ReviewWriter: Helena HonWriter Ratings:Overall: Cast: Plot: Effects: Cinematography: Watch this if you liked:
The James Bond franchise
I'll tell you this much before I start: I have never liked James Bond. When Sean Connery was the illustrious superspy, I was too young to appreciate what the fuss was all about and when Roger Moore took over, he made such a farce out of the franchise he more or less put paid to whatever curiosity I may have had for the character. And there my interest mostly laid - dead and buried - until I saw Daniel Craig. From the moment I saw him flashing his steel blue eyes across the first of his trailers, I said to myself - "I'm going to make sure I catch this film."
Craig has the kind of face that can freeze you in your tracks. He's cold, arrogant, tough, (some might even say, pretty ugly), a little rough around the edges and yet oozing with charm - or is it animal magnetism? Those shots of him coming out of the water in his trunks are a sure testament to his remarkable good shape and...virility. I'd say without a doubt, Craig is the best Bond ever. Coupled with his fine acting, he absolutely nailed the character that Ian Fleming created, the kind of man who can knock the socks off women and without missing a beat, kill you with his bare hands.
So it is with this incredible asset that director Martin Campbell (of "Goldeneye" fame) gives his film a running start. Starting in black and white in Prague with two grisly assassinations, one in a toilet and one executed point blank as a quick introduction to the sort of man Bond is, the film flings itself off the precipice and hits the ground running, starting off with an impressive chase sequence, over rooftops, high rise steel structures and cranes and into an embassy and then flies across countries, characters and the rest of the action with all its twists and turns until you arrive breathless at the finish line. It's a very well made film in all, less 'overblown' in high-tech stunts and gimmickry than ever before but more muscled in plot, intrigue, suspense and character - a leaner, meaner Bond film in short.
"Casino Royale" is faithful to the novel that Ian Fleming wrote and traces the development of the newly-promoted Bond (to double-O status, that is) from the "blunt instrument" that Judi Dench's M calls him at the start of the film, to his transformation into the sharpest tool in the MI6 by the end.
Right from the beginning, it is established that Bond is a man of brawn and brain, and he always gets his man, even if he has to blow up an embassy and kill an unarmed person in the process. Unfortunately his efforts are not appreciated by MI6, especially when the mess is caught on CCTV and blasted across the Internet. Is Bond sorry? Not in the least. He breaks into M's (his boss) apartment in an act of audacity, steals her access code to classified information, then shoots off to the Bahamas hot in pursuit of his quarries. He kills a terrorist (one of the small guns in the terrorist network) and he's off again to Miami where he trails another terrorist bomber until a fight breaks out on a fuel truck on an airport tarmac, putting into jeopardy the lives of thousands of people who have come to witness the launch of the world's largest jetliner. (Watch this sequence. The special effects are awesome, yet never overdone).
You will notice by this time that the movie has already established its personality in that it makes a marked departure from the norm. There is an 'old-fashioned' air about it and things feel decidedly 'British'. Most noticeably gone are the synthetics and hi-tech sets and in their place are lots of running, real physical fights (thanks in part to Craig's top form) which are mostly brutal, with kills being accomplished by hand, gun or knife. You'll also learn by this time how he gets his first Aston Martin.
His trails eventually lead him to Montenegro to his No. 1 enemy, but it turns out not to be the usual crazed evil megalomaniac plotting to take over the world but a quiet man who plays his game from behind: as the financier of world terrorism. He is Le Chiffre (Danish superstar Mads Mikkelsen), a man with the odd ability to cry blood (due to a damaged tear duct and eyeball) but who needs to make some monetary improvements to his coffers by winning very, very big at a no-holds-barred high stakes poker game at the Casino Royale.
How must Bond defeat this enemy? Not by way of a fight but through breaking him (financially) at the gambling table. To do this, he is delivered $100 million by his beautiful colleague, Vesper Lynd (French actress Eva Green).
But these are government funds and she is assigned to keep an eye on it. And here is where she differs from the rest of the Bond girls. She never wears a swimsuit in the movie and there are no frivolous flirtations. In fact, she loathes him at the beginning and that is why their first meeting is marked by intelligent sizing up and razor sharp banter.
But then, Craig shows that Bond can be vulnerable too, and a boyishly reckless in matters of the heart. When forced to choose between his job and the woman, he chooses the woman. His reasons, when explained to her during a romp in the sand, are uttered with sincerity and here, you get to see another side of Bond, the softer side, not the hard cold killing machine that he has been presenting himself as so far.
Campbell cut the poker game sequence into half, showing the conclusion first and then what ensued from the intermission of the game, at the end. I suppose his reasons are to break the monotony of watching a bunch of stationery men at the gambling table. I mean, how exciting can that be from the audience's point of view? But do watch closely in case you misunderstand the flashback and go... "eh? I thought she..."
Some people say 144 minutes can be a little long for an action film but don't worry. If the film gets a little quiet, Campbell makes sure he wakes you with a resounding slap - in the form of a violent scene or a shocking kill.
Bond, as a man, is not invincible. He is almost killed off in a poisoning attempt. There is a heart breaking tragedy somewhere near the end of the film and there is that famous ball-bashing scene. Yes, Bond is stripped naked, tied to a bottomed-out chair and subjected to torture by Le Chiffre in one of the most gruelling scenes in the movie. But it is through this scene that Craig sheds light on Bond's character, defining it in his own way through his supreme defiance of Le Chiffre, taunting him even when constrained with his pants down in such a compromising position.
Somewhere in my earlier write-ups, I predicted that Craig would be the best Bond of all. "Casino Royale" confirms that. This is Daniel Craig's movie and I am now a born-again Bond fan. His support cast were strong, particularly Green who is formidable yet fragile while Judi Dench, as always, is good; serious in her role and imposing as M. But I was rather drawn to Mads Mikkelsen. I last saw him with a receding hairline in "The Green Butchers" as a different sort of character and now, sporting a full head of hair, a scar and nasty demeanour, I must say I am rather impressed by his acting range. Even though he was the villain, you can't help but feel his desperation, and thus, sorry for him.
"Casino Royale" is great. Go see it. Ten thumbs up, whatever. Daniel Craig is definitely the shot in the arm that the franchise needed to revive the dying series and I am glad they chose him to do it the way they did. I hope this method of production continues for the next few Craig/Bond films. I heard he's signed up for two more.Cinema Online, 23 September 2008