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Casino Royale (2006)
Tonight's Feature Presentation

CASINO ROYALE (2006)

Starring: Daniel Craig, Eva Green, Mads Mikkelsen, Judi Dench, Giancarlo Giannini, Jeffrey Wright

Written By: Neal Purvis, Robert Wade, Paul Haggis, Ian Fleming (novel) Directed By: Martin Campbell

The Short Version

The greatest franchise in cinema gets saved by a timely reboot.

It’s surprisingly true to Ian Fleming’s book, all things considered.

Daniel Craig is a brilliant Bond.

Even taken as a straight Espionage Thriller, this is a great film.

Casino Royale is one of the best Bond movies ever.  Own it.


The Long Version

What Kind Of Cheese Is It?

ENGLISH CHEDDAR.

Only the real stuff will do.


Pairs Well With...

VESPER.

The proper, longform version of “vodka martini, shaken, not stirred” is as follows:

Three parts gin (Bond suggests Gordon’s), one part grain vodka, one half part Lillet Blanc.* Shaken over ice until cold, then served with a lemon peel.

*Ian Fleming originally called for Kina Lillet, but this has not been available since the 80s.  Lillet Blanc is the proper modern substitute.

“I’m the money.”

“Every penny of it.”


When Pierce Brosnan left the James Bond franchise, he left it in flames.  After at least twenty (or more, depending on how one chooses to count) films, the well seemed to have run dry, and what had once been the greatest franchise in the history of motion pictures looked to have crossed beyond the point of redemption thanks to an absolutely wretched last outing better known as Die Another Day.  The series had been on the ropes several times before, but this one looked like it might really be the end.

And then Eon Productions decided to push the button it had always resisted pushing: the one marked “reboot.”  In doing so, not only did they save the franchise, but I would argue that they in fact set the foundation necessary to make it stronger than it had been at any time since the mid-1960s.

Our story begins with the field initiation of the latest member of British Intelligence to achieve “Double-O” status: James Bond, 007 (Daniel Craig, Renaissance).  Once he’s proven that he can kill effectively and without remorse, Bond is sent to trail a bomb maker in Africa, which in turn leads to him preventing a major terrorist disaster in America… and bankrupting one of the underworld’s foremost financiers, Le Chiffre (Mads Mikkelsen, The Three Musketeers), in the process.

Now Le Chiffre needs to come up with $100 million before his clients show up for his head, and the quickest means he can think of to raise the cash is by hosting a high stakes, winner-take-all poker tournament at the Casino Royale in Montenegro.  If he wins, he’s free and clear to keep funding terrorists across the globe… but if he loses, then he has nowhere to run, save into the arms of some government agency or other, where he can trade the secrets of the underworld for protection from his former clients.  As the best card player in the Service, James Bond’s next task is to make sure that Le Chiffre ends up with nowhere to run.

Of course, Le Chiffre wouldn’t be much of a villain if he didn’t do everything in his power to stack the deck…

When Eon Productions pressed the “reboot” button on the James Bond franchise, they pressed it all the way down, decided to go back to the very beginning with the only one of Ian Fleming’s novels they had never filmed: the original.  As it so happens, “Casino Royale” was also one of Fleming’s best, and the writers here do an amazing job of retaining faith to the source material – all of the key elements are there, most notably “the torture scene” and the famous last line of dialogue from the book (which is not the last line of the film, but that’s fine) – while placing it within a thoroughly modern framework that makes its hero a man of the present rather than one of the past.  It’s a very deft adaptation, excising the blatant racism and misogyny that were the unfortunate pitfalls of Fleming’s works while retaining the superb thrills of everything else, and the end result puts the screenplay for Casino Royale in the rare company of Blade Runner as one of the very few instances wherein a great book is turned into an even greater script.

One of the secrets to the script’s success is that while it is definitively a “James Bond movie,” it doesn’t rely on the trappings of being a James Bond movie to stay afloat.  Just like the original novel, it would be great even if no one had ever heard of 007 prior to picking up the film.  It stands alone as a superb Espionage Thriller, and it stands very well indeed.  The story is solid and remarkably detailed.  (Standard Western storytelling occurs in three acts; Casino Royale has three acts of three acts each.)  While it jumps the tracks of plausibility on a few occasions like any good thriller is wont to do, it does in fact keep it down to just a few occasions, and the thrills are balanced by a very rich attention to character.  The writers here weren’t just trying to restart James Bond; they wanted to pen a great movie, period.

The hints of the writers are taken well by Director Martin Campbell (who sat in the chair for a “soft restart” of the franchise years before with GoldenEye), who puts in a very solid effort that puts the primary focus on the characters while still remembering to highlight the action – be the explosive action of a fireball or the psychological action of a poker table – where appropriate.  He understands that this story requires 007 to simmer so that it is not until the very end that he truly becomes “Bond, James Bond,” and the audience gets to come out as the big winner.

The shower scene.  The one take shower scene.  Absolutely brilliant.

As for Mr. Bond himself…

When it was first announced that Daniel Craig had been chosen as the new James Bond, the general attitude of the movie going public was cautious at best.  Most people outside the UK and environs had never heard of him before, and even among those who had, the first words of protest were usually “But he’s blond!”  All of the naysaying was quickly forgotten, however, one everyone got a peek at what he was bringing to the table.  He combines Sean Connery’s cool with the darkness of Ian Fleming’s original conception of the character, and the end result is not only a fantastic realization of James Bond for modern times, but, to my mind, the best of all the Bonds.

Yes.  I said it.  I like Daniel Craig better than Sean Connery.

For his first time around in the Aston Martin, he’s got a great cast to back him up.  Eva Green (Dark Shadows) is sharp and sexy dynamite as Vesper, standing toe to toe with Craig’s Bond in a way that is absolutely vital to the success of the story’s most crucial element.  Mads Mikkelsen is an effective villain who plays his role smoothly and well without overshadowing the hero, who needs to have the lion’s share of the spotlight here as the audience gets to know him afresh.  Jeffrey Wright (Shaft) is an inspired choice as a completely reinvented version of Felix Leiter, but by far the best casting decision made by the people at Eon after the hiring of Daniel Craig is the retention of Dame Judi Dench (Chocolat) as M, the one and only holdover from the previous films, but easily the best holdover that they could possibly have chosen.  Not only does she radiate command as the head of British Intelligence, but she also proves to have a remarkable chemistry with Daniel Craig, and given what the script does with the relationship between the characters of Bond and M, this adds a richness to the play that not only dividends here, but that will certainly continue to do so for many pictures to come.

But it all starts here, with the last hope Eon had of getting it right… and Casino Royale nails it.  Never mind the lack of Q gadgets; you won’t even notice that they’re missing.  Trust me.  Even the lack of dancing girls during the opening credits is easy to miss; the card animation works very well indeed, and Chris Cornell’s track (very nicely titled “You Know My Name”) definitely fits the bill as a Very Good Bond Theme.

Bottom line, with the franchise on the ropes, Casino Royale not only saves the series, but gives it fresh life in the process.  It is, indeed, one of the five best James Bond films right out of the gate, and stands well as a Great Movie even before one considers all of that 007 goodness.  If you enjoy Espionage Thrillers at all and James Bond movies in particular, there’s simply no question that this is one of the essential titles of the franchise that deserves to be owned and watched again and again.

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- Reviewed by Ziggy Berkeley, November, 2012


You can email Ziggy at ziggy@cinemaontherocks.com. You can also find us on Facebook.


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