November 19, 2006

Movie Review: Casino Royale (2006)

I love it when a project comes together. This is the best Bond that I have ever seen on the big screen, of course I had only seen the Brosnan ones prior to this. I remember when it was announced that Daniel Craig was going to take up the mantle of the Bond, there was much discussion about him being a worthy successor. Much of that discussion focused on him being a blonde, and possessor of a more rugged exterior than the suave smoothness of past outings. Personally, I have no stake one way or the other, but after seeing Craig's great turn in Munich and the very good Layer Cake, he seemed more and more like a good choice.

Following the Craig announcement the director was announced. Martin Campbell was returning to the franchise, previously helming the inaugural Brosnan outing. GoldenEye. This all came on the heels of talk that Quentin Tarantino was working up the project with Pierce returning for one more go around. As much as I would have liked seeing what Tarantino could have done with the spy franchise, I cannot argue with the end result that has just made its appearance at the local multiplexes.

Casino Royale takes the character back to its roots. It is based on the original James Bond novel by creator Ian Fleming, and is the first to be based on a Fleming original since The Living Daylights in 1987. It is also the last Fleming story to be produced by EON Productions and entered into the official Bond film series. It has previosuly been made for television in 1954 and as a spoof with Peter Sellers and Woody Allen in 1967.

This movie delivers everything you would want from a James Bond film and then some. It has gagdets, action, suspense, gorgeous women, and an Aston Martin. There is something that sets this apart from many of the recent outings, it is grounded within a definite sense of the real world. As the Brosnan films reveled in a higher level of the ludicrous, this one brings a darker edge and gritty feel to the series.

The story follows Bond and his newly acquired Licence to Kill. He is considered a loose cannon with a sizable ego and a short life expectancy. No sooner does he have his Double O status that he is involved in a chase with a bomb maker causing much destruction, and ending with the apparent killing of an unarmed man. This more than cements the opinions of M for her new charge. He refuses to let the trail go and heads off to the Bahamas where he enters a high stakes poker game with Le Chiffre, accountant to the world's terrorists.

Sure, the plot moves forward in the relatively expected ways, but the way it unfolds with the characters is where it truly shines. This Bond is suave and badass, but he has a much more complex aura about him. The groundwork is laid for why Bond is the way Bond is. Daniel Craig brings depth to character, watching his face you can see more going on behind his eyes. There is a display of vulnerability here that I do not recall seeing in the character before. The portayal is reminiscent of the original Sean Connery incarnation, time will tell if Craig can stand side by side with him.

While there is a palpable sense of emotion, there is no lack of action and suspense. The film gets off to a great start with a gritty black and white sequence chronicling how Bond earned his Os. Then, following a very good title sequence and mediocre song (sung by Chris Cornell), we are off to a long and thrilling foot chase between Bond and a young bomb maker. The chase is reminiscent of that at the start of District B13, using the same style of "Free Running" that was used there. It is an thrilling chase through the streets, up cranes, around buildings, and whatever else gets in their way. This combines with car chases and more hand to hand combat to create an action packed film. In addition to the action, there is the suspense of the poker table (Baccarat in the original novel, most likely changed to fall in line with the current popularity of poker). Then there is the romantic tension between Bond and the lovely Vesper Lynd (Eva Green), a Bond girl with brains who seems to be a match for our womanizer.

There is a nice balance between the action and the story, not once was I bored. It may not have had as colorful a bad guy as prior outings, but the film seemed to be much more about the establishing of the Bond character, reinvented and reinvigorated for a new era. Casino Royale promises a bright future for the franchise, and with Craig in the lead, the future looks good.

Martin Campbell has delivered quite possibly the best film of his career. This is a film that does for Bond what Batman Begins did for the Dark Knight. This opens up a whole new world for the superspy. This is one of the best action films of the year, a film that follows the formula yet transcends the elements providing a depth that has not been seen in decades of Bond films.

Bottomline. This is the Bond that I have been waiting for, sure I enjoyed the last few, but this one approaches greatness as opposed to merely being a "good Bond film." Great cast, smart script, and high action, what more could you ask for?

Highly recommended.


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