Casino Royale: Bond Begins

The departure of Pierce Brosnan and the introduction of Daniel Craig made it possible to begin anew. This film is based on Ian Fleming’s first novel about James Bond and the filmmakers want to give us a fresh vision of the superspy but not one that completely ignores what preceded it. It’s up to director Martin Campbell to do that, and he delivers, just like he did with Brosnan’s first Bond flick, GoldenEye (1995). Perhaps it’s time for Campbell to consider directing more films in this series?

Nr. 21 opens not with Bond facing the barrel of a gun, unorthodoxly enough. The opening sequence is also in black-and-white. We see the young agent make his second kill, a move that elevates him to double-O status, even though M (Judi Dench) has her doubts about him. Bond’s first mission as 007 leads him on a terrorist hunt to Madagascar, a job that goes terribly wrong, but M soon puts him up against Le Chiffre (Mads Mikkelsen), a banker with the ability to cry blood (no, really). Le Chiffre finances terrorism and MI6 hopes to cheat him out of roughly $115 million he intends to win in a poker game in Montenegro. The problem? Should Bond fail, the British government will have directly sponsored terrorism. Along for the ride is Vesper Lynd (Eva Green), an accountant who supplies Bond with the government money for the game. It begins, but the stakes are much higher than Bond can ever imagine.

Craig makes you root for him
Agent 007 has always been a misogynist and this film tells us why. It gives us a peek into his dark soul and it feels like the happy days of Roger Moore are long gone. Is that a good thing? Well, yes, kind of. Gadgets and a sense of humor are mainstays of the Bond films, even the ones with Sean Connery, but sometimes there’s been too much of that. Not a problem here, but I suspect that will change again in future entries. The tone is pretty cold; this is a violent, tough film and no one embodies that clearer than Craig. He’s as humorless as Timothy Dalton, but unlike him Craig actually manages to make you root for him. Something happens during the film and by the time he utters those famous words (“Bond… James Bond”) and the end credits begin to roll, you will have accepted him. Green and Mikkelsen are both fine as the girl and the bad guy, but they don’t really bring anything new to these stereotypes. The action sequences are not spectacular per se, but spectacularly well made. There’s a terrific scene where Bond chases a terrorist on foot; the bad guy is played by a famous free runner and the experience is exhilarating. There’s also a long sequence involving a tank truck that keeps you on the edge of your seat… Even the poker game is exciting, which is very unusual in movies. Still, there’s no reason why this should be the longest Bond flick in history, but it is.

This is a reinvention of Bond in the same vein as Christopher Nolan’s reimagining of Batman last year. I love it, but this kind of film is not why I fell in love with the James Bond series. The filmmakers need to move closer to the spirit of the other films in the next entry, but they must avoid the temptation of going too far. It’s a delicate balance.

Casino Royale 2006-U.S.-Britain-Germany-Czech Republic. 144 min. Color. Widescreen. Produced by Michael G. Wilson, Barbara Broccoli. Directed by Martin Campbell. Novel: Ian Fleming. Song: “You Know My Name” (performed by Chris Cornell). Cast: Daniel Craig (James Bond), Eva Green (Vesper Lynd), Mads Mikkelsen (Le Chiffre), Judi Dench, Jeffrey Wright, Giancarlo Giannini.

Trivia: The 1967 Bond spoof with the same title is a version of the Fleming novel, but bears very little resemblance to this film. Followed by Quantum of Solace (2008).

BAFTA: Best Sound.

Last word: “Bond in ‘Goldeneye’ is pretty much a set character. To be honest, he’s another version of Connery and Connery was terrific. How many submarines can you blow up? How many control rooms are evaporating? The point about this story is that he’s much more human in this than the other ones. That’s going back to the basics of the book and that was sort of interesting for me.” (Campbell, MovieWeb)

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