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I am not a very big action movie fan. Explosions, violence, and sex don’t make a good movie unless there is some semblance of a story involved. Therefore, I’ve never really had an interest in watching the twenty or so James Bond films. Hearing about the gadgets and the suave hitman persona told me it wouldn’t be too intellectually fulfilling, and if I didn’t want to be challenged at the movies I’d see a comedy, not a film pretending to be sophisticated. My fears were made true after seeing Pierce Brosnan’s last effort as the superspy, Die Another Day. With its’ cloaked car, impossible set pieces, and if I remember correctly time travel? (maybe not that far-fetched, but pretty close to it) I really had no desire to delve into the back catalog. Until now that is. With Daniel Craig coming on as a Bond that bleeds, I really got caught up in the hype and needed to see if one of the most versatile actors today could not only interest me in the series, but breath life into the dying franchise. I must say he did that and more as Casino Royale not only exceeded expectations, but also turned out to be one of the best times I’ve had in the theatre all year.

Craig has been brilliant for years now. Mostly in supporting roles, a nice turn as a mental patient in The Jacket and a better than necessary job in Tomb Raider, he has seen some critical acclaim as a lead with The Mother and 2004’s Layer Cake, which showed he could do the spy genre. Craig brings an image to this character of a man who, although unafraid of death, is fallible and willing to make mistakes in order to learn from them. He gives Bond a human quality that was lacking in the little Bond I’ve seen in the past. By rebooting the franchise, complete with impossible gadgets missing, we see an intellect in what he does. There are no toys to save his life; he must rely on his instincts and judgments to help get him out of the circumstances he finds himself in. You can see the wheels turning behind his eyes and the confidence that he will be able to do what is necessary to keep his Queen and country safe from harm.

We are thrown into the action straight off as Bond receives his double-o status. This film is an evolution from reckless rookie to field experienced professional. Bond is rough around the edges throughout the course of the film, making the wrong moves, but always taking the next step to insure success. He realizes the mission and he knows the rules. Our first big action sequence sees him going into an embassy after a man who has evidence he needs. While inside, he realizes that killing someone would mean his country has to give him up as that area is basically a foreign land. The entire scene shows him do everything he can to extract his man, yet never kill anyone. Sure there are explosions and injuries, but he never takes anyone out. Something about this fact really helped me to enter the world on screen; the writers didn’t take the easy way out by having him shoot all in his way, they saw the logistics of every situation and problem solved a way to get through them. I’m sure most credit should go to original novelist Ian Fleming, however, one must also applaud those involved with the film for keeping it grounded in reality—possibly oscar winner Paul Haggis’ surprise writing credit has something to do with this.

For the first hour and a half you will be on the edge of your seat. The film doesn’t take place completely at the titular Casino Royale, but instead on Bond’s journey on his way to the top of a criminal organization. There is character development and a process to the top. Also, every supporting character does an amazing job in keeping up appearances of realism. Mads Mikkelsen is menacing as the main villain yet not treated as a cartoon madman. He is not impervious to all but our hero; on the contrary he is doing everything he is in order to cover up a lapse in judgment he made. Also impressive is Eva Green as Vesper Lynd. She is not the kind of woman one would initially think of when compiling a list of possible Bond girls. When one would generally think of supermodel looks and skimpy clothing, like that here of Caterina Murino, Green adds a sophistication and beauty all her own. I think she is at her most gorgeous in a bathroom scene getting ready for the poker match, sans makeup. Just having a Bond girl on screen without makeup is hard to fathom, but her natural beauty shines as a result. She is also a superb actress and hopefully this role will advance her career after critical success in the great Kingdom of Heaven and underrated The Dreamers.

Much credit for the success of this film to me lies in the ability to have fantastic action scenes look believable, feel realistic, and progress an intriguing storyline. This isn’t action for action’s sake, but necessary sequences to show an evolution of character as Bond gets beaten but keeps coming back for more. Casino Royale was by no means a perfect film, however. The wasted role played by Isaach De Bankolé, similar to his in Miami Vice even though the man can act as evidenced in Manderlay and Ghost Dog, and the McGuffin by one of my favorites Jeffery Wright, were a bit out of place and one-dimensional. Also, the final thirty minutes or so fall into Return of the King status as the pace slows to a crawl and could have ended multiple times before finally picking up again at the conclusion. While these moments could have been tweaked at the screenplay level, they don’t detract too much from an otherwise great time at the movies.

Casino Royale 9/10

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photography:
[1] Daniel Craig stars in Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer and Columbia Pictures’ James Bond adventure Casino Royale. Photo Credit: Greg Williams
[2] Eva Green as Vesper Lynd and Daniel Craig as James Bond in director Martin Campbell movie, Casino Royale – 2006.

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