CASINO ROYALE (2006)
Director: Martin Campbell
Cast: Daniel Craig, Eva Green, Mads Mikkelsen, Judi Dench, Jeffrey Wright, Giancarlo Giannini, Caterina Murino, Simon Abkarian
MPAA Rating: (for intense sequences of violent action, a scene of torture, sexual content and nudity)
Running Time: 2:24
Release Date: 11/17/06
Review by Mark Dujsik
The introduction of a new James Bond always brings skepticism, and one of the major problems of Bond's 21st official cinematic adventure is that the skepticism remains when the final credits roll. Some will pick on the easy target: Daniel Craig, the new physical incarnation of Bond. Craig, a blond-haired, blue-eyed Brit, is not the type we typically associate with 007, and backlash against his casting sprang immediately upon his connection to the role. Honestly, it's petty, since it's what he does with role that's important, not how he looks. Craig is actually a great choice for the new Bond persona of Casino Royale; it's the new spin on the character from screenwriters Neal Purvis, Robert Wade, and Paul Haggis that leaves doubts. Their Bond is more low-rent thug than suave cosmopolitan—more government assassin than super spy. He is, essentially, without personality, and it is to Craig's credit that he tries his best to instill some charm into a charmless role. Since the movie is an obvious attempt to restart the franchise from the beginning (actually using Ian Fleming's first Bond novel as its inspiration) and the character is just starting to develop, the decision makes sense, but the movie suffers because of it nonetheless.
The movie opens with Bond acquiring his "00" status by killing two men. Somewhere in Africa, a man with one useful eye named Le Chiffre (Mads Mikkelsen) takes some money from so-called freedom fighters. Bond, meanwhile, is in Madagascar, tracking down terrorist Mollaka (Sebastien Foucan) to retrieve information from him. After an extended chase that leads him to kill Mollaka and blow up part of a foreign embassy, Bond is obviously not on MI6 leader M's (Judi Dench) best side. Bond decides to decipher information retrieved from the terrorist on his own and makes his way to the Bahamas as a rogue agent. There Bond finds Alex Dimitrios (Simon Abkarian), who helps with the execution of terrorist activities, and his wife Solange (Caterina Murino). After some wooing of Solange, Bond discovers Dimitrios' plans involving the destruction of a new jet airliner in Miami. That plan, of course, is thwarted by 007, and Bond is back slightly on M's good side, leading her to let him join a high-stakes, no-limit hold-'em poker game run by Le Chiffre at the Casino Royale in Montenegro. The catch: Bond must answer to the Treasury Department's liaison Vesper Lynd (Eva Green).
Clearly, a lot is happening in the plot, and as per usual, most of it makes little to no sense. Occasionally, the script's weaving and winding, double-cross-filled plot is frustrating and sloppy, especially when Bond seems to have an extrasensory knowledge of who the real villains are before any evidence arises. A good chunk of the story revolves around the poker game, and director Martin Campbell never achieves any worthwhile tension in these scenes. There's one of the movie's four action sequences, a chase in a stairwell, randomly thrown in the middle of the poker plot to spice things up, but it feels forced. The other action sequences fare much better. Instead of the gadget-heavy, exaggerated action to which we've become accustomed, the sequences here are based slightly more in reality. The lengthy chase in Madagascar succeeds the most, with Bond and Mollaka running and climbing up the steel of a construction site. Another has Bond hanging on for dear life to a truck rigged to explode as a terrorist attempts to knock him off. The climax is a shoot-out in a building collapsing into the canals of Venice, which provides an added dynamic to what could be pretty standard stuff.
Other than the story's weak points, there's also the problem that, while Le Chiffre has a creepy gimmick in the form of tear ducts that bleed, Bond's arch-nemesis finds himself at the mercy of other, lesser characters more than once. He's a generic villain and, at best, a mild threat to our hero. One distressing scene has Le Chiffre torturing Bond (it involves a nude Bond, strapped to a chair with no bottom, and a length of rope), and while it gives the villain a bit more menace, the scene is more intriguing for the fact that Bond shows inklings of masochism. The notion is one of the better character moments for a Bond who hardly talks, especially early in the movie, and it gives Craig one of many chances to allude to Bond's darker side. This brooding Bond is sometimes refreshing, but there might be too much of it here. It's a wise move to show Bond in love here to balance his character, and Eva Green is positively stunning in the role. Throughout the course of the movie, there are hints of the charismatic character we've become used to, but by the end, Bond seems to be on his way to a permanent stay in the shadows of his pain.
Where this new vision of the series is heading could have promise, and it's good this is not a prequel. A character like Bond should already be pretty well-defined after 20 movies, and an origin story is almost a trivial exercise, really. It doesn't have to be, of course, but that's what Casino Royale ultimately feels like.
Copyright © 2006 by Mark Dujsik. All rights reserved.
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