Review: 'Casino Royale' (2006) Dir. Martin Campbell
Rebooting the franchise after 'Die Another Day', James Bond returned as a new 00-agent facing new enemies in a far more dangerous, real world...
Newly promoted MI6 00-Agent James Bond (Craig) tackles his first assignment in Madagascar to apprehend a suspected bomb maker, which upon investigation leads him to the shady character of Le Chiffre (Mikkelsen), a banker and terrorist financer.
Bond’s reckless and unorthodox methods out in the field cause concern for his boss, M (Dench). After foiling yet another attack under Le Chiffre’s orders at Miami International Airport, 00 is assigned to attend a high-stakes poker game at the Casino Royale in Montenegro, set up by Le Chiffre to recoup the money he has lost as a matter of urgency.
With the aid of the beautiful MI6 Treasury agent Vesper Lynd (Green) and field contact René Mathis (Giannini), Bond must use all his skill with the cards as well as his MI6 training to survive the life-threatening poker game as he turns up the heat under Le Chiffre...
This film grabs the lazy, self-indulgent and stale run of the latter Pierce Brosnan-era James Bond films, turns it upside down, shakes it violently, pushes it around a little, knees it in the face, throws it down a flight of stairs and kicks it in the head before setting it back down ready to tackle a new era of action/spy film and the new era of James Bond film. ‘Casino Royale’ goes back to the roots of the character created by Ian Fleming in his debut novel and reenergises the franchise for the first time in over 40 years (which is a damn good run before a franchise starts to lose steam!), and re-invents the legend for a whole new generation of old and new fans like nothing seen before. It’s James Bond, but not as we know it.
I’ve reviewed this film since 2006 numerous times on the initial watching and re-visiting, but thankfully after the initial buzz of being “the best Bond ever!”, it was a welcome feeling to have and understandable to think the franchise had been saved from dying out thanks to the focused film-makers on board and the exceptional cast, especially Daniel Craig, who overcame great adversity to tackle the most important role in cinema and his career; the debut of a new James Bond. If anything, he can be compared to the 4th 007 actor Timothy Dalton who harnessed the Fleming-vibe of marking Bond darker and more dangerous in 1987’s ‘The Living Daylights’ and 1989’s ‘Licence To Kill’.
With sparse CGI, ‘Casino Royale’ takes things down a notch from the chaotic a ‘Die Another Day’ to give us real stunt-work, real sets and and a gritty, darker story akin to the Cold War-era of espionage Ian Fleming wrote about in the 50s.
This interpretation of 007 is more faithful in that he is more human than we have seen before. He feels, he bleeds, he acts. He makes mistakes and rash decisions, but these are all important to the new take on the character and his development into the secret agent we all know and love.
It’s almost a wonderfully fresh prequel to an established character given to us in 1962 via Sean Connery, but at the expense of over-looking the change of actor in the title role, it’s wonderful to see. Craig makes Bond his own; there are no nods to previous portrayals and the amount of emotional and physical stress he puts himself through is remarkable to see in making this James Bond more relevant and real in the 21st century of realistic action films.,
The mainstream introduction of Eva Green gives her the screen time and platform she deserves as a good actress capable of equalling her male co-stars in terms of sexuality, dominance and assertiveness. Yes her voice may grate some viewers as it seems it will soon just give up on her, but as a modern day Bond girl she looks the part with sex appeal and that crack of fragility that is crucial to the sub-plot between her and Bond and makes her one of the most memorable and important Bond girls in the current series.
Our other co-stars do a sterling job with their roles, thankfully avoiding the Bond clichés of good and bad, and rather coming across as people simply trying to do their job in a dangerous world where lines are always blurred between the heroes and villains. And while our main villain Le Chiffre, the wonderfully sly Mads Mikkelsen, may not be the egotistical, world dominating psychopath of the golden era of Bond films, but that flamboyance has gone, and it’s refreshing to see a villain dressed in immaculate suits with a subtle but effective physical defect.
He’s a villain who could easily hold power in everyday society playing with stocks and shares for his own evil gain. And his bubbling frustration is excellent to see as he goes up against Bond in the Casino Royale poker game which offers a real sense of the Fleming novels come to life with a confrontation depending on hero and villain out-smarting and out-thinking each other without guns, bombs or explosions – it’s all about the power of the mind and who can hold their nerve the most in a well-paced and engrossing middle act.
And what is also good is that we are given room to breathe in the action sequences and globe-trotting as a whole. We actually see the nerve-shredding stunt work and the brutal fight scenes with camera and editing work that doesn’t cause headaches like more recent films tend to do with “shaky cam” and “super-fast editing” that moves so fast you can’t keep up. This is a visual treat to see something made so well that we can actually feel, wince and cheer at and take in the passion and detail put into making it look and feel so real in the exotic locations that deserve their screen time.
But I am going on – all the above mixed with a faithful orchestral soundtrack that blends old and new themes thanks to veteran composer David Arnold delivers a faithful adaptation of ‘Casino Royale’ but mixed up and presented to win back old fans and lure in new to show nobody really does it better at action films like James Bond. The exotic locations, the beautiful girls, the evil villains, the technology, the action and dry humour; it’s all here, just not shovelled on you to meet your expectations. You need to think a little more and follow a carefully laid story as this film treats you like you’re watching Bond for the first time rather than assume you’re just going to love it no matter what.
EON had a very risky chance to take re-introducing James Bond after such a lull in 2002, and while the story is quite intense in parts and it does run 20 minutes longer than it could do due to padding out the character relationships to set up the finale, it still delivers more than you could ever wish for a series over 40 years old.
A relevant, exciting and very modern James Bond film that removes the weaknesses from the past and aims to go higher, bigger and better than ever before.
'Casino Royale' is an EON Productions production