds and lets his ego get the better of him. With the British government asking for someone’s head and Bond’s boss M (Judy Dench) seriously considering it, Bond does what Bond does best and plays his hunch. Everything points back to a financier named Le Chiffre (Mads Mikkelsen), a man being targeted by his terrorist customers for losing blood money he was entrusted with (thanks again to Bond). In a chance to save his own neck, Le Chiffre arranges an invitation-only 10-player card game with a pot big enough to cover his losses, but only if Le Chiffre can win it all. Bond gets into the game with the chance to put the financier out of business for good, but can a green 007 keep his mind on business with a good-hearted temptress named Vesper Lynd (Eva Green) distracting him?

Call it Bond 2.0 if you like, but director Martin Campbell (who also directed Pierce Brosnan’s installation as Bond in Goldeneye) proves the naysayers wrong with a sophisticated, intellectual, athletic, and yet (dare I use the word?) vulnerable James Bond. Actor Daniel Craig not only demonstrates what Bond can do but also what it takes to do it. For the first time, we see Bond sweat and working things out, not enough to make him seem entirely human or as mortal as us, but enough to identify with the character.

This feels more like the Bond whispered about by Europeans as “the Bond in the books,” the steely blue-eyed assassin who treats women disposably before killing a few men for breakfast. Casino Royale also features the Bond that Sir Sean Connery, Roger Moore, nor Pierce Brosnan ever got to play, a 007 still working out what it really means to have a license to kill. Unless a major change in the character is about to take place, Daniel Craig’s Bond should never fall this hard for the love of a woman again, but each film afterward can still reflect upon it.

Craig’s Bond mixes subtle vulnerability with cold determination but with only a hint of the infamous smugness both Moore and later Brosnan brought to 007. Connery’s Bond was always about the mission but never vulnerable, and while the later Bonds had to get their game face on, Connery was always believably ready to kill, never smug so much as he was glib. What Craig brings to the role is intensity, the kind promised by Timothy Dalton’s Bond but ultimately undermined with lackluster plots about drug dealers and impotent villains. Craig communicates Bond with subtle expression and few words, a man that other men instantly recognize as dangerous like a true lone wolf. So with Dalton’s wolfish intensity, Connery’s glib believability, and only a twitch of Moore’s whimsy, meet your new Mr. Kiss Kiss Bang Bang.

Action sequence, breather, more action, breather, action again, breather, and even bigger action, Martin Campbell knows how to craft the ups and downs of pacing a thriller, so even general audiences should be thrilled. On that note, however, the film edit also plays the audience later in the film, which is about the only bad thing that can be said about it. But that’s okay, because the script also hints at a mysterious but loose laundry list of terrorists that Le Chiffre works for. Isn’t it time for a sophisticated criminal organization to rear its ugly head, something more than a tired al-Qaeda or neo-Nazi threat, a old-remade-new organization like SPECTRE (SPecial Executive for Counter-intelligence, Terrorism, Revenge and Extortion) whose sole credo is “chaos for fun and profit?” Here’s hoping!

(a three and a half skull recommendation out of four)


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