Review: Casino Royale (2006)

Casino Royale (2006) 10/10
James Bond (Daniel Craig), newly Casino Royale Posterpromoted to 00 status, follows a trail of clues and bodies to LeChiffre (Mads Mikkelsen), banker to the world’s terrorists. LeChiffre has bungled investments using terrorist money, and now he needs to win big at a high-stakes poker game at Casino Royale in Montenegro. LeChiffre is known as a math genius and a brilliant gambler, so M (Judi Dench) sends in Bond—the best card player in the service. Accompanying Bond is treasury agent Vesper Lynd (Eva Green), there to keep an eye on the money.

Wow.

Casino Royale is a masterful movie. Not so much “Bond is back,” but a fantasy of Bond coming back that the movies have never truly fulfilled. Not since, oh, say, 1967 has there been so much power behind Bond’s punch.

It’s a dark movie, and will displease the fans pining for Roger Moore’s return. There is exactly one classic-Bond-style quip in the film, and Bond utters it at his own expense. There’s another moment which seemed to cry out for a death quip, and Bond is resolutely silent.

In many ways the movie is flawless. Any complaints I have are nit-picking. Yes, some plot points were confusing. Yes, the product placement was egregious; Bond wasn’t served by having Sony buy MGM, and apparently the right to have every MGM character use lots and lots of Sony cell phones and laptops. Lots. And lots. And yes, the change to the gunbarrel is imperfect. But these are tiny, tiny flaws.

This is truly James Bond as fans want him, as Fleming saw him; blunt, hard, yet vulnerable. Capable of love, capable of killing, and feeling the effects of both. That director Martin Campbell and the producers have managed to package that Bond in a way that the general movie-going public will love is sheer genius.

Craig has an un-lovely face that manages to be appealing, and a naked body that will make women in the audience forget his face. This is a very sexy movie, although a monogamous one. Interesting, isn’t it? Because the last time we saw a hard, edgy Bond was Dalton, and fans complained about his monogamy.* I don’t think fans will complain this time.

The movement and scenery is fantastic. My Bahamas trip really paid off; we spent a lot of time at the Ocean Club, as well as at the Bahamanian Defense (Bureau? Ministry? Thingy) where the running stunt stuff was filmed. The Bahamas are suffused in sunlight, Venice is run-down and interesting rather than touristy lovely, and Montenegro is gorgeous. We also visit Prague, Miami, and I forget where the running sequence is supposedly taking place…it was filmed in the Bahamas.

I have to see it again and take notes, dammit.

Speaking of running, I’ve never seen a “special running stunts” film credit before, but boy did Sebastien Foucan prove his worth. The post-credits chase sequence is fantastic.

So, what’s in this movie? Real espionage, like fans have been begging for. Bond follows one clue to the next and learns from spying, rather than having the villain just give it away. A team behind him; MI6 pulls through for Bond when he needs it, so we don’t see him as a superman. Beautiful women. Caterina Murino makes her brief appearance as Solange worth the price of admission, and Eva Green is a fascinating Vesper. She is snooty and aloof, yet fearful and sweet. She is Fleming’s “bird with a wing down” and we know that Bond will fall for her. There’s a scene in the shower as emotional and touching as anything that has ever been in a Bond film, and it’s that scene, I think, that really sold me that Craig could do it all. Up until then we’d seen the brains, the brutal action, the arrogance, but his own feelings showed here and it was beautiful.

The action is unbelievable. Killer “running stunts.” An amazing chase at an airport. Brutal fights in Prague and in Montenegro. Torture. A building collapse. I mean, you can’t imagine that this is a scaled-down film from that description, but these huge sequences are immediate and real.

And as the credits rolled, the audience burst into applause. The whole sold-out house.

*Trivia time: Dalton’s Bond actually slept with two women in each of his two movies. The only monogamous Bond movie prior to Casino Royale was Diamonds Are Forever. Yes, Connery was the monogamous one!

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