Casino Royale

Casino Royale

Casino Royale

directed by Martin Campbell

starring Daniel Craig, Eva Green, Judi Dench, Mads Mikkelsen

MGM / Columbia

When it came time for creating and casting a new 007 flick, producers must have had quite a dilemma on their hands. With Pierce Brosnan gone and Connery untouchable, who to reasonably emulate? The debonair, tongue-in-cheek Bond, Roger Moore? The dry-witted, intellectual Bond, Timothy Dalton? The sleek, sophisticated Bond, Mr. Brosnan? Or the ruggedly dashing, forgotten Bond, George Lazenby?

To their credit, they chose none of the above, electing instead to clean the slate. A fresh approach was needed for Casino Royale, and is delivered in spades in the form of British actor Daniel Craig (Munich). Craig’s Bond is a rough-and-tumble, brutal bastard with a McQueen-like mug and Newman-rivaling blue eyes, a quietly determined but fallible killer with some serious character flaws. Unlike other prototypes, this new Bond is not a chauvinist or a compulsive womanizer — he’s just a mean, clever son of a bitch.

Ironically but not coincidentally, this is the sort of secret agent that Ian Fleming described in his first 007 novel, Casino Royale, in 1953.

By forgetting the Moore-era excesses and ignoring a tradition of stunt one-upmanship, the makers of this new James Bond adventure have created an instant classic. Craig’s unassuming, yet astounding screen presence is just half of the reason why this taut thriller rates among the franchise’s best offerings. A fine script that follows the original story a bit more closely than most 007 productions deserves the rest of the credit. Though this insightful “Bond origin” is set in 2006, the film is decidedly retro in feel; its darker tone and style could be compared to On Her Majesty’s Secret Service or From Russia With Love.

Casino Royale begins with Bond receiving his license to kill; he’s relatively inexperienced, a diamond in the rough. After a botched assignment in Madagascar results in scandal, M (Judi Dench) temporarily exiles him away from the public eye. Instead of working on his tan, Bond doggedly pursues a series of terrorist conspirators from the Bahamas (where else) to Miami, and winds up matching wits with master money-launderer Le Chiffre (Mads Mikkelsen) in a high-stakes poker game in Montenegro.

Director Martin Campbell (GoldenEye) dresses up Fleming’s fairly simple plot with some superb, yet remotely plausible action sequences, scenarios that rely more on physicality than pyrotechnics. Craig’s Bond is a skilled, yet hardly invincible combatant — the fight scenes are realistically messy and two-sided. As most of Fleming’s 007 stories contained more than a hint of sado-masochism, the superspy is battered, bloodied and viciously tortured in Casino Royale.

007 films — at least from Goldfinger onward — are probably best known for the ingenious weapons and devices placed at the spy’s disposal. Curious, then, that a comparative lack of gadgetry is a big plus in this movie. There’s no submersible cars, no Asian henchmen with metal-rimmed bowlers, no magnetic watches… merely a spy with a gun and a fast car.

And, of course, women. Eva Green, the new “Bond Girl,” possesses the most spectacular pair of peepers to be found in modern cinema — and behind those enchanting eyes lies considerable talent. As British Treasury accountant Vesper Lynd, the French actress (last seen in Kingdom of Heaven) proves to be a compelling screen-mate for Craig; their remarkable chemistry — and the depth of Bond’s and Vesper’s tragic romance — makes for the best 007 love-duel in decades.

Casino Royale proves that sometimes less is indeed more, that quality always outshines quantity, and that an old dog can certainly learn new tricks. The next installment of the “reinvented” Bond series can’t come soon enough.

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