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OUR WORD IS OUR BOND – CASINO ROYALE (2006)

We reach the Daniel Craig era of the Bond series with Leon Nicholson’s review of Casino Royale (2006), starring Daniel Craig, Mads Mikkelsen and Eva Green.8
After Pierce Brosnan steadied the ship with solid Bond offerings despite the below par Die Another Day (personally, I didn’t think it was an awful movie, but the appalling CGI – for example, the scene where Halle Berry’s Jinx dives off the cliff – was, in a word, embarrassing… I’ve seen better CGI in the classic kids TV show Knightmare!) it was time yet again for our British hero to find a new direction. All of a sudden, our aging secret agent found that every spy flick that wasn’t Bond was not only kicking ass but was also touted as being better than 007. Eon’s series was considerably more worn than Dirk Diggler’s mattress and desperately needed a makeover. What certainly didn’t help the franchise was that a certain Jason Bourne burst onto the scene and captured the viewing public’s imagination. Did The Bourne Identity however, inadvertently give rise to a new Bond?
The reaction to Daniel Craig winning one of the most iconic roles in cinema – which included (imagine in an annoying whining voice) “you can’t have a blonde Bond” – was absolutely ridiculous. A certain publication (that will not be mentioned) ran with the headline (The name’s Bland – James Bland). It seemed that no-one was willing to give him a chance. What came next, via the final cut of the film, no-one was expecting…7
Casino Royale begins with a ‘cold open’ of sorts showing us, the audience, how Bond earned his 007 status. With the viewer’s attention well and truly captured, it’s on to the main story where Bond’s mission is to investigate Le Chiffre (Mads Mikkelsen), an expert poker player and private banker to the world’s terrorists. After losing millions of his client’s money due to a failed plot thanks to Bond, Le Chiffre knows that to stay alive he must find a way to recoup the money. Attending the poker tournament at Casino Royale is his only option. The British Secret Service sends our hero there to stop him winning the money, which in turn will destroy his organisation. The beautiful Vespa (Eva Green) is sent to support Bond, but as time goes on their frosty relationship develops into something more but in a world of espionage, violence and distrust, nothing is ever what it seems…
It is clear from watching Casino Royale that Bond was ‘Bourne again’. This time audiences were ready for a grittier Bond, one that is cold, ruthless and mean. One that, in truth, did not depart too much from Dalton’s 007 in Licence To Kill, which sadly, viewers at the time were not yet ready to accept. Here Bond is well and truly dragged into the 21st century and it feels like the campy tone and tired direction that had plagued the series in its mid to later years is well and truly behind us.4
Daniel Craig silences the doubters and haters with an extraordinary performance that well and truly cemented his place in the public’s psyche as this generation’s Bond. For those unaware, this is a rebooted series showing us how Bond earned his ‘00’ status and with that, Craig is allowed to bring a cocky, arrogant persona to Bond. Yet, on the other hand he conveys an honest, vulnerable side to him– one that explains why Bond became the misogynist we have all come to know.
Whether one loves or loathes Vespa, one cannot doubt Eva Green’s performance – the perfect, if unlikely, foil for Craig’s Bond. Usually the Bond girl is nothing more than eye candy who most certainly has to be rescued by 007, but Vespa, despite her agenda, is a strong character who stands up to Bond and can hold her own. So along with 007, we also have a Bond girl who also crosses the threshold into the 21st century.
Mads Mikkelsen as Le Chiffre may not be the toughest bad guy in the series – in fact, he’s not physically intimidating and most would fancy their chances with him in a one-to-one punch up. The character’s ‘power’ however (which incidentally is also his weakness), comes through money. For Le Chiffre, money and knowledge together is power. Mikkelsen’s performance is an example of understated brilliance. How many times does Le Chiffre get mentioned as a great bad guy? How many times does his performance get mentioned in the same breath as Craig? To be honest, I’m not sure; but Mikkelsen’s villain departs from the over the top antics of most Bond flicks which is a breath of fresh air, demonstrating that an effective Bond villain does not need to ham it up. Judi Dench as M is, as per usual, nothing short of brilliant and the rest of the support including Giancarlo Giannini and Jeffery Wright all do their bit in contributing to a great movie.9
Direction from Martin Campbell (helming his second Bond movie, the first being Goldeneye) is excellent – from the monochrome pre-opening credit titles, the relentless and brilliant Parkour chase, through to the death defying stunts. In the non action sequences, especially the tournament at Casino Royale (which should be boring as hell), Campbell manages to keep the viewer’s interest by making Texas’ Hold ‘em a tense affair (I suppose the fate of the world hinging on this contest is the catalyst). Poker was never this interesting on Channel 5.
One cannot mention Bond without Chris Cornell’s You Know My Name. It’s a superb track which, like most Bond songs, takes even more significance when viewing the film. Despite Casino Royale being huge, the song and its release felt low key in comparison to the hype that surrounded previous Bond music. That however could be attributed to the change in climate within the music industry where singles and albums was significantly more readily available than ever before.
Casino Royale was what the doctor ordered for the franchise – a series that was stabilised through its success at the box office via Brosnan, but still wasn’t quite sure where it was heading until Jason Bourne came along (not Richard Chamberlain’s incarnation but Matt Damon’s). It looks as if The Bourne Identity inadvertently gave rise to a new Bond. Casino Royale looks tight, feels fresh – it reinvigorates the franchise like never before, and up to that point (and some would say still) is one of the best Bond flicks ever made. On repeat viewings it’s just as brilliant now as it was then.featured
One thought, or if you like, question remains – despite loving Campbell’s vision and retelling, I wonder what Quentin Tarantino’s version would have been like?
MoM Rating 9/10

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