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Casino Royale

"That last hand. It nearly killed me."

I was impressed when I saw this movie back in 2006. At the time I hadn't seen most of the earlier Bond movies. Now I have, and I'm even more impressed.

Casino Royale is a massive reboot of the forty-year movie franchise, giving us James Bond's origin story as a brand new double oh. I give them a lot of credit for choosing to return to Ian Fleming's first book, and for leaving behind the gadgets and bikinis, the more cartoonish aspects of the movie series. Casino Royale has an entirely new tone of gritty reality combined with the glamour, style and over-the-top action sequences for which the Bond movies are famous.

Daniel Craig's Bond is like a charming blue-eyed Terminator. Still in his thirties, he feels young, vital and athletic, and interestingly, crazy, edgy and angry. He makes me uncomfortable. James Bond was stalking M in her home! I could imagine a young Sean Connery doing this. Timothy Dalton, perhaps. Certainly not Roger Moore or Pierce Brosnan, though.

After years of finding more and more outrageous vehicles for the opening chase scene, Casino Royale went with feet as Bond and the man he was chasing exhibited insane Parkour moves at a filthy construction site in Madagascar. It was the most memorable Bond chase sequence I've ever seen, so brutal and real that I could practically feel the bruises. Later, as Bond was playing high stakes poker in Montenegro right after a bloody fight for his life, I could see his exhaustion, the effort he had to put in to do his insane job. Not to mention a graphic, almost undiscussable torture scene and an intense, extraordinary climax in a building in Venice, both unlike anything I've ever seen in a Bond movie.

Mads Mikkelsen was effective as eye-bleeding terrorist Le Chiffre, whose weakness was realistically financial. But it was Eva Green as Vesper Lynd whose performance stands out way beyond that of a forgettable Bond Girl. Green's Vesper is fragile and real, an accountant with expressive eyes and genuine depths. She is a believable reason why a violent, heartless Bond becomes more human as the movie progresses.


While completely different from every earlier incarnation, Casino Royale is still Bond because it was what Ian Fleming originally intended. While I never warmed to his interpretation (and that has nothing to do with his hair), Daniel Craig is magnetic, powerful and memorable in the role. I dare say that if not for this extreme and successful reboot, the James Bond franchise might well have faded away.

Whether or not it should is a question for another day.

Bits:

— The opening credits in Bond films tend to include the silhouettes of naked women. This time, it was of Bond being killed with sharpened playing cards.

— It makes sense that they'd retain the M from the Brosnan era because Judi Dench is awesome, and here in Casino Royale, she had a much closer relationship to Bond than before. I'm starting to think that maybe M is for Mom.

— Tobias Menzies (Outlander, The Crown) played M's young male assistant, so no Moneypenny this time.

— No Q, either. A movie like this would never include comic relief like John Cleese. (Let me add that I love John Cleese. He just wouldn't fit into a movie like this one.)

— Body Worlds. Ugh.

— It's been years since I read the original Ian Fleming book but I'm sure it was baccarat, not poker.

— After a long absence in the movie series, Bond's CIA buddy Felix Leiter (Jeffrey Wright) returned. Here, they met for the first time.

I haven't seen the other Craig movies yet, but I cannot imagine a better Bond movie than this one. Four out of four killer playing cards,

Billie
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Billie Doux loves good television and spends way too much time writing about it.

4 comments:

  1. Great review as always! Definitely worth watching the entire ‘Daniel Craig’ series when you have the time. I really think they did a great job with this particular Bond’s character arc, and there are other surprises to come if you stay with it.

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  2. DreadPirate, thanks so much. I'm currently watching every James Bond movie in order, so I'm already on my way to finishing Craig's oeuvre. I might be posting an article in a couple of weeks about this particular viewing experience.

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  3. Billie, my dad is reading all the books in order. I feel like I should put you in touch.

    There's a new Bondish book out, Dr. No by Percival Everett, which sounds like it takes a interesting stance.

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  4. Seriously, Casino Royale is the best Bond ever filmed. And I'm going to come right out and say it, I think Quantum of Solace is right up there next to it (I am in a distinct minority here, but I don't care). I think they lost it after that, and careened back toward the Connery/Moore gestalt with Skyfall, Spectre, and No Time to Die, which I feel was a major mistake.

    I honestly have a hard time watching anything earlier than Casino Royale except for *maybe* Goldfinger and Thunderball.

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