The Reeler


November 17, 2006

Casino Royale

Daniel Craig brings freshness to Bond franchise; the script, unfortunately, does not

Less a true origin story than a fresh start, Casino Royale, the 21st official James Bond picture, provides only the most superficial attempts to deconstruct its perpetually youthful hero. With just a couple of dialogue tweaks and a few scene trims, this could be any other James Bond adventure, albeit an unusually stylish and highly entertaining one. Any sense that "this is how it began" really comes from Daniel Craig, who makes a distinct impression distancing himself from his predecessors and bringing a freshness to the character even when the material does not.

After the franchise's requisite pre-credits sequence (Bond earns his double-O status with his first two kills), director Martin Campell starts the movie off and running -- literally -- with a dynamic foot chase through a Ugandan construction site. Whom Bond is after and why is neither clear nor important -- for more than 40 years, the series has had a knack for constructing plots so convoluted it's practically in the audience's interest to not pay attention to them -- but the sequence, utilizing the Parkour technique where practitioners incorporate their environment into their movements to maintain a high rate of speed, is exciting enough to leave audiences' palms sweaty. As Craig's Bond leaps through the air, conducts a fistfight atop a crane perched hundreds off feet of the ground, and takes on an entire embassy of angry soldiers, it's clear that whatever lip service will be paid throughout the movie to "explaining" James Bond, he's already basically the greatest spy in the history of the universe before the movie even begins.

What mythmaking goes on belongs entirely to Craig, who broods where other Bonds would quip, scowls where they might wink, prowls where they strut. His abs may be sculpted but his 007's personality is not, and though you could argue that is as much the result of a deficient screenplay (by frequent Bond writers Neal Purvis and Robert Wade with, of all people, Million Dollar Baby and Crash author Paul Haggis) rather than an intended air of mystery, Craig's inscrutable poker face proves the filmmakers knew what they were doing when they cast him.

Regardless of what Casino Royale's advertising wants you to believe, a darker, more sensitive Bond is not particularly new. George Lazenby tried it way back in 1969's On Her Majesty's Secret Service; we know how well that worked out for him. Timothy Dalton's Bond was a hopelessly wounded romantic, particularly in the underrated The Living Daylights (1987). But what Craig and Campbell, along with longtime producers Barbara Broccoli and Michael G. Wilson, have done that earlier filmmakers did not is make the character physically and emotionally vulnerable. One of the few revelatory scenes is one of the quietest, showing Bond doing something he's truly never done before: bled. The previously impervious hero is shown after a particularly nasty fight cleaning his wounds and steadying himself with alcohol, suggesting a private, haunted personality behind the witty lines and braggadocio.

Still, those moments are rare in a film that remains dedicated to enormous set pieces and globe-trotting adventure. In this case, Bond is on the trail of a black market financier named Le Chiffre (Mads Mikkelsen) trying to recoup losses in the stock market (losses caused by Bond, mind you) by setting up a high stakes poker game at Montenegro's Casino Royale. Young Bond, MI6's best poker player, buys in to beat Le Chiffre at his own game; Eva Green's Vesper Lynd is the treasury agent assigned to keep an eye on the government's money while wearing slinky outfits. For the first time in 15 years, much of the plot actually comes from an Ian Fleming novel -- appropriately, his first -- though there are plenty of changes, including the fact that Le Chiffre and Bond now battle over Texas Hold 'Em rather than baccarat -- a game no one in Bond's 2006 audience even knows how to spell, let alone how to play.

Despite its best efforts, Casino Royale can't shake the feeling that it's just another Bond film, which is both a good and a bad thing. Like a lot of Bond movies, it's way too long (nearly two-and-a-half hours), and its plot hinges on Bond and the villain hanging out together when they should be trying to kill each other. And like a lot of Bond movies, it's a handsomely mounted, mostly effective entertainment. It rocks the boat, but gently, and leaves viewers neither shaken nor stirred.

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Comments (1)

Daniel is the greatest James bond
He is cute, handsome, hot, feels like just lay back n dream of him...
The actresses r great.
I have never seen any beautiful as eva green
each n every inch of hereself, of her look is unique...
When looking at eva Green n Daniel green, i wonder if i am still on the planet earth...

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