5 of 5 stars
Casino Royale was back to the basics for Bond, in more ways than one. After 2002’s Die Another Day had Bond driving an invisible car, escaping from a freakin’ laser beam from outer space and surfing on crummy CGI waves, the series had reached a level of ridiculousness not seen since the Roger Moore era. Hell, some Bond fans actually have a theory Die Another Day took place entirely in Bond’s mind while he was drugged up and tortured in a North Korean prison. The stress he experienced during his 14 months of captivity turned his hair light, and he comes out with a harder demeanor and stripped of his double-oh status, which brings us to Casino Royale.
Casino Royale lets us know off the bat this won’t be a typical Bond film. It doesn’t open with the signature gun barrel sequence, but instead weaves the gun barrel sequence into the story leading into the opening credits. The audience doesn’t know what to expect.
We’re then treated to the best opening credits sequence in the series. Gone are the silhouettes of naked women feeling the air, or whatever they were doing here…
and in their place is bold animation making great use of the card game theme as gunshot wounds look like clubs, veins open and bleed spades, and bad guys are cut down into diamond shapes while Chris Cornell’s raw voice screams over electric guitars and an orchestra.
After Bond (Daniel Craig) gains his double-oh status (or regains it, if you’re into fan theories and believe this is a sequel to Die Another Day rather than a reboot of the series), he’s off to Madagascar to bring in a bomb maker (played by the incredible Parkour athlete Sebastien Foucan). The bomb maker realizes Bond’s onto him and runs. Bond chases on foot through a construction site in the series’s best set piece since the ski chase in On Her Majesty’s Secret Service. Bond follows the bad buy into an embassy, but once the embassy’s security has Bond cornered, he realizes he’s not going to be able to take his target alive, and shoots him instead.
Bond explains his rash decision to his boss, M (Judi Dench), ‘I thought one less bomb maker in the world would be a good thing.’
M flippantly responds:
‘Exactly. One bomb maker. We’re trying to figure out how an entire network of terrorist groups is financed and you give us one bomb maker. Hardly the big picture, wouldn’t you say?’
Craig’s Bond is not the cool, level-headed provocateur from The Living Daylights, where Dalton’s 007 makes a split-second decision to deliberately miss an assassin he was assigned to shoot. He’s not the suave spy from Goldfinger who can peel off a wetsuit to reveal a neatly pressed tuxedo and Connery’s perfect toupee. Craig’s Bond is a hot-headed brute who makes mistakes, sweats and bleeds. Craig plays the character with a depth we haven’t seen before. We get the feeling Craig understands the character, and reveals something in every one of his subdued facial expressions, especially during his sharp banter with femme fatale Vesper Lynd (Eva Green).
The plot is updated from Ian Fleming’s 1953 novel, already adapted for the small screen in 1954 and big screen in 1967. Bond begins to close in on the elusive terrorist network the bomb maker was associated with. He traces a cryptic text massage from the bomb maker’s cell phone to another bad guy, Dimitrios, who he manages to kill before he can learn much. Bond does foil Dimitrios’s planned terrorist attack on an a Skyfleet plane in Miami, but kills Dimitrios’s man in the process. Dimitrios’s only known associate who’s still alive after Bond’s through is a private banker named Le Chiffre (Mads Mikkelsen). Le Chiffre had been speculating on the stock market using his Malian clients’ money. He had shorted Skyfleet stock and then worked with Dimitrios to plan a terrorist attack on the airline’s prototype to cause the stock to crash so he could make millions. Instead, after Bond thwarted the attack, Le Chiffre’s puts expire and he’s wiped out. He plans to recover the money by playing a high-stakes poker game at Casino Royale in Montenegro (another location beginning with an M—I think I see a motif). It has already been established Le Chiffre is something of a genius with numbers, which gives him an edge at card games. As Bond is the best card player in the service, he’s assigned to compete against Le Chiffre in the hopes of preventing him from regaining his lost funds and forcing him to seek protection from Bond’s employer, MI6, which they’ll grant in return for Le Chiffre spilling the beans on his clients.
My only real criticism of the film is the editing in the poker sequence. The filmmakers wisely decided to break up the poker game with action scenes instead of subjecting the audience to a 30-minute poker scene. But I found this sequence a little hard to follow. There are times when the players sit down for another round, and then there’s a cut to the players breaking. At one point 007 returns to the game with nothing, then there’s a jump cut showing Bond with a large pile of chips in front of him. You don’t really get a sense of time passing, and I found it rather confusing.
The rest of the film is masterfully executed. At one point Bond decides to plant a tracking device on Le Chiffre. He does this by placing the bug inside Le Chiffre’s inhaler. We’re shown Le Chiffre using this inhaler a couple times earlier in the film, so the audience isn’t expected to suddenly accept Le Chiffre uses an inhaler, like some lesser films might attempt. We then see Le Chiffre walking off with the inhaler in the background of the following shot. There is also real chemistry between Craig and Green, which makes the romance between them one of the most believable in the series. When Bond tells Vesper, ‘I have no armour left. You’ve stripped it from me. Whatever is left of me—whatever is left of me—whatever I am—I’m yours,’ we believe these characters and actually care about them. We feel for Bond when he learns the hard way to see “the big picture.”
I originally thought there was some irony intended in Bond’s drink order during the game. He orders a dry martini with the following instructions: ‘Three measures of Gordon’s, one of vodka, half a measure of Kina Lillet. Shake it over ice and add a thin slice of lemon peel.’ I thought, Bond just ordered the drink Europeans call a Vesper, maybe he is subconsciously in love with her already. Further research revealed the drink was introduced in Fleming’s original novel, so no irony was intended.
Casino Royale is the best Bond since the early Connery films. It leaves fans with a promise the character will be in capable hands with Daniel Craig.