Casino Royale (2006) – Film Review

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Director: Martin Campbell
Cast: Daniel Craig, Eva Green, Mads Mikkelsen
Certificate: 12A

By Roger Crow

When Daniel Craig made his debut as 007, some fans were up in arms. “He’s too blond for Bond”, said some. “He looks too much like a Carry On veteran”, said others. A few thought he lacked the charisma of Pierce, or the ‘this, that or the other’ elements of every actor who had played 007 before.

Maybe Daniel did have some flaws due to not being Connery, Moore and all the other beloved 007s, but he’s still a great actor, and this was a fresh MI6 agent for a new era of the franchise. If Brosnan’s Bond was a ‘scalpel’ for cutting through crime and villainy, Craig’s was a ‘road drill’: brutal, occasionally ugly, but he did the job.

casino royale film review posterNine years after the joy of GoldenEye, franchise rebooter Martin Campbell was re-hired to helm this proper incarnation of the eponymous Ian Fleming novel. Forget that all-star travesty from the 1960s, which was a comedy take on the book. This was the real deal, and it boasts some of the most memorable moments in the saga.

“Scarred antagonist”

We open with new Bond in grainy black and white, taking out a crooked spy in Prague, intercut with him clashing with another bad guy in a toilet. In that brief scene, we see both sides of rookie Bond. The cool, emotionless killer, and the man who isn’t afraid to get into a life-or-death fight when the occasion demands.

Short, punchy and it gets the job done. Boom! Pre-credits over and we’re off into the stunning opening titles (the playing card graphics are obvious but outstanding) and Chris Cornell’s brilliant opening theme, ‘You Know My Name’ is a rockier, ballsy track which is all the more poignant now, four years after Cornell’s death.

Once more David Arnold knocks it out of the park with his score, and the opener is one of his best.

Then comes another all-time high. We’re in Madagascar, and there’s not a neurotic cartoon character in sight as 007 oversees a fellow agent being utterly amateurish by touching his (own) ear during a raucous alfresco betting match. Little wonder scarred antagonist Mollaka (Sebastian Foucan) gets wise to his surveillance and goes on the run. Thankfully new 007 may be fresh out of spy school, but he never makes such mistakes.

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“Visual assault”

And so begins a gobsmacking free-running chase when Bond pursues his quarry, who runs, jumps, leaps, climbs and navigates through tiny gaps. James does more of the same, but ploughs through walls, drives through fences in heavy machinery, and will stop at nothing to get his man. While those stunning visuals assault our eyeballs, Arnold’s ‘African Rundown’ tells us when to gasp, which is another of the great 007 cues. (I once played this scene with ‘White Knight’ from Tomorrow Never Dies as the score instead, and it worked surprisingly well).

When Bond finally catches his man at an embassy, the corridors of power become a battleground. With the free-runner finally executed in full view of everyone, Bond makes his escape with Mollaka’s phone, and resists the urge to play Snake, while pondering a simple message: ‘Ellipsis’.

Those three dots have become synonymous with a pending ‘instant’ message, which creates no end of tension for IMs on TV shows like Line of Duty. Back in 2006, not so much, but it’s still a great breadcrumb trail for the next scenes.

M is once more played by York royalty Judi Dench, who treats Bond with utter contempt for most of their moments together, and yet obviously likes him as a surrogate son/saviour of all things British and decent.

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“Horrendous product placement”

That dynamic seems to work better with Craig than Brosnan, as good as those 1995-2002 M/007 scenes were. Obviously the timeline and continuity is all over the place, but as new Q and Moneypenny are notably absent, M is essential for some sense of familiarity.

Bond goes off to Nassau to find out the link between Ellipsis and bankrupt terrorist financier Le Chiffre, brilliantly played by Mads Mikkelsen in the days before he became one of the coolest film stars on the planet. Special skill: he weeps blood when stressed, which is the greatest Britain’s Got Talent trick ever.

Bond proves he’s a brilliant card player; wins an Aston Martin from corrupt Greek official Alex Dimitrios; naturally beds his gorgeous wife/sacrificial pawn, Solange (a smouldering Caterina Murino), before going off to stop a huge plane being destroyed at ‘Miami International’. That track is another standout for Mr Arnold, who hit the ground running with Tomorrow Never Dies, but here turns everything up to 11.

Wordless Bond in action scenes is always best, as epic scenes aren’t cheapened by bad puns. And this pay off, when the bad guy meets his end, shows what a cool, calculating hero new Bond can be.
After a brief introduction to (the phenomenal) Eva Green as Vesper “the money” Lynd (a treasury employee), we sit through some horrendous product placement before the fun begins.

The main thrust of the movie is of course that card game, when Bond takes on Le Chiffre, who has bet on that huge plane being destroyed in Miami. As 007 scuppered his plans, his deal with even badder guys means he wins the game or dies. It’s testament to Campbell’s skills that he can make a card game thrilling. Okay, there’s a couple of interludes involving a gobsmacking fight in a stairwell, and Bond almost buying the farm after being poisoned by digitalis, while his contact Rene Mathis (Giancarlo Gianini), explains the rules of the game to Vesper (aka the audience).

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By the way, Rene Mathis is not to be confused with ace crooner Johnny Mathis, who was in the running to record the Moonraker song at one point.

Obviously Bond survives all attempts on his life in or around the eponymous Casino, and in a rare degree of sensitivity, comforts a traumatised Vesper as she takes a shower with her clothes on. Nothing says traumatised like a fully dressed shower scenario.

Obviously Le Chiffre is miffed, and in a scene of jaw-dropping torture porn taken from the novel, a naked Bond is plonked on a hollowed out raffia chair (painful enough), and then has his crown jewels thrashed with the whiplashed end of a knotted rope. Has there ever been a more painful-looking scene in a Bond movie? Okay, other than every scene of product placement (this one is bursting with refs to a certain tech company, who backed the film, and reminds us with every phone shot and scene involving a laptop).

Making his debut as the new Felix Leiter is the sublime Jeffrey Wright, who plays James’s ally with endless degrees of cool.

Eventually Le Chiffre exits (not pursued by a bare Bond), and our hero, like a character from a Viz strip, is left to nurse his unfeasibly tortured gonads back to health. The best place to do that? The achingly gorgeous Lake Como (at the same villa used for Star Wars: Attack of the Clones).

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Bond by this point is absolutely smitten with Vesper, and who wouldn’t be? But a money transfer exposes her as a cheat, and when he goes after her in Venice, 007 forgets to use his gadget-laden gondola from Moonraker, which is probably parked in a dusty garage. Instead he causes a whole building to collapse, and poor double-crossing Vesper shuffles off this mortal coil. Eva Green gives a stunning performance as the tortured heroine, and is up there with Famke Janssen as one of the saga’s greatest thesps. Glamorous, a bit broken and utterly compelling.

We close with a miffed Bond tracking down a bad guy and uttering those immortal words before the credits roll: “James. Sid James.”

No, that would be silly, though it does have a ring to it; who wouldn’t want to see Dan play Sid in a remake of Carry On Cleo?

Instead we get the more predictable “Bond, James Bond”, and that’s it. Job done.

“CaSony” Royale may be too heavy on the not-so-subtle adverts, but what a movie. Phenomenal cast, incredible stunts, wonderful femme fatale, killer score, amazing effects, and eye-watering moments of intensity.

The loose ends from this movie would be tied up in the next, but, if you’ll excuse the deliberate use of ellipses, Quantum of Solace would have more than its fair share of problems…

Casino Royale is currently streaming on Amazon Prime

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