Wednesday, January 31, 2007

Casino Royale


Craig Forges Impressive Bond

The James Bond series of films is the longest running franchise in movie history. This an amazing feat, if for no other reason than just about all of these movies contain the same interchangeable characters, villains, and plot. There has been practically no variation on this very successful formula for almost forty years. Only the names of the lead actor have changed. I’m happy to report that Casino Royale is a change for the good, and Daniel Craig makes a most excellent James Bond.

Shortly after obtaining OO status (two kills required), Commander James Bond (Craig) quickly foils the plan of the sinister Le Chiffre (Mads Mikkelsen) to make millions from sabotage. In order to recoup the millions entrusted to him by terrorists, Le Chiffre enters a high stakes poker game at Casino Royale in Montenegro. Bond is sent to win the poker game at all costs, which would force Le Chiffre to run to MI6 for protection in exchange for invaluable information about the terrorist community.

I don’t know who selected Craig (Munich) for this role, but they should be knighted for their efforts. He is absolutely wonderful here, with his chiseled features and piercing, pale blue eyes. This guy oozes testosterone from every pore, showing intense masculinity and even a soft side! One minute he’s dragging a bad guy out of his own embassy, and the next he’s wooing the lovely Vesper Lynd (Eva Green). Even when stripped naked and tortured, the guy looks totally in charge.

Since this is essentially the origin of Bond, many of the trademarks (or clich├ęs) we have all been used to don’t exist. There is no Q to outfit our hero with gadgets (though he does have a few), no Bond theme (until the very end), no traditional pre-credit action sequence (though we do get the famed gun barrel, in a slightly different spot), and many more. It’s a nice change of pace and fits well.

Another plus is that Casino Royale feels like a real film, and less like a comic book. Sure, there are spectacular action set pieces, but the movie actually slows down and gives Bond character development (with an arc), something unheard of in the history of Bond. His interaction with Bond Girl Green (Kingdom of Heaven) paints her as Bond’s equal, and not just a bimbo to be slept with. There is real suspense as Bond barely (and believably) skirts death, as well as in the poker game. Did I mention the torture scene? I’ve never seen this specific kind before, and speaking for all men everywhere, this is the closest I’d ever want to get to it.

Casino Royale is not just a good entry in the James Bond franchise, but a very good film, period. It’s the best Bond since Goldeneye (1995), which was also directed by Martin Campbell, who really seems to know what he’s doing with this character. So does Craig, Daniel Craig.

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