Jan 8, 2015

Review: Casino Royale (2006)

After the disaster that was Die Another Day, everyone involved in the making of James Bond films knew that changes needed to be made. Despite making tons of money, there's no doubt that its list of detractors is far longer than its list of supporters. Everything about DAD felt wrong. It went completely overboard with gadgets and CGI was way overused.Among other problems, Die Another Day had become a parody of James Bond and for me personally, an exercise in pain and embarrassment.

Casino Royale can easily be called a reboot for the series. It's set at the beginning of James Bond's career, just before he's even gained double-0 status. The movie actually opens in black and white and  establishes the nature of Daniel Craig's James Bond. It's an impressive showing which I'll get more into.

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Genre: action, adventure, thriller
Directed by: Martin Campbell
Produced by: Barbara Broccoli, Michael G. Wilson, Callum McDougall, etc.
Written by: Neal Purvis, Robert Wade, Paul Haggis
Music by: David Arnold
Running time: 144 minutes
Production company: Columbia Pictures, Eon Productions, United Artists, etc.
Distributed by: Sony Pictures Entertainment, Columbia Pictures, Sony Pictures Releasing, etc.
Country: United Kingdom, United States, Czech Republic, etc.
Language: English, French
Budget: $150,000,000
Box office: $599,045,960 (Worldwide)

IMDb entry
Rotten Tomatoes entry

Starring: Daniel Craig, Eva Green, Mads Mikkelsen, Judi Dench, Jeffrey Wright, Giancarlo Giannini, Caterina Murino, Simon Abkarian, Isaach De Bankolé, Jesper Christensen, Ivana Milicevic, Tobias Menzies, Claudio Santamaria, Sebastien Foucan, Malcolm Sinclair, Richard Sammel

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Synopsis


James Bond (Daniel Craig) is sent to investigate bomb maker Mollaka (Sebastien Foucan) in Madagascar after having just received his double-0 status. Following a wild chase through a construction zone and an embassy, Bond traces Mollaka to Alex Dimitrios (Simon Abkarian), a known associate of Le Chiffre (Mads Mikkelsen) who actively funds terrorism. Le Chiffre announces a high stakes Texas hold'em game and James Bond is forced to take part in it to disrupt his plans.


Review


Getting back to Daniel Craig's portrayal of James Bond, it's one of the biggest reasons why Casino Royale works so well. There was a lot of controversy when Craig was selected for the role and what tends to happens quite a bit when there's a lot of casting complaints, he proved everyone wrong. Michael Keaton and Heath Ledger are great examples of that as well.

Taking a page out of Timothy Dalton's portrayal, Craig's Bond is a ruthless killing machine. M (Judi Dench) describes him as a "blunt instrument" which is more than fitting. He seduces when he needs to, he kills when he needs to and he gets the job done. All the same, James is new on the job and not perfect. He makes mistakes and he lets his ego get in the way more than once. 

This is a huge departure from Pierce Brosnan's Bond and one that was sorely needed. I don't blame Brosnan at all for the not-so-sterling results after GoldenEye, which funnily enough Martin Campbell directed as well. You probably couldn't have found a more perfect-looking Bond who also acted the part. However, everything around Brosnan was becoming a running joke, hence why the decision was made to blow everything up and start over again. Shaken or stirred martini? This Bond doesn't give a damn.

With Martin Campbell back in the fold along with his cinematographer Phil Meheux, Casino Royale is their chance to improve their take on James Bond from their GoldenEye days. They do exactly that and more. CR looks a whole lot better if you ask me and features some very nice shots. Some of its editing is reminiscent of the kind of thing you'd see in a Bourne movie, but it successfully avoids turning its action into unintelligible scraps.

The usual Bond intro in CR is actually quite short before the opening credits start rolling. It's brutal, but not what we're used to really seeing. I'm thinking that this is another tool that's being used to show how we're watching a different Bond. He's not a double-0 yet anyway, so why would he have an incredible action sequence just yet? The design of the opening credits is really nice and the title song with Chris Cornell is quite good. The big action sequence comes right after the credits in what is a glorious construction yard/embassy foot chase sequence.

The action as I said feels Bourne-y, but definitely not in a bad way. Movies that try to emulate this kind of style usually do it to hide deficiencies by making everything unintelligible. You always know what's going on in Casino Royale and these scenes all succeed in being tense and suspenseful in addition to just being straight up awesome. There's enough jaw dropping action to please any Bond fan.

At the same time though, this is the longest James Bond movie ever. There are a lot of scenes that don't have any action at all and might seem pretty slow. I think that writers Neal Purvis, Robert Wade and Paul Haggis do a great job at keeping things interesting and injecting some tension or action when it's needed. I'm particularly impressed at how they managed to make a game of Texas hold-em so interesting to watch. Casino Royale is simply a well-oiled machine that twists and turns continuously to great effect.

When it comes to characters, it has to be said that Vesper Lynd (Eva Green) is one of the best Bond girls ever. She's a strong character with her own motivations and who doesn't make things easy for James. Being attractive isn't her only quality and she displays a good amount of vulnerability as well. (Spoilers) This is also one of the rare times that James has a deep relationship with a Bond girl. There hasn't been the likes of something like that since On Her Majesty's Secret Service and it's a very welcome addition. (End Spoilers)

Mads Mikkelsen as Le Chiffre is predictably awesome, inhaler and bleeding eye included. He's also a pretty modern type of villain by being quite white collar in nature. He's a banker and investor who does all sorts of nefarious things to influence the market for his own benefit. Mikkelsen gets pretty dark at certain points, enough to make you want to look away, but can't for the life of you. (Spoilers) The Bond torture scene in question will probably change the way men look at wooden mesh chairs forever. (End Spoilers)

Casino Royale is successful in every way at rebooting James Bond. Daniel Craig proves everyone wrong about his casting and set a new standard for Bond mercilessness. I also got to say that CR is easily David Arnold's finest effort in scoring a Bond film. With wonderful action, a great Bond girl in Vesper Lynd and an entertaining villain in Le Chiffre, the ingredients of what makes a Bond movie great are all there. All I can say is well done Barbara Broccoli and company.

Rating


8/10