The cold open to Casino Royale shows, in sleek black and white, James Bond (Daniel Craig, in his debut as the character) waiting in the shadows of an office for a corrupt MI6 agent. Bond explains to the man that he killed his contact. The scene is essentially a gritty fist fight cross-cut with a noir-style confrontation. It is also essentially MI6’s test to Bond, a mission that gives Bond his 00 status (because killing two people while working for MI6 makes you a 00-agent, arbitrarily). Albeit brief, it is a wonderful opening.
We then see a meeting of evil minds. Mr. White (Jesper Christensen), leader of global crime organization Quantum, is setting up private banker (for terrorists) Le Chiffre (Mads Mikkelsen) with a terrorist outfit. Later, we will see Le Chiffre and Bond play a lot of poker. But more on that later.
After this, we get an extended parkour chase through a construction site in Madagascar between Bond and a bomb maker. Mesmerizing, yes. Overbearing in its length and gritty intensity, yes. The filmmaker’s immediate statement to the world that this is indeed Bond for the 21st century, yes.
Casino Royale is definitely Eon Productions’ making a statement. It’s time to take Bond seriously, they said. And, with this film, they got me listening. Bond is gritty, but the character shows a shred of humanity (the smallest semblance of a shred, but a shred all the same). He fights real crime, not megalomaniac super villains hell-bent on starting World War III or wiping out humanity to start a new master race.
The action set pieces in this film are simply astounding. There are a few extended scenes that evolve to extraordinary heights. Perhaps these scenes are a tad too long, and the action could have been spread over the length of the film in smaller doses. But, all in all, the action is Bond at its best.
Ultimately, Bond is tasked with being part of a high stakes elite poker game to keep Le Chiffre from winning the money, money Le Chiffre needs to keep himself alive after Bond foils his plot to destroy a plane, plummet the plane manufacturer’s stock, and reap the benefits of the prior stock knowledge. The poker seems are somewhat tedious, but they are interspersed with more high octane scenes that make the whole poker portion of the film pass by without pacing issues.
The acting in the film excels on most fronts. Craig may have his stumbling moments, but he is a satisfactorily suave yet aggressive Bond. When he shines, however, is when he has interplay with his love interest Vesper Lynd (Eva Green). The early witticisms land perfectly and the later tragic moments are heart-wrenching. In this way, Green makes for the perfect Bond girl.
Mads Mikkelsen’s Le Chiffre is coolly menacing in a familiar way, but it works here. There may be nothing out of the ordinary about his characterization, but he has acting chops enough to make any character shine, it seems.
Of all the embodiments of Bond’s CIA counterpart Felix Leiter, Jeffrey Wright may be the most subtle. In some ways, this takes away from the dynamic that Bond and Leiter have in earlier Bond installments, where Leiter is a more brash and less attentive foil to Bond. Not every character needs to be perfectly calm and concealing at all times. The minor characters don’t need to be J.W. Pepper or anything crazy like that, but, as good as Wright acts it, the character of Leiter is too much like everyone else in the film to be noticeable.
The film culminates in one of the best, if not the best, Bond finales. Bond is taken to task with his masculinity on the most literal of levels, and the final minutes set up the future of Craig’s Bond character in the best possible way.
Of the small critiques I have of this film, the main one is that it could have been shaved down. It is the second longest Bond film, next to the forthcoming Spectre (average run-time hangs around the two-hour mark). As such, some of those longer action set pieces could have been cut down at the level of parkour, of which there is a lot.
Also, many characters, even those that appear in future films, are glossed over. Don’t believe me? Let me ask you this: Do you recognize the name Valenka? She’s a villain. Yep, a femme fatale. However, I don’t think she speaks a line.
Length aside, Casino Royale is one of the most well-rounded Bond films in the oeuvre.
Casino Royale: A
As always, thanks for reading!
Casino Royale is currently available to rent/buy on Amazon Video here.
- Casino Royale: A
- Die Another Day: D-
- The World is Not Enough: D+
- Tomorrow Never Dies: C
- GoldenEye: A-
- License to Kill: B+
- The Living Daylights: B+
- A View to a Kill: D+
- Octopussy: C-
- For Your Eyes Only: C
- Moonraker: D
- The Spy Who Loved Me: B-
- The Man With the Golden Gun: C+
- Live and Let Die: C+
- Diamonds Are Forever: C-
- On Her Majesty’s Secret Service: B+
- Casino Royale (1967): D+
- You Only Live Twice: C+
- Thunderball: C-
- Goldfinger: A-
- From Russia With Love: A-
- Dr. No: B
What do you think? How do you feel about the Daniel Craig Bond films? Who’s your favorite Bond? Let me know in the comments!
—Alex Brannan (@TheAlexBrannan)