Casino Royale

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MOVIE:

Casino Royale

OUR RATING:

4/5 Stars

WHAT IT'S ABOUT:

In Casino Royale a young James Bond (Daniel Craig), only recently promoted to “double O” status, must track down a syndicate of terrorists who seek to make untold millions by sabotaging large corporations while betting against them on the stock market. His search eventually leads him to Le Chiffre (Mads Mikkelsen) – banker to these terrorists – who is running an incredibly high stakes poker game at Casino Royale in Montenegro. The buy-in is $10 million, with at least $120 million up for grabs. If Bond can beat Le Chiffre, he will choke off the terrorists’ supply of funds. Unfortunately the British Treasury has appointed the beautiful but very stubborn Vesper Lynd (Eva Green) to ensure Bond doesn’t take any liberties with their money. Bond starts well, but as the game progresses both he and Vesper find themselves subject to vicious attacks as Le Chiffre becomes more and more desperate to take the prize.

WHAT WE THOUGHT:

There’s been a distinct fad for “re-sets” of major movie franchises over the last few years. From Batman Begins to Star Wars to Superman Returns, filmmakers seem keen to bring a fresh new perspective to these much loved characters. But all these attempts pale in comparison to this virile and violent new chapter of 007 which is easily the best Bond film for over two decades.

Much of the credit is due to the new face of Bond, Daniel Craig. Hounded by naysayers and critics throughout the filming, the first blonde Bond has proved them all fools. With his steely blue eyes, his quiet intensity and his brawny physique, Craig has made the world’s most famous spy dangerous again. This isn’t a Bond who relies on pen missiles and invisible cars to do his work, this is a Bond who runs his enemy down on foot, over buildings and through walls, and throttles him to death.

Die-hard fans of the Pierce Brosnan brand of refinement may have some trouble accepting this sometimes boorish interloper, but Craig has his own charms. His suavity is a by-product of unshakeable self-confidence rather than affectation, and this lends him an air of realism and authority that has been missing from the movies for some time. In many ways Craig hearkens back to the original Bond, the incomparable Sean Connery, with his barrel chest, his unquestioning self-assurance and his panther like fluidity. Like Connery, Craig relies more on his own wits and strength, and less on gadgets and gizmos.

Of course it took the vision of the people behind the scenes to recognise the need for a fresh new approach to 007. Most of the crew have worked on Bond films before and the producers, Michael G. Wilson and Barbara Broccoli, have already relaunched the franchise once before with GoldenEye in 1995.

Wilson and Broccoli called on director Martin Campbell on that occasion (which was also Pierce Brosnan’s debut), and they have summoned him again for Casino Royale. Whether this is by pure chance or design, Campbell certainly knows how to inject some life into a movie. Probably most famous for his Zorro films, he is a consummate veteran of the action genre and he keeps the movie snapping along, with hardly a pause for breath.

Casino Royale is also better written than a lot of its predecessors. Unlike the last seven films it is actually based on one of Ian Fleming’s novels (and not just set in his “universe”). Written in 1953, it is (appropriately enough) the first novel in which the character ever appears, and is often seen as one of the darkest, edgiest Bond novels. It has been masterfully updated and adapted by 007 veterans Neal Purvis and Robert Wade, with the help of Oscar winning screenwriter Paul Haggis (of Crash fame). The dialogue is particularly excellent, full of wry humour and playful irony, and the screenwriters have had a lot of fun toying with Bond conventions like Martinis and dinner jackets.

As usual the film has attracted a superb supporting cast, with Judy Dench putting in yet another scene-stealing performance as M. In keeping with the old-school feel, the producers have cast a villain who looks every bit as evil as he is, played to oily perfection by Dane Mads Mikkelsen, complete with a cloudy eye. As far as Bond girls go, Eva Green has more spunk and intelligence than most of them put together, and just as much beauty. She is Bond’s equal, both intellectually and professionally, and shares a lot of Craig’s animal magnetism.

While it may stand head and shoulders above most 007 films, Casino Royale isn’t a perfect movie. It’s just a little too long for its own good and tends to gloss over plot details in a way that may annoy attentive viewers. By the standards of previous films it is extremely violent, with several bloody hand-to-hand battles and a rather disturbing torture scene. Though the increased violence is arguably a positive aspect for many viewers, more sensitive audiences should be wary. This is not a kid’s film – it is probably the most grownup Bond ever made.

Like all really good renovations, this new style Bond has arrived before a lot of people were willing to let go of the old one. But even if you are a staunch fan of the Dalton / Brosnan brand, you should give Craig a chance. At one point M calls him a “blunt instrument”, but watching him cut a swathe through his enemies, you can’t help but think this is the sharpest 007 we’ve had in a long, long time.

WATCH THE TRAILER HERE:

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