Casino Royale (2006)

Bond. James Bond.

I would’ve liked to have written this review a week ago with the new Bond film, Skyfall.  I went and saw Skyfall opening day, but this review is not about Skyfall, it’s about Daniel Craig’s first Bond film, Casino Royale.

One other Bond film, Goldfinger, is part of the 501 must see movies, but since I don’t own it, it will probably be a while before I review it.

Over the past few years I’ve made it a point to watch all of the Bond films, as I’ve seen bits and pieces of a few of them, and never did watch them over Thanksgiving on TNT as is customary in some households.

The franchise had finished with Pierce Brosnan in 2002 with arguably the worst Bond film of them all, Die Another Day, and needed a fresh start.  What better way to make a fresh start than go back to a younger, rougher Pre-Dr. No Bond.  While the franchise seemed to be sputtering with weaker stories, Casino Royale renewed interest and brought Bond into the 21st Century.  Just as a note: I think Pierce Brosnan did a lot of damage to Bond, though a good deal of that probably falls on the writers and the weak stories they wrote.  He’s easily my least favorite Bond, but I digress.

The choice for the new Bond is the all-important decision that could’ve made or broken the franchise’s return.  Daniel Craig does a lot with this role, and I especially liked the raw and at times immature and inexperienced spy.  In a way it humanizes him as more than a martini-drinking womanizer who’s also a great spy.  I thought the next movie, Quantum of Solace, left a lot to be desired and they seemed to linger in Bond’s youth and inexperience a little too much for my liking.  However, this review isn’t about that, so I won’t venture much into that film.

Scrolling through his filmography on IMDB, only 3 movies pop out, Elizabeth, Road to Perdition, and Munich.  Casting his in a role as big as Bond was an incredible risk, but luckily a good script, good action, and a well-balanced cast all play important roles in Casino Royale’s success.

James Bond, having just been elevated to the rank of ‘OO’ status at MI6, takes his first mission after killing a mole within MI6 and one of his contacts.  Using black and white in the opening scene where Bond gets his first kill adds so much.  It makes the scene stand out, and basic format in a way reflects Bond’s youth as a spy.

One of the things that makes for a good Bond film is the chase scene.  They do a great job with the one in Uganda, and Bond shows his youth in getting caught, pictured, and published executing a low-level member in the group MI6 is trying to take down.  One of the few things that has bothered me about Daniel Craig’s Bond is his run.  I like to call it the “Craig Run,” and I cringe a little whenever I see it.  It’s something that is unique to him as far as I know.

I realize Judi Dench is older than when the Brosnan films were out, but it took a little adjusting to her ‘M’ being older during an earlier time in Bond’s career.  I think she does great at anchoring and acting as a voice of reason and moral center for Bond.

I found Eva Green to be an acting delight, an have been disappointed that she hasn’t had very much more note-worthy performances since Casino Royale.  She, as with Craig, progress and carry the weight of going from guarded people to falling in love, which if In His Majestry’s Secret Service was any indication, does not fare well for the lady.  While I did like some of the callbacks in Quantum of Solace to Bond’s relationship with Vesper ,something central to Bond film sis the fact that they stand on their own.  With Casino and Quantum, it’s more like a two-part rather than stand alone.  Nevertheless, it was good to have resolution with Vesper’s character by the end of Quantum.

Le Chiffre, though not the big fish villain of the film, works.  He’s not the greatest villain, and I’d probably put him more middle of the road as far as Bond villains are concerned.  He does a good job of being at least somewhat heartless, but I found him at times to be more desperate than anything else, especially when he’s torturing Bond.

One minor character that I enjoyed was Mathis. Giancarlo Giannini does a good job performing here, though personally I found him one of the few true good spots of Quantum.  His role in the next film is very limited, but adds so much to Bond’s character as a sounding board and voice of wisdom as Bond remains tormented with what happened in Casino Royale.

Visually this movie was very good, and pushed the envelope well without going too over the top (Roger Moore?).  Realism in film is something I find engaging and enjoyable.  When ideas start to get to far away from reality, in this type of film at least, it becomes less enjoyable for me.  The torture scene, and especially the dialogue between Bond and Le Chiffre, was hilarious.  It’s a good representation of Bond’s playfulness while remaining competent as a spy.

An interesting side note: in the car flip scene before Bond and Vesper are tortured, Bond’s car flipped enough times to break the world record.

Having watched all 3 Daniel Craig Bond films, I feel like one of the major themes in his story arch has been redemption.  With Bond as a young and somewhat inexperienced spy at this point, he tends to fall for things that older Bond’s don’t.  The way he misjudges people, especially in Casino Royale, and learning from his mistakes so they wouldn’t be repeated.  He remains polished, but still self-aware that he doesn’t always do the best or right thing.

The 501 must-see movies book proclaims at the end of their description of the film, “Best Bond since the 70’s.”  I am almost in agreement with this, though personally I think Timothy Dalton is the most underrated Bond of them all, and at least after Craig’s 3 films is a solid 3rd-best Bond behind Connery and Craig.

I have watched Casino Royale a number of times already, and it will remain one that I can watch every year or two and find entertaining and enjoyable.  For those who have been disappointed with the direction Bond had been taken with Craig’s predecessor, this movie resets the franchise and helps them move forward while keeping elements essential for James Bond.

My Rating: 4.5 out of 5 stars

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