Lively, entertaining reviews of, and essays on, old and newer films and everything relating to them, written by professional author William Schoell.

Tuesday, April 22, 2008

CASINO ROYALE (2006)


CASINO ROYALE (2006). Directed by Martin Campbell. NOTE: On occasion Great Old Movies will review a more recent film of interest to our readers.

This excellent OO7 adventure takes Ian Fleming’s original story and updates it to contemporary times, although it is still presented as Bond’s first major case (as it was in the books; it was the first Bond novel) and as such can be considered a "prequel." Bond is already considered a maverick by M (played, incongruously, by the wonderful Judi Dench, as if the male "M" never existed), when he’s assigned to beat a man known as Le Chiffre at cards at the Casino Royale in Montenegro. Le Chiffre has already lost a lot of money owed to terrorist employers and desperately needs to win it back. Vesper Lynd, who is not a field agent, accompanies Bond to Montenegro to keep track of how he spends his funds allocated for gambling. There’s a splendid action scene at an airport when Bond tries to prevent a terrorist from blowing up a new-fangled kind of plane, a suspenseful torture scene between Bond and Le Chiffre involving a chair with the bottom cut out as well as Bond’s bare bottom, and an exciting climax that takes place in Venice inside a collapsing Palazzo and features the moving, dramatic death of a major character.

As for Daniel Craig, he’s terrific. He takes some getting used to, admittedly. At first he seems a bit too thug-like, devoid of the elegance and class that has always been part of the 007 mystique. He’s not really an especially handsome bloke, his face a bit blunt and battered (as if he’s been on a lot more than one mission, frankly), but one can see how he could appeal to certain ladies. He looks more like Fleming’s original concept for Bond than Sean Connery, Pierce Brosnan, Timothy Dalton, and especially, Roger Moore. And more like 007 even than George Lazenby. Craig is probably a better actor than most of those guys to boot, handling the more sensitive scenes as well as the obligatory fisticuffs and gunplay. Eva Green is also excellent as Vesper Lynd, unconventionally beautiful, glamorous yet real, undeniably tragic. Mads Mikkelsen scores as Le Chiffre and there are other fine supporting performances as well. Felix Leiter, not for the first time, is portrayed by an African-American actor (Jeffrey Wright) although in the novels his character was Caucasian. As Leiter, regrettably, has never been that dimensional a character in this or any other Bond movie, it scarcely makes a difference.

This is possibly the only Bond film that approaches the more literate level of Fleming’s novels and -- even more than the Timothy Dalton features -- dares to present Bond a bit more as a realistic human being instead of a cartoon super-hero (not that we don’t have the usual improbable but enjoyable feats of derring do). One of the best scenes is a quiet moment when Bond comforts Vesper in the shower (both are dressed) after her first exposure to extreme violence leaves her depressed and rattled., The beautiful settings and exquisite cinematography by Phil Meheux give the picture a glossy, romantic sheen and the stunt work is as gutsy as ever. Not to quibble, but the film ends a little too abruptly for my taste. Still, Casino Royale is the best James Bond movie in years. One debit: The opening theme music is pretty awful., but you can't have everything. Screenplay by Neil Purvis, Robert Wade, and Paul Haggis. NOTE: To read a review of the first film version of Casino Royale, click here.

Verdict: Excellent Bond adventure. ***1/2.

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