BIG THUMBS UP FILM REVIEW RATING!
How did James Bond become a "00" agent? What makes him so good at his job and so distant to the beautiful women he often encounters? Wrap your mind around those questions and then go and see director Martin Campbell’s latest Bond flick, CASINO ROYALE. That someone could pull off such a fantastic film whilst giving us the Bond-background is something of a marvel. Leave aside (for the moment) that Daniel Craig isn’t as debonair as previous Bonds, and you just may enjoy Casino Royale on a level never before seen.
It’s simply a fact that Craig isn’t the dashing, clean-cut, and uppity Bond audiences have come to expect. He’s rougher, tougher, and a bit naive. He loves instead of lusts. He learns to kill with a conscious (in the beginning), but still delivers pithy lines ("That last hand nearly killed me.")
The question of James Bond’s beginnings have always been in question and Casino Royale gives them to us while also delivering the action, a few gadgets, a kick-butt automobile, and the curvaceous women we expect.
Director Martin Campbell first cut his teeth on a Bond film with GOLDEN EYE in 1995, so he knows the lay of the land. He also went on to direct the stylish THE MASK OF ZORRO in 1998. From there his repertoire stammers with several duds, but came back in fine fashion with this year’s Casino Royale.
From the opening credits with its flashy and somewhat retro poker card graphics, to the black-and-white film stock beginning, audiences immediately realize they’re in for something special. We quickly watch Bond make his first two kills, granting him access to his 007 status. Then we get to see him nearly ruin his career by causing an international crisis. From here he’s sent on hiatus by M (Judi Dench, MRS. HENDERSON PRESENTS) to get his head together. But of course Bond never lets go of an assignment until it’s finished. Continuing his international crisis across borders, he travels to a tropical island where he meets up with terrorists who are trying to advance their causes by selling bomb-making material. He meets up with one of the racketeers’ wives in true Bond fashion. But the British Secret Service have their eyes on him and quickly find out what he’s up to. They are forced to go along with Bond’s plans to enter into a high-stakes poker game with the evil Le Chiffre (Mads Mikkelsen, EXIT), a facially scarred and blood weeping villain who recently lost a ton of money because of Bond’s interference in his "business". If Le Chiffre wins the $120 million game, he’ll have enough money to get back into supporting bombers and bomb-makers.
Bond also happens to be The Service’s best card player, but he has to convince the penny pinchers of the British government that he’s got a good chance of winning or they’ll refuse to back him (if Bond loses the British will, in effect, be sponsoring terrorism). Enter Vesper Lynd (Eva Green, KINGDOM OF HEAVEN), a government finance agent who agrees to give James Bond the money to enter the tournament. As the cards fall, so does Bond’s chances. As all appears hopeless, Bond wins the tournament, thus crushing Le Chiffre’s chances at re-entering terrorist haven, and threatening his very existence because he’s lost all of his financing given to him by the dark forces of the world (they’ll obviously want their money back at some point and now Le Chiffre is broke). Obviously Le Chiffre is none to happy about Bond winning and kidnaps him and Vesper.
By now Bond has grown very fond of Vesper and they form a relationship unheard of in terms of Bondom. He confesses his love for her and eventually (after a dizzying and testicularly funny escape from the clutches of death), agrees to leave the Queen’s Service in order to live a life of love and happiness with her. But all Bond fans know this cannot be. A sense of terrible foreboding grips the film as Bond learns the true nature of Vesper.
It’s wonderful to see how all of this effects James Bond and how it coalesces to help form the Ian Fleming character we’ve all grown up with. Vesper, through Bond’s love of her and her betrayal of him, helps turn James into the tough-loving, womanizer we all know. This betrayal also lets us see why James Bond doesn’t trust anyone and prefers to work solo.
So Daniel Craig being a bit rougher around the edges in appearance actually fit the script nicely. He is rougher. He is tougher. And he is the precursor to the Bond we’ve come to enjoy.
(Note: Caution to all those who get this when it comes out on DVD. There is another comedy film entitled CASINO ROYALE starring David Niven, so make sure you’re aware of which is which.)