The opening scenes of Casino Royale, filmed in glorious black and white, hit like a freight train. Daniel Craig as Bond before the Double-0 status is cold, calculating and real. His knuckles are bloody and his hair is messed up. This isn’t your father’s James Bond and I’m enjoying every second of it.
In this day and age of Ethan Hunt and Jason Bourne, its good to know James Bond can still deliver the goods. After the over-the-top wink and a nod to the twenty-some previous pictures with Die Another Day, the producers of this new Bond have wisely decided to chuck it all out the window and start fresh. I remember thinking the same thing with Brosnan and Goldeneye, but this one feels different.
James Bond the super hero is gone (and good riddance, I say.) I’m sure plenty of Bond fans are bemoaning the fact that this film deviates from formula the second after the gun barrel and dripping blood silhouette. However, the formula, as utterly successful as it was, needed a make-over. Gone are the gadgets, the women with ridiculous names, although I’ve yet to meet a real life Vesper, and the megalomaniac villain bent on taking over the world or some other such nonsense.
With this movie, the Bond franchise has “rebooted.” In fact, I might even say the writers have finally re-imagined the series truly for the 21st century.
James Bond is a character instead of a caricature. This is not James Bond, Superspy. He makes mistakes and lives through some dangerous events via luck and guile. He gets his hands dirty in a way that Roger Moore rarely showed in his seven films. He’s cocksure (no pun intended… okay the pun was intended) and seems real. My over developed suspension of disbelief was rarely put to the test. I never once thought, “no way.”
The plot revolves around playing Texas Hold’em Poker instead of Baccarat like in the novel. I’m sure no one but a Bond purist would notice, but I’m afraid it might actually date the film. Remember Bond commenting about listening to the Beatles with ear muffs in Goldfinger?
Our bad guy is Le Chiffre, banker to the terrorists, who has just lost 150 million dollars in a botched attempt at generating a great deal of money by manipulating the stock market. Bond foils the plan, jetting from the Bahmas to the Miami airport just in the nick of time. I like the smirk on his face as he tricks the would-be plane bomber into becoming a suicide bomber. Le Chiffre sets up an enormous card game with 150 million at stake to try and recoup his considerable losses. Bond just has to beat him.
All eyes are on Craig and he delivers a performance akin to the ruthless Sean Connery from Dr. No and the smoldering detachment of Timothy Dalton in The Living Daylights. There’s no room for camp here, but a solid quip here and there makes the cut. Craig has charisma and charm in his boxer’s face and stunning blue eyes. He masterfully creates a patchwork James Bond quilt cut from the same cloth as Fleming’s typewriter and Cubby Broccoli’s films. It is familiar, yet unique.
As for the obligatory Bond girl, Eva Green delivers a smart, sexy performance as Vesper Lynd. She expresses great vulnerability yet still maintains a strong, independent streak. Green espouses class and beauty in all of her scenes.
The movie isn’t perfect. For example, the final scenes involving the romance between Bond and Lynd should have been trimmed by a good five or six minutes and the movie is a bit overlong. The credit sequence is one of the worst I’ve ever seen and I’m not crazy about Chris Cornell’s “You Know My Name” theme.
Overall, I like the direction they are going with the franchise. The movie really is the formation of the Bond we know and love right before our eyes. It’s all there gritty and unpolished, but you can see the transformation take place. I also like how the writers have set up a larger puppeteer pulling the strings of Le Chiffre and in turn providing Bond with a mission. Could this be a return of SPECTRE? One can only get more excited about the future of Bond after seeing this film.
When Sean Connery first appears in Dr. No his first line is the now famous “Bond, James Bond.” In Casino Royale, Daniel Craig ends the movie with the same line. I find that a wonderful bit of unintentional symmetry.