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Movie Reviews: Casino Royale
Review by Ryan Brennan

See more files at The James Bond Sourcebook

Casino Royale (2006) is the first Bond film in some time to make use of an Ian Fleming novel. The screen rights had been obtained by Gregory Ratoff and in 1954 a television version was produced for the anthology program Climax! (starring Barry Nelson as Bond and Peter Lorre as Le Chiffre). Later, Ratoff's agent, Charles K. Feldman, acquired the rights and in 1967 produced his own movie version, a multi-star spoof, to compete with Saltzman and Broccoli (a former Feldman employee), the producers who owned the rights to all other Fleming novels. Within the last few years a series of business maneuvers between studios enabled this first 007 adventure to come under the wing of the franchise.

Fleming's novel never states it, but it's possible to read Casino Royale as Bond's first 007 mission. With the introduction of a new Bond actor, Daniel Craig, this premise becomes explicit. In the first of several cleverly realized re-workings of Fleming's original material, an exciting pre-title flashback, photographed in black & white, depicts Bond on the two missions that earn him his "00" status. His new assignment is to destroy Le Chiffre (Mads Mikkelsen), paymaster of terrorists for someone whose identity and allegiance is never made clear.

Rather than merely assassinate "The Cipher," MI6 wants to destroy the criminal's financial organization and thereby cripple further terrorist activities. Since Le Chiffre has unwisely embezzled the funds in his trust, he faces death if he cannot refund the balance. He plans to win it at a high stakes game of Texas Holdem poker at the Casino Royale. Enter Bond with the intent of laying waste to his objectives.

Bond's partner on the case is Vesper Lynd (Eva Green), an MI6 accountant with a prickly demeanor and disdain for Bond. Her aloofness is maintained until she experiences the brutal reality of Bond's spy work when she softens up and, to slightly paraphrase the "00," becomes woman to him. Vesper's transition from indomitable ice princess to warm-blooded female is handled smoothly and convincingly by Green (Kingdom of Heaven), her dark hair and pale skin suggesting a younger Jennifer Connelly, albeit with large, piercing blue eyes.

Bond is still capable of making rash decisions, still developing his skills, still subject to his emotions, still "a blunt instrument." He makes a number of mistakes, but none that are fatal. Actually, when it comes to critical situations, he is an amazingly quick thinker with reflexes to match. This younger, athletic Bond is put through his paces. Director Martin Campbell is no stranger to the action film nor the world of Bond having helmed Goldeneye(1995), The Mask of Zorro(1998) and No Escape(1994). Here, he turns Bond into a world class sprinter in two major action set pieces that hinge on running. There hasn't been such an exciting foot chase since the spectacular sequence in the otherwise abysmal The Night of the Juggler(1980).

While Craig (Lara Croft: Tomb Raider, Munich) isn't an exact physical match for Hoagy Carmichael, the singer/songwriter and sometimes actor Fleming used as a comparison, he does have the offbeat, unconventional looks of the man and the slightly beat up demeanor of Fleming himself. At times, his bat ears give the impression that he's about to take flight. But jug ears never hurt Clark Gable and neither do they diminish Craig who convinces us both in formal wear and clinging to the top of a tanker truck.

Poster for the 1967 Casino Royale

The Bond films have always existed on the periphery of science fiction, the grandiose machinations of the villains often entailing the use of extravagant technology and more than once utilizing outer space, space stations and rocket ships. This entry soft pedals those elements, the only gadgetry limited to cel phones and some equipment trays that slide out of the glove compartment area of Bond's car. The fast cars do remain, in fact, the classic 1964 Aston Martin DB5 is even effortlessly worked into the plot. And other familiar elements of the Bond films are held over -- the beautiful, exotic locations shot around the world, the luxurious hotels, restaurants and playgrounds of the rich, the stylish, elegant clothing, the spectacle of the big action set pieces, and the music of David Arnold.

Arnold, the hand chosen successor to John Barry, the original composer who forever stamped the series with his signature sound, capably imitates the Barry style, his score heavy with horns. In the quieter moments he nearly achieves a convincing recreation of Barry music from the early days of the series. It is a score that hits the right tone and adds a sense of scale to some of the bigger money shots. The main title theme, sung by Chris Cornell (of the bands Soundgarden, Audioslave, and Temple of the Dog), may not be a particularly memorable song (unlike Barry, songwriting is Arnold's weakness) but is perfectly suitable played against the colorful and rather pretty main title sequence. As most will know already, the Bond theme isn't heard until the end titles.

Essential to the success of a Bond film is the villain. Danish Mads Mikkelsen (Tristan in King Arthur) is a quietly forceful menace, his odd, reptilian demeanor chillingly cold and threatening. This character uses an inhaler (as in the book) and occasionally leaks a drop of blood from his tear duct. The actor reminds somewhat of the young Max von Sydow, emotionally remote when serious, but warm and friendly when smiling. Italian Giancarlo Giannini (Swept Away, Seven Beauties, Darkness) essays the role of Mathis (a Frenchman in the novel) and Jeffrey Wright (Syriana, Lady in the Water) takes on Bond's U.S. friend and CIA operative Felix Leiter. Judi Dench returns as M but Q and Miss Moneypenny are left out of this adventure. The international flavor of the cast is a typical feature of a Bond film, the producers casting far and wide in their search for interesting faces and global appeal.

Daniel Craig as James Bond at far left.

This Bond film pleases on many levels. As a more character driven piece, it gives the moments of jeopardy a greater wallop. It's interesting to watch Bond sparring with Vesper and wondering what exactly he will do to win her over. Rather than the typical quips and one-liners of previous films (which worked wonderfully in the Connery films but which became forced in succeeding entries) humorous dialogue arises more naturally from the situation (except for an ill-advised attempt to make a pun of the name Moneypenny). With the scaled down scope of the film, the action sequences seem a bit more believable and suspenseful than usual. The special effects are a seamless blend of stunt work, miniatures and CGI. And the emphasis on Bond's origins provides insight into the character previously unseen.

If possible, see Casino Royale in a DLP equipped theater. The absolutely perfect picture, stunning in its detail and clarity, devoid of dirt, splices, lines or any other distracting artifacts, effortlessly remains in focus throughout and allows a deeper viewer immersion in the film than conventional 35mm screenings. Regardless of where it's seen, though, this Bond film may be a winning hand for fans and non-fans alike.

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