CASINO ROYALE

(2006)
With Daniel Craig, Eva Green, Mads Mikkelsen, Judi Dench, Jeffrey Wright, Giancarlo Giannini
Directed by Martin Campbell
Reviewed by JB

This is the last time you'll leave out the slice of lemon peel!Dear Ian Fleming,

      I just saw the new James Bond film, CASINO ROYALE.  You might be surprised that it took so long to make a proper film of your first Bond novel.  Actually, you might be more surprised that 40-plus years after DR. NO, they are still making films about your most famous character.  They're up to the 21st one, and the series is into its sixth actor portraying Bond.  Although the producers have made some mistakes over the years - they let George Lazenby and Timothy Dalton go too quickly, they kept Roger Moore around for one film too many - they've done pretty well choosing who will be James Bond for each new generation.  It's pretty big news, this "new Bond" thing.  Every few years, people want to know who the new Bond is going to be.  It always get huge media coverage.

     I think you would like this new Bond, Ian, this Daniel Craig.  True, he's not the most handsome or sophisticated Bond ever, but then again, you didn't like Sean Connery at first, did you?  If I remember right, you unflatteringly compared him to what we Americans would call a bus driver.  Yet you soon came to believe that nobody else would have been as good in the part.  In that, you may still be right.  But Craig comes close. 

     He's the most physical Bond ever, not afraid to get his hands dirty nor his face bloody.  Every twenty minutes or so he's into another scrape with a bad guy, his face and body amassing many cuts and bruises along the way.  He looks good in a tuxedo, but he also looks a bit uncomfortable (he's like Timothy Dalton that way).  And, honestly, he really should comb his hair once in a while.  But he is James Bond, no doubt about it.  They keep saying he is the best since Connery.  I'm not quite sure, but I know this: he is playing James Bond in the best film of the series to come along in what seems like ages, and one of the things that makes it such a good film is Craig himself.  Everybody whose played Bond has brought something to the role, but Craig brings the most important thing - humanity.  Craig's Bond is a tough young punk who learns his lessons quickly and applies what he's learned judiciously. He can fall in love, he can be hurt, he can make major mistakes.  And when he gets around to saying "Bond... James Bond"... well, nobody has ever sounded so cool saying it since Sir Sean Connery.  (Yes, Sean was knighted several years ago.  I thought you should know.) It's hard to judge Craig by one film, but if he continues like this, he will be the best since Connery.

     They had to bring in somebody new.  In fact, they had to re-invent the whole Bond shebang.  What happened in the last Bond film was shameful.  They chose a great-looking guy with personality, Pierce Brosnan, to play Bond, and with each new film, he kept getting better, until, by DIE ANOTHER DAY (yes, they ran out of your titles a while ago), Brosnan had fully become James Bond.  It was one of the toughest, grittiest Bond films ever, and then, right in the middle of it, they went and gave him an invisible car.  And with that, the entire franchise crumbled, at least in my eyes.  It didn't help that most of the action sequences and stunt work were done using animation created by computers.  (That's for another letter, Ian... don't get me started!).

     So what they did was very clever - they restarted the series, using your first book to reinvent the screen version of James Bond by making this his first mission.  It's called a "reboot", a 21st century word for restarting a computer after it goes a bit haywire.  All that other stuff that came before with Connery and Moore and the rest, well, it still exists, but now James Bond is new again. Reborn into the 21st century.  It might be a little hard to get your brain around the idea of different Bonds existing in different time frames, but it's been done before.  They've been doing it with Superman for years.

     Because they are starting the series anew, Ian, they were able to throw out so many things that have held back the Bond series from evolving.  The gadgets, gags, quips and unfunny names are mostly on the outs in this one.  Bond is once again simply a spy with a license to kill, not a combination standup comic and magician, and the story, which is mostly yours, is just a strong spy thriller,  like FROM RUSSIA WITH LOVE or one you didn't live to see, FOR YOUR EYES ONLY.  There is even some subtlety, such as when Bond tricks a bad guy into blowing himself up.  We don't actually see the explosion, we just hear it as the camera focuses on Bond's smirking reaction to his own cleverness.  Subtlety - that's something that hasn't been in a Bond film for a long time.   

     Miss Moneypenny and Q are out too, but M is still around.  She's played by Judi Dench, who is wonderful.  Yes, M is a woman now.  I'll give you a minute to get over that one, but believe me, it works, and it's been working for five films already.  The girls are beautiful and Eva Green is splendid as Vesper Lind.  The bad guys are properly creepy, especially Le Chiffre, played by Mads Mikkelsen.  Did you make up that name?

     Anyway, the new Bond film is excellent. It wasn't number one at the box office - some animated penguins were.  We love our penguins here in the 21st Century.  It's beyond me to explain why.  Some people complain that CASINO ROYALE is a little too long, and the last half hour or so anti-climactic, but I didn't think so.  I think people expect Bond to always have a final confrontation with the supervillain and then blow up his headquarters, and it didn't end that way this time.  It went in a different direction, one very close to what you wrote in your novel, and it actually set up what could be a sequel instead of just another random Bond adventure.

     By the way, they used your infamous torture scene from the novel, the scene with the nude Bond, the wicker chair with the hole in the seat and the rug beater, only they made the rug beater a knotted rope swung at high speeds.  Ouch! 

     CASINO ROYALE is Bond as you might have envisioned him had you been around in these times.  I won't say it's the best Bond film ever, but there are only a handful that stand above it. 

     I think you would love it.

     Sincerely giving the film ½,

     JB

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The Secret Vortex

HOW TO TALK LIKE A BOND VILLAIN

"It's the simplest thing... to cause more pain than a man can possibly endure."


THE FIRST TIME IS HAPPENSTANCE, THE SECOND TIME IS COINCIDENCE.  THE THIRD TIME IS ENEMY ACTION

CASINO ROYALE was dramatized twice before, once as a 1954 television episode featuring Barry Nelson as Bond and Peter Lorre as Le Chiffre, and again as an all-star comedy in the 1960s.