A bold & brutal Bond

Craig revitalizes Bond franchise with gritty performance

Daniel Craig also played an assassin in 2005’s Munich.
Daniel Craig also played an assassin in 2005’s Munich.

Film Review: Casino Royale @ Empire Theatres—Capitol 7

The gritty, black and white opening of Casino Royale, the first James Bond movie in four years and the debut of Daniel Craig as Bond, makes it clear that this is not the 007 to which we are accustomed.

This is not the secret agent who relies on increasingly absurd gadgets or never misses a tired innuendo. This is novelist Ian Fleming’s original James Bond, earning his double-0 status with two kills. This is Bond as assassin, loner and anti-hero. Sean Connery played Bond with an aggressive masculinity that typified the ’60s, Roger Moore played him with ’70s camp and a wink to the camera, and, most recently, Pierce Brosnan played him as a caricature that was more Blue Steel/Le Tigre than deadly secret agent—not to lay blame on Brosnan, who was forced to work with heinously unoriginal scripts that approached self-parody.

But in Daniel Craig (Munich, Layer Cake), 007 has found a new face, or rather, reclaimed his old one. The first Bond novel, originally written in the turbulence of the Cold War, is adapted for the screen to our equally turbulent and uncertain times. Suitably, Craig plays Bond very close to Fleming’s dark and tortured description. In one scene, he washes his blood-soaked hands in whiskey, unflinchingly downs a glass and confronts his scarred, murderous reflection in the mirror.

Such glowering introspection along with a convincingly vicious demeanor makes Craig’s Bond arguably the best ever. Casino Royale puts Bond on the trail of villain Le Chiffre (Mads Mikkelson) through Madagascar, the Bahamas, Miami and finally to Montenegro. The classically exotic locales remain, but Le Chiffre, a banker to the world’s terrorists, is a far cry from madmen with space lasers bent on world domination.

In Montenegro, Bond battles Le Chiffre in an epic game of poker in order to bankrupt him and force him to turn in a government informant. Most of the movie revolves tensely around this game and the events surrounding it, but that is not to say there is a lack of action. Among other set-pieces, a chase scene through the slums of Madagascar uses free-running Parkour to create an explosively physical spectacle that rivals anything in previous 007 outings. With an emphasis on character, Craig’s aggressive Bond is compelling, and thankfully closer to Jason Bourne or Jack Bauer than to Austin Powers.

Daniel Craig is exceedingly strong in the role and does more than enough to silence those critical of his unconventional casting. He is surrounded by a very strong supporting cast: Judi Dench reprises
her role as acid-tongued boss M., while Eva Green gives Vesper Lynd layers of character and a wit to
match Bond’s own. A convincing love story between Bond and Lynd is at the heart of the story, far exceeding Bond’s usual misogynist conquests.

Director Martin Campbell (who introduced Brosnan as Bond in GoldenEye) takes full advantage of the fresh start. Campbell employs unconventional cinematography, lending an original, stylish feel to the film. Along with the black-and-white opening, Campbell’s direction shows a departure from formula and an effective new orientation for the franchise.

A riveting and fully engrossing film, Casino Royale leaves its audience with precious little to complain about. The acting and directing is top-notch and the script (polished by Paul Haggis of Crash and Million Dollar Baby fame) is intelligent, tense and well paced, with some scorching banter between Craig and Green.

The only weak spot is in the title theme, “You Know My Name” by Chris Cornell. Cornell provides an aggressive rock track that suits the film’s tone, but fails to produce the iconic feel of the best Bond
themes like Paul McCartney’s “Live and Let Die” or Shirley Bassey’s “Goldfinger.” This mediocre outing
is honestly the single letdown in what is overall a fantastic film.

Casino Royale unfolds tensely as Bond brutally fights, tenderly loves and is agonizingly tortured (in a scene that is guaranteed to make everyone in the theatre squirm). This Bond is human, not a superhero; he is still learning what it takes to be the best, making costly mistakes along the way that shape his character.

In a masterstroke, the classic Bond theme is withheld, with only hints of it throughout the movie, until the finale, when Daniel Craig convincingly and assertively becomes “Bond. James Bond.”

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