****1/2 (out of 5)
November 17, 2006
Daniel Craig as JAMES BOND
Eva Green as VESPER LYND
Mads Mikkelsen as LE CHIFFRE
Judi Dench as M
Jeffrey Wright as FELIX LEITER
Giancarlo Giannini as MATHIS
Studio: Columbia Pictures
Directed by: Martin Campbell
BY KEVIN CARR
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Whenever it’s time to choose a new James Bond, I have to admit that I’ve always gotten nervous. But I do have to hand it to the studio – they usually get it right. Even Timothy Dalton worked to a certain degree, and his Bond really didn’t fall apart until his second film. (There was really only one bad choice, and that was George Lazenby, but chalk that one up to standard 60s idiocy, and I realize that fans have actually been dealt a pretty good hand with this franchise.)
To many, Daniel Craig seemed to be a short-handed second choice to the popular favorite Clive Owen. However, after seeing Craig in films like “Munich” and “Infamous,” I had high hopes. He’s a fine actor, and he looked like he could bring something new to the role.
Fans do not need to worry. Craig makes a fabulous Bond. He’s cut from a different cloth than recent Bonds, like Pierce Brosnan and Roger Moore. Instead of being the pretty-boy Bond hampered by gadgets and overconfidence, he gives us a taste of the original character as Ian Fleming had conceived it. In fact (and I know I’m going to take some heat for this, but who cares), Daniel Craig is the closest anyone has ever come to matching the original rugged scoundrel type that was pioneered by Sean Connery.
After 20 Bond films from the Broccoli franchise, it’s time they shook things up a bit. This time, they’re reinventing the franchise, starting at the beginning of Bond’s 007 career rather than picking up where the films left off before. It’s a brand new version, with Judi Dench as the current M, and there’s no Q to be seen.
The film opens on with Bond on the verge of 007 status. It’s the only franchise film that doesn’t fall into the standard pattern of Bond music with our hero in the crosshairs of a rifle. At first, this bothered me because it messed with tradition, but I soon understood after I saw how it fit together and led into the intro song and title sequence (which was the only disappointing thing in the film, actually – bring back the nude dancing girls, I say!).
On his first 007 mission, Bond follows the money of a terrorist weapons around the world. He foils a plot in the Bahamas, and he eventually finds himself in a high-stakes poker tournament where he must go head to head with the villain to thwart his grab at $150 million.
Martin Campbell, who directed Pierce Brosnan’s inaugural Bond performance in “Goldeneye,” puts together a near-perfect Bond film. It’s got sexy Bond girls (including the Italian beauty Caterina Murino, Ivana Milicevic and Eva Green). It’s got fantastic cars. It’s got eye-popping action. The only thing it’s missing is the gadgets, but I was oddly at ease with this. Ultimately, Craig isn’t a gadget Bond, a character that was really pioneered by Moore. Like Connery, Craig relies on something different. He gives us something more visceral and immature in the role.
This works perfectly for the unrefined Bond in the film. By refocusing the character and going back to his first mission, we see a Bond who is slightly off-kilter. He’s still digesting his image as a man with a lisense to kill, and he has a touch of sociopath that would be needed for such a role.
In fact, the factors that made “On Her Majesty’s Secret Service” a favorite Bond film for some are delivered throughout this movie. We see the constant internal emotional struggle in the character. Before he became smooth in every aspect of his job, he was this man – someone who still wrestles with getting emotionally involved with the Bond girls and has to hold his nose when he bends to the authority of MI-6.
For the Bond fan, “Casino Royale” is a special treat because we are given a glimpse at what made Bond the superspy he is in legend. Where “Die Another Day” paid homage to nearly all the Bond films with inside jokes and gags, “Casino Royale” filled in the gaps and showed us where these franchise stand-bys came from, including the introduction of Felix Leiter, how Bond first discovered his martinis shaken but not stirred, and why he came to utter the famous line, “Bond, James Bond.”
“Casino Royale” is probably the bloodiest, most visceral Bond film I’ve seen since “Lisense to Kill.” From beginning to end, “Casino Royale” is filled with incredible stunts that are actually pertinent to the plot. Yet, amid the incredible action, it has the strong plot sensitivities found in the better Bond films, like “From Russia With Love.”
Say what you want to about Daniel Craig the actor, but Daniel Craig the new James Bond is brilliant. This movie alone has reinvented the franchise, and gives me hope for the dozens of films sure to follow.