Directed by Martin Campbell
Daniel Craig, Eva Green, Mads Mikkelsen, Jefferey Wright, Caterina Murino, Judi Dench as ‘M’
Music by David Arnold
Title Song performed by Chris Cornell
Based on the novel by Ian Fleming
This is the first official (EON Productions) version of Casino Royale, and it is the twenty-first film in the series. Before I launch into my review, I’ll state my opinion for Die Another Day, the previous movie in the series. I was incredibly disappointed – I won’t go as far as to say ‘hate’, because that is such a strong word, and there were a few good moments – but I will say it is the weakest movie in the series. Two of the many things that I didn’t like were the editing and the sloppy CGI.
That brings us to Casino Royale. Is it any good? Yes. Is it the best Bond film ever? Nearly, but not quite (for me, On Her Majesty’s Secret Service still retains that title). Firstly, I’ll address my complaints from Die Another Day. The editor on Casino Royale was Stuart Baird. Baird has worked on many successful films as an editor and even as a director, and thankfully he does not take the same route as Christian Wagner (Die Another Day’s editor). There is no MTV editing in Casino Royale. Sure scenes are cut together quickly, but there is no exaggerated speeding up or slowing down of the action to create a visual effect.
And was there any CGI in Casino Royale? Probably. Most films do these days. But I didn’t notice it. So I was extremely happy about that. So all my grievances had been addressed. Let’s look at the rest of the film.
Something you will read time and time again about the Bond films, is about the amount of controversy and drama that went into making the movie. As the James Bond series has been so popular for so long, we as audience members almost feel that we have a stake in the direction and the casting of each film. Casino Royale is no exception to that rule. In fact the gap between Die Another Day and Casino Royale may be one of the most tumultuous in Bond history. And fans loudly vocalised their opinions throughout every step of the production process.
First we had the poorly handled dismissal of the Billion Dollar Bond, Pierce Brosnan. Fans were not happy, and Brosnan was not happy.
Next, rumours began to circulate that the next film would be Casino Royale, and that Quentin Tarantino was going to direct. They were half right. The film was indeed Casino Royale, but Tarantino was never going to be allowed to direct.
When the first stories of the script crept out to the public, it was said that this was a new younger Bond. This film was going to tell the back story of how Bond became Bond. As it was the first book written by Fleming, they figured it must have been Bond’s first mission too.
Adding to the confusion slightly, was that author, Charlie Higgson had released a series of Young Bond books. It was hinted at in some quarters that this film may in fact not be a younger Bond, but Young Bond, and that they were trying to capture the Harry Potter market. Thankfully this rumour turned out to be rubbish.
Then came the long wait to find the successor. Many names were bandied about the press. Some were genuinely in the running and others were just rumours. Names included Clive Owen, Hugh Jackman, Gerard Butler, Timothy West, Orlando Bloom, Sam Worthington, Russell Crow, Daniel Radcliffe (as Young Bond), and Goran Visnjic. One rumour I got a chuckle from (and it was repeated in various articles) was that Colin Salmon was in the final running to play James Bond. No racism intended, but Colin Salmon is the black actor who had played Robinson in the past three Bond movies. Apparently Salmon would fill in for Brosnan when they were testing actresses for their roles. I wonder who started the rumour, Brosnan or Salmon himself?
When the announcement came that Daniel Craig was to be the new Bond, it met with a strong, mixed reaction. Those who had seen Craig in Layer Cake, Arch Angel, and Munich were quite pleased to see him get the role. But many others believed he was too short, and too blonde. His appointment met with such a strong reaction that a website ‘craignotbond.com’ was set up, and angry posters got to express their annoyance and opinions online.
But after all the discussion and distraction the film was underway. Martin Campbell, who had directed Goldeneye was called back to helm the movie. Eva Green was cast as Vesper Lynd and Mads Mickelson landed the role of Le Chiffre.
Believe me when I say that the background information I have given you is a seriously condensed version of the events leading up to the release of this film. But that’s history, how did the film end up?
The film opens in Prague, and James Bond is sitting in the dark, in an office belonging to Czech Republic Section Chief Dryden (Malcolm Sinclair). Dryden has been a bit naughty and been selling state secrets. As Dryden enters his office, he is surprised to find Bond waiting for him. But Dryden isn’t concerned. After all, if he were in trouble, ‘M’ would have sent a Double ‘O’ agent to kill him. Bond isn’t a Double ‘O’. Dryden pulls a pistol from his desk and tries to shoot Bond. But this new guy, Bond is no dummy. He had retrieved the magazine from the pistol earlier. Bond then reveals that in tracking Dryden, he in fact has killed Dryden’s contact man. It takes two kills to become a Double ‘O’ and Dryden’s time is up. Bond shoots Dryden and the titles roll. So the rumours about this film being Bond’s first mission are true. It may throw the continuity of the series out the window, but what the heck, let’s just ride with it!
Daniel Kleinman’s title sequence is one of the best in ages. Since taking over from Maurice Binder, generally Kleinman’s titles have been too busy and too high tech. I have nothing against the technology, but there has been a tendency to throw every special effect in the book at the titles, rather than create a ‘mood’. This time, Kleinman nails it.
After the titles we really launch into the action. Bond is now a ‘Double-O’ and on assignment. Indirectly, his mission is track down and stop Le Chiffre (Mad Mikkelsen). Le Chiffre is an international banker who launders money for military and terrorist organizations. After one of his schemes goes wrong, he has to quickly recoup a large amount of money. He intends to do this by winning a high-stakes poker game at Casino Royale in Montenegro. And this is where James Bond comes in. Apparently he is the best card player MI6 have. And they send him to beat Le Chiffre. If Le Chiffre doesn’t win, the terrorist organization that owns the money that he has squandered will come looking for him. Naturally enough, this is a Bond story, so it isn’t all as simple as that, and becomes quite convoluted in parts. But after forty-four years of Bond movies, picking over the plot holes is pointless really.
Along the way Bond has encounters with two Bond girls. And so he should. He is still James Bond, after all. The first is Solange (Caterina Murino). I don’t think her character name is even mentioned in the film, so that probably shows you how important to the story she is. But she looks great, and lends a bit of elegance to this production.
The other Bond girl is Vesper Lynd (Eva Green). She is the girl that ‘matters’ to Bond. I’m sorry, Eva doesn’t do it for me. She seems like a school girl. At least she can act, unlike some of the previous Bond girls. But I didn’t really feel the chemistry between Daniel Craig and Eva Green. I would suggest that any emotion we feel for Vesper as a character is created by Bond’s reaction to her actions.
As I mentioned earlier, there was quite a bit of controversy surrounding the appointment of Daniel Craig as Bond. So how does he stack up? Quite simply, he is great. There’s a bit of soccer hooligan about him that works really well. You actually believe the man is dangerous, and isn’t that what Bond is all about? His only (slightly) jarring sequence is a torture scene. It appears to be softened with an injection of humour, which seems a bit incongruous. But then, the filmmakers had to get it past the censors. A full-blooded torture scene may have got the film a harsh rating and eliminate much of the younger viewing audience. Quite simply, Craig makes a fantastic debut as James Bond.
A quick word about Jeffery Wright as Felix Leiter. All I can say that he is under used, and when he does speak it is verging on seventies cop show ghetto speak – he refers to himself as a ‘brother’, and calls Bond ‘man’. If Wright does not turn up in the next few Bond movies, then this deviation from the character is unforgivable. And let’s face it; Leiter is the least consistent character in the series with six actors having played him (eight if you count Bernie Casey in Never Say Never Again, and Michael Pate as Clarence Leiter in the TV version of Casino Royale). But if Wright continues with the series, and his character is re-imagined as they like to say these days, then the stylised performance can be forgiven.
Casino Royale is essentially a four act play. The first act is how Bond got to be a Double ‘O’, which I have described briefly above. The second act concerns a terrorist strike in Miami. The third is the confrontation with the villain, Le Chiffre at the Casino Royale in Monte Negro. And the final act ties up all the loose ends and shows us how Bond became the man we all know so well. Shifting between these four very distinct parts creates a little unevenness throughout the film. The changes in tone and pace don’t always sit well next to each other, and this is particularly noticeable at the end of the film. But having said that, on the whole I think it works quite well as a Bond movie, and if you are a hard-core Bond fanatic, there are plenty of cameos and references to past Bond films to keep you happy for days trying to spot them all.
I have a few minor criticisms, and this applies for a lot of the recent Bond films, not just Casino Royale, is that the Bond series used to be the originators – not copiers or followers. In Casino Royale many of the set pieces appear to be borrowed from other recent spy films. The ‘Free Running’ (or Parkour) sequences, as good as they are, owe a lot to the French films Crimson Rivers 2 and District 13. The sequence on top of the crane can be tracked back to the Jackie Chan film, The Accidental Spy. There’s a scene, which is very similar to the ending of Mission Impossible 3, where a defibrillator has to be used to revive one of the characters (I won’t say which one). And finally there’s a scene that duplicates a tense moment in The Bourne Supremacy – I won’t describe it, as it will spoil the film for those who haven’t seen it, but as I said, many elements appear to be borrowed from other films within the genre. In the sixties Bond was the originator and everyone else followed – whereas today Bond feeds off its many imitators.
It must be very hard for the Producers and the Directors of Bond films to come up with stories and screenplays that give the very broad Bond audience what they want. Some people want swinging Sean Bond; some prefer light hearted Roger Bond, or any of the other actors. Some people even want Fleming’s Bond. You cannot please every one. As I have said, this is one of the better Bond films. But, in some ways is the least Bond-like and may upset some fans. They have kept ‘M’ but have left out ‘Q’ and Moneypenny, and the Bond theme is not used until the final minutes of the film. Also there are no gadgets. So when you take away all the elements that make a film, a Bond film, what are you left with? Just another spy film! It will be interesting to see where the series goes from here. Will the Bond family of characters be re-introduced, or have they had their day?
So there it is, Casino Royale, the twenty-first official Bond film, and a pretty darn good one at that. If you haven’t seen it, do yourself a favour and check it out.
One final comment. If ‘Q’ is to return in future Bond films, I want to put forward my suggestion on who should play the character. Alan Rickman. He is already regarded as the best Bond villain that we never had. But I would like to see him as ‘Q’. Maybe he’d bring a bit of vitriol to the role. No more cheap gags. Hey, I only start the rumours!