Film Review: Casino Royale

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Casino Royale

I have to admit, James Bond is a guilty pleasure, even more guilty since I recently got around to reading the Ian Fleming series (I tracked down a whole set of the 60s Pan editions, with their beautifully designed covers) and experienced some of the dodgy writing, casual racism and full-on contempt for women that characterise the series. Despite the innumerable flaws however, there’s a reason James Bond has become one of the most enduring of cinematic characters, and the books are such entertaining page turners, perfect for plane journeys—he is seriously, unremittingly cool.

Of course there have been times (Roger Moore *cough*) when the filmakers completely forgot this essential fact. To give them their due, take a look at the average 70s haircut and wonder at contemporary definitions. But Bond was never supposed to be cool in a fashionable, trendy way. He was cool in a hard, uncompromising, lone wolf kind of way.

Director Martin Campbell and writers Neal Purvis, Robert Wade and Paul Haggis get it. The first stroke of genius was casting Daniel Craig, whose steel blue eyes and craggy face are perfect for the role, not to mention the acting chops he brings with him. It’s a breath of fresh air to see emotional depth in the lead character’s eyes in a James Bond film. I can only shake my head in amazement at those who campaigned so vehemently against his casting, and wonder if they ever read the books.

The second stroke of genius was abandoning all pretence at there being a chronology (the films have never followed the order of the books anyway) and taking Bond back to his first assignment. This is more character development that we’ve seen in the last ten films put together (with the possible exception of some of what happened to Brosnan’s Bond in Die Another Day, before it got very silly).

Of course there’s an alluring girl, Eva Green (Vesper Lynd), an interesting if slightly undeveloped bad guy Le Chiffre (Mads Mikkelsen), and a convoluted plot. Thankfully missing is the villain’s huge underground/undersea/in space lair, the dumb gadgets and stock funny Q scene (in the books, Bond often bemoans the fact that he doesn’t have any gadgets to fall back on). Present and accounted for is torture (Bond is captured and tortured surprisingly often in the books), incredible action sequences (the opening is one of the best chase sequences I’ve ever seen), tense gambling sessions in expensive European hotels, and real danger and visceral punchups. The writers have obviously had great fun shaking things up (“Shaken or stirred?” asks a waiter. “Do I look like I give a damn?” shoots back a pissed off Bond). Of course there are a few flaws—most notably the plot gets messy towards the end and loses momentum.

But this is the best thing that’s happened to Bond since Connery. How long can it last? Not long I suspect. Another director will eventually bring back the lame humour and derivative phrases. But if you’ve ever enjoyed a Bond film make sure you catch this one. And next time you get on an airplane, enjoy one of the books.

Four cane chairs out of five.

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