(director: Martin Campbell; screenwriters: Neal Purvis/Robert Wade/Paul Haggis/from the novel by Ian Fleming; cinematographer: Phil Meheux; editor: Stuart Baird; music: David Arnold; cast: Daniel Craig (James Bond), Eva Green (Vesper Lynd), Mads Mikkelsen (Le Chiffre), Giancarlo Giannini (Mathis), Caterina Murino (Solange), Simon Abkarian (Alex Dimitrios), Isaach De Bankole (Steven Obanno), Jesper Christensen (Mr. White), Ivana Milicevic (Valenka), Tobias Menzies (Villiers), Claudio Santamaria (Carlos), Sébastien Foucan (Mollaka), Lazar Ristovski (Kaminovski), Tsai Chin (Madam Wu), Veruschka (Gräfin von Wallenstein), Tom So (Fukutu), Ade (Infante), Urbano Barberini (Tomelli), Charlie Levi Leroy (Gallardo), Ludger Pistor (Mendel), Jeffrey Wright (Felix Leiter), Judi Dench (M); Runtime: 144; MPAA Rating: PG-13; producer: Barbara Broccoli/Michael G. Wilson; Columbia Pictures; 2006-United Kingdom/Czech Republic)

“I’m actually looking forward to the next Bond film–something I didn’t think I would ever say with a straight face.”

Reviewed by Dennis Schwartz

Bird watcher Ian Fleming cribbed the name James Bond from the American author of an ornithology book he was reading while in Jamaica writing in 1953 his first Bond book, a Cold War tale called Casino Royale. This film goes back to the basics, picking up from the beginning of the Bond myth as it re-boots the 007 franchise and lets us see the man before his rep became legendary as an MI6 agent. Since the Bond franchise began in 1962 with Dr. No (the reason being that the producers failed to get the rights to Casino Royale) there have been five Bonds: Sean Connery, George Lazenby, Roger Moore, Timothy Dalton and Pierce Brosnan. Easily the best was Connery, and the two best Bond films were Dr. No and the even better From Russia With Love. The new Bond is Craig. He replaces the overage Brosnan, who played him as a debonair playboy not overly enthused about the action part as he was with the image itself. The blue-eyed blond Daniel Craig is a great choice; he’s the type of witty, cold, patriotic, luxury craving professional killing machine Ian Fleming had in mind when he conceived the character and gives us a darker, meaner and more modern Bond. Though I’m still a Connery supporter, I couldn’t be more pleased with this choice. Craig has the necessary good looks, sex appeal, physical built, sophistication, physical skills and killer instinct to play the Brit icon with the intended charm and verve of someone who can go from wearing an evening tux to a bloodied wardrobe and still look cool either way. He’s just right to be the adventurous bloke who would enjoy taking a spin in a super-charged Bentley or choking a villain to death with his bare hands or taking a roll on the hotel floor with a hot married chick. The franchise, owned by Barbara Broccoli and Michael G. Wilson, was growing stale in recent years after 20 pics and was going in the wrong direction with too much gadgetry, cartoonish characterizations, over-the-top campy violence and becoming more gag driven than plot driven. All that is scaled back giving the Bond fans some requisite gags and gadgetry, but not so it overwhelms the action story. This first-class script for an action thriller is turned in by the writing team of Neal Purvis, Robert Wade and Paul Haggis, who keep the focus on the action and character parts. It’s directed by Goldeneye’s Martin Campbell (“The Mask of Zorro”), who makes it appear that it’s not all in the bag for Bond, that he’s so battered that he might not make it this time. Also, the original story is updated to a post-9/11 world. The plot covers how a network of terrorists are financed through the stock market and gambling, and how they are ruthless in ruining the lives of anyone who stands in their way. It also tells of Bond falling in love for the first time and turning bitter over his loss. All these changes were what were needed to make it incredibly watchable. We know this one is going to be different when Bond asks the bartender for “A vodka martini, please,” and the bartender asks: “Shaken or stirred?” a testy Bond replies: “Do I look like I give a damn?”

After the film introduces us to Bond in action, choking to death a villain in a Prague restroom, in a black and white sequence, it then goes into lush color and there’s a spirited chase through a building site of a bomb maker (Sebastien Foucan) in Madagascar (the film’s unsurpassed action sequence, with first-rate stunt work) and then we catch 007 playing a high-stakes poker game (it will reach a pot of 150 million dolllars) at the ritzy Casino Royale in Montenegro with terrorist banker Le Chiffre (Mads Mikkelsen, Danish actor). If Bond loses, the Brits will be supporting terrorists. Bond takes a beating, gets thrown off ledges, poisoned and tortured, but never quits. But his biggest beating comes when he falls hook, line and sinker for stealthy government accountant Vesper Lynd (Eva Green) and has his heart broken.

The film’s main flaw is that at 144 minutes it’s really pushing the time limit for an action flick, and it would have been better served if cut back at least 30 minutes. That card game went on for too long, and was taking away a lot of energy from the fast start. The other flaw is that the plot is filled with hugh holes (which can be overlooked since one doesn’t expect the plot to make too much sense in a Bond film and, besides, everything else seemed to be in check). What this flagging franchise got was a tremendous boost and a chance to keep going on with a quality product, and having Judi Dench back as M keeps some stability for its fan base. Craig is signed on for three more films, and I’m actually looking forward to the next Bond film–something I didn’t think I would ever say with a straight face.

Casino Royale