Casino Royale

The new Bond film comes out on Thursday and it is time to get some thoughts down about it. The first thing to note is that the “rebooting” of the Bond franchise has worked. It was a considerable gamble to cast a new Bond and revamp the franchise. After all, the last Bond film – 2002’s Die Another Daywas the most financially successful Bond film (despite the dodgy CGI waves, invisible cars and general sense of overload) so why fix something that was working at the box office?

My guess is that the producers felt that the attempts to make Die Another Day compete visually with the likes of The Matrix and The Lord of the Rings had failed and that there was a need to get back to basics. For EON Productions, “Casino Royale” has long been the holy grail. It was Ian Fleming’s first Bond novel but due to a complex web of legal and rights issues it remained in development hell. But with those issues now resolved, the opportunity to reinvent Bond by updating the original novel was probably too hard to resist.

It wouldn’t make a great deal of sense to cast an aging Pierce Brosnan as a younger version of himself, so would play 007? Enter Daniel Craig, whose dark, brooding presence in films like Road To Perdition and especially Layer Cake planted him firmly on the radar of Michael G Wilson and Barbara Broccoli. After a media frenzy debating the who’s and whys (including a silly campaign by one website that was needlessly amplified by the mainstream media) Craig was cast.

How does he shape up? Well, he certainly impresses as a younger and tougher Bond. But he also manages to display the inner emotions 007 – the rebellious streak that allows him to disobey orders as well as the turmoil he goes through when placed in life threatening situations. The pre-credit sequence – so often the scene of mass destruction and carnage – is shot in moody black and white and shows us the new Bond and how he earns his double-0 status. Dispatching two villains with contrasting methods it demonstrates that he is a man who now kills people for a living. It also feels like a deliberate nod to the austere qualities of the early Connery films where Bond’sruthlessness was never far from the surface.

Despite some impressive action sequences (which include an extended fight on top of a crane in Madagascar and a chase in Miami Airport) the restrained and grittier feel is consistent throughout. Bond often has to rely on his fists and cunning rather any hi-tech gadgetry. The plot is a modern update of the novel in which the main narrative thrust has been preserved. After Bond tries to track down a terrorist in the Bahamas, he is ordered by M (Judi Dench) to enter a high stakes poker game at Le Casino Royale in Montenegro. There the enigmatic villain Le Chiffre (Mads Mikklesen) is trying to raise funds for his organization, which launders money for terrorists. Bond has to deal with the tension of the card game, whilst being watched by treasury official Vesper Lynd (Eva Green), a woman he soon starts to develop real feelings for.

There are some minor quibbles. Dench is always good value as M and her scenes with Craig work well but her presence rather undermines the new time line of this Bond universe. Also, as the film gets in to the third act you can feel things dragging a bit before the climax. And although there are references to modern terrorism they often feel a bit too timid. Given the current world climate it would have been interesting to explore the terrorists Le Chiffre is supporting. But maybe that is for a future film.

The key thing that comes across is the attempt to get back to the Ian Fleming books. Although it is no longer set in the Cold War, the stripped down story and more restrained style certainly harks back to the earlier and more faithful Bond films like Dr No and From Russia With Love. Bond here is very different from the smooth charmer as portrayed by Roger Moore or Pierce Brosnan and instead comes across as an assassin struggling to keep up in a dangerous world. There is no Q around to supply him with gadgets or Moneypenny to flirt with back at the office. But this is all for the good. Not only does it work as a satisfying thriller but also reminds you of the best elements of the franchise. In going back to the original Bond novel, the films have taken a bold step forward.

> Official site
> Check out show times for Casino Royale via Google
> Check out some reviews of the film at Metacritic
> James Bond at Wikipedia
> Cinematical have all the trailers to the Bond films on one page

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