Should I Watch..? 'Casino Royale' (2006)
What's the big deal?
Casino Royale is an action spy thriller film released in 2006 and is the twenty-first entry in the James Bond series. The film is a watershed moment for 007 - the film is an adaption of Bond's first adventure as a 00-agent and it also marks the debut of Daniel Craig in the role of Bond. To all intents and purposes, it is a complete reboot of the series that had ran since Dr No in 1962 which is a brave decision considering the army of fans worldwide that had been built up over the years. Considerable controversy surrounded Craig's appointment as 007 with many openly questioning whether the right actor had been cast. Thankfully, the film is an absolute scorcher thanks in no small part to Craig's performance which is arguably the closest interpretation to the Bond in the books we've ever seen. Suddenly, the argument about who is the best Bond actor is wide open again.
What's it about?
After killing a treacherous MI6 section chief, Bond is given 00-status and becomes designated 007. His first assignment is to track down and kill bomb-maker for hire Mollaka in Madagascar, which Bond manages to do after a breath-taking pursuit through a building site. Accessing Mollaka's phone, Bond discovers links to an associate of terrorist financier Le Chiffre and also plans to blow up a prototype aircraft in order to manipulate stock prices which ultimately funds Le Chiffre's schemes.
Thwarting the attack, Le Chiffre has no choice but to hold a high-stakes poker game in Montenegro at the Casino Royale. Bond is assigned to M to attend and win the game, effectively bankrupting Le Chiffre, and is assigned a member of the Treasury - the beautiful Vesper Lynd - to oversee the winnings. Supported from the shadows by the CIA's Felix Leiter and local MI6 contact Rene Mathis, Bond soon finds that Le Chiffre is not one who plays by the rules - and his associates don't like losing...
Neal Purvis, Robert Wade & Paul Haggis *
Release Date (UK)
16th November, 2006
Action, Spy, Thriller
What's to like?
To say that Casino Royale is a brand new Bond is an understatement - the only elements retained from before are Dench as M, the hypnotic opening titles and the classic one-liner that comes as standard. Other than that, it is all new - no Moneypenny or Q, no elaborate secret bases, no endless product placement, no gimmicky henchmen, no dodgy CGI or stupid invisible cars and definitely no orbiting satellite weapon systems. This is Bond in his purest form, the most normal adaption of Fleming's work since the very first film all those years ago. And what a film it is, grabbing you by the throat from the very first shot and rarely letting go. The film has a stark brutality to it that separates it from the glossy action films of yesteryear, heavily influenced by The Bourne Identity but all the better for it.
Craig is an absolute revelation as 007, embodying the role like few others have before him. He resurrects Bond's long-forgotten wit and charisma but also remains a rock-solid man of action who really doesn't care how he gets the job done. He even finds time to undo the unnecessary junk that the character has accumulated over the years - when asked if he wants his vodka martini shaken or stirred, he replies "Do I look like I give a damn?". He also finds himself objectified for once, instead of ogling countless women in bikinis, but this is OK - the point of Bond is that he has to be attractive to women and no-one since Connery ever really had that aspect of the character right. But there's something else, a side of Bond that no-one has seen before. When comforting Vesper in the shower, he shows us a softer side and a brief glimpse of what the man himself is like when his mask slips. He is no longer a bullet-proof action hero, decked out in the finest tuxedos ready for a bad joke whenever he shoots someone. For the first time, Bond is a human.
Alongside him, Green delivers a stellar performance as Vesper - looking every inch the femme fatale I suspect Fleming always had in mind. Mikkelsen's understated villain certainly looks the part and when we see Bond getting tortured, he truly displays a sick level of desperation that will have men across the world sitting uncomfortably. Of course, the film is a super-cool affair - the whole film has a quality to it that reinforces the illusion that this is not just a special-effects exercise. This film is raw, visceral and stunning to watch.
- Three Aston Martin DBS vehicles were destroyed in a single afternoon's shooting for the crash sequence. Each car cost around $300'000...
- The film replaces the card game Baccarat from the novel with Texas Hold 'Em Poker. Interestingly, in this version of the game, a hand with a pair of eights is known as an Octopussy.
- The black-and-white opening sequence was the idea of Director Of Photography Phil Meheux and designed to throw the audience off guard. It is the first Bond film to have such a significant black-and-white sequence included.
What's not to like?
Obviously, a significant amount of screen time is taken up with Texas Hold 'Em so some understanding of the game is essential to get the best of the movie. And for lovers of previous Bonds, they might find themselves twiddling their thumbs for a bit because once the game is over, the film sags quite a bit before jumping back up to speed for a breath-taking (and slightly fanciful) climax in Venice. This is probably my least favourite section of the film as it's the only part that didn't feel real. It's still exciting, gripping and amazingly for an action sequence, character driven - but I never quite bought into the set-up for it, that's all.
We've all become accustomed to the traditional Bond formula, perfected in 1964's Goldfinger and constantly recycled ever since. It was a brave decision to throw all of that history away and start again but it was the correct decision. It might not feel like a traditional Bond but that's because we didn't know Bond could be this good. We had grown so used to the nonsense that Roger Moore and Pierce Brosnan brought to the series that we had forgotten how Bond used to be.
Should I watch it?
Even if you are a committed member of the anti-Bond league then this will seriously float your boat. It's beautiful to look at, gripping from the start, constantly surprising and endlessly entertaining - it's everything a movie should be, let alone a Bond film. If you don't like it then go back and enjoy the other films like Moonraker or Thunderball. Personally, I'm cashing out at Casino Royale...
Great For: traditional Bond fans, couples, action fans
Not So Great For: people who love Aston Martins too much
What else should I watch?
With Daniel Craig, Bond had become successfully reborn as a modern spy instead of the walking cliché he had become. His next film - Quantum Of Solace - is a direct sequel to this but sadly lacks much of the magic. But Skyfall is a blistering return to form, meaning that people like me were eagerly awaiting Spectre with sweaty palms. It's a solid effort which has more than enough nods to Bond's past but doesn't quite match the peaks seen here. If this see-saw pattern continues then the next Bond should be brilliant.
This incredible turn of events owes an enormous debt of gratitude to another movie super-spy. No, not Ethan Hunt from Mission: Impossible - Matt Damon's amnesiac assassin Jason Bourne who first appeared in The Bourne Identity. Released the same year as the risible Die Another Day, it showed us what Bond should be like with its old-fashioned stunt-work and story with Cold War echoes. It remains a first-class watch, despite its bigger budgeted sequels.
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© 2015 Benjamin Cox