James Bond Retrospective: Review of CASINO ROYALE

(I am a pretty huge James Bond fan, so with the new SKYFALL coming out November 9th, I thought it would be cool to re-watch every Bond movie and review them on the site, counting down the days until the latest one is released)

Man, where to start!  The first time I saw LAYER CAKE, I knew Daniel Craig would make a great Bond, and he proves it right away in his first 007 outing, CASINO ROYALE.  The first time I saw it, I really really liked it, but it wasn’t until the second time I saw it that I realized that it was my favorite James Bond movie (not to mention my number 1 movie of 2006).  At the time, it kind of felt blasphemous to say that a brand new Bond film was better than an old school Bond, like say FROM RUSSIA WITH LOVE.  But as time passed, I knew I made the right decision.  After watching it again last night, I still feel the same.  This is my favorite Bond film.

007 is assigned his first mission, which is to find a bring in a bomb maker (to find out who he works for).  Bond fails the mission, as he kills the poor jerk.  But he has his phone, and tracks down a lead.  He discovers that the man he wants is Le Chiffre, a banker for international terrorists.  Getting him would be a big asset to the British Government.  It turns out Le Chiffre has been taking the money deposited by his clients and playing the stock market.  Bond stops the villain’s plot to blow up a luxury airliner, which makes him desperate (since that lost him all of his client’s money).  In a last attempt to get his money back (150 million), Le Chiffre hosts a high stakes poker game at the Casino Royale.  Since Bond is the best poker player MI:6 has got, he is sent in to beat Le Chiffre.  A treasurer named Vesper is sent with Bond to keep an eye on him.  The two hate each other at first, but then a funny thing happens.  They begin to fall in love.  This causes complications on 007’s first mission.

Okay, by now Bond has had a certain formula.  The gadgets, the martinis, the girls, the action.  We all come to expect this from a Bond film.  But CASINO ROYALE turns all of this on its ear.  Everything is still here, but the tone is completely different from what we have seen before.  The closest in tone to any other Bond film would be THE LIVING DAYLIGHTS and LICENCE TO KILL, but it’s still very different from those too.  This movie puts all the Bond ingredients in a blender, shakes it up and creates its own concoction.  Now, as much as I have enjoyed many Bond films,  I would never say that they’re the best films ever made.  They’re entertaining, but you never hear anyone talking about how well a Bond film is made.  Well, CASINO ROYALE changes that.  It’s practically perfect in every way.

The pre-title sequence is outstanding.  I forgot that it was in black & white.  It starts with some guy in a suit walk into a building, goes up an elevator and into his office.  He sits down to find Bond pointing a gun at him.  We learn by their short exchange that this man was selling Government secrets.  The man grabs his gun from his desk and fires, but the chamber is empty.  Bond slyly replies, “I know where you keep your gun”.  God Damn, I love that!  We also learn that in order to be a double-0 agent, you need 2 kills to your name.  Bond says that his first kill was the guy’s contact.  It flashes back to a really intense and messy fight between the contact and Bond, which works extremely well because it’s so chaotic.  Bond kills him by drowning him in a bathroom sink.  Then we see Bond coldly killing the traitor, stating that the second kill was easier.  Then it shows the man who we thought was drowned get back up, and Bond turns around firing his gun as the iconic “gun barrel” forms around him.  Thus the title sequence starts.  When this moment happened in the theater I cheered very loudly as it gave me a nerd boner the size of Tahiti.  I was worried when the movie didn’t start immediately with the gun barrel, but this was a great way to insert it.  Chris Cornell’s song is the perfect way to follow the opening.  It really pumps the adrenaline as it really makes you look forward for what’s going to come after the song is over.  What a beginning!!!

This has a very different structure than your typical Bond film.  The first hour is nearly all action and very fast paced.  I won’t get into great detail about all the other action set pieces, otherwise this review will be 58 paragraphs long.  But the first half contains 2 phenomenal set pieces.  The first is when Bond chases the bomb maker on foot through a construction site, and they climb all over the structure.  There’s so many great moments in this sequence that it require many viewings to take it all in.  Love it when the bad guy throws his empty gun at Bond, who catches it and throws it back, hitting him in the face.  I also thought it was cool that we got to see just how Bond’s mind works while chasing the bomb maker.  You can see his him think as he closely examines his options quickly, then makes a decision.  As a filmmaker, studying this scene shot-by-shot was fascinating to me.  It is without a doubt, the best action sequence in Bond history.  Trust me.  The second set piece is when Bond is trying to stop a bad guy from setting off a bomb an airport.  This is another thrilling, considerably well executed scene.  Bond is chasing the bad guy on foot, who is driving a tanker truck.  007 is all over the place as he jumps on the truck, falls off, gets back on and then fights the guy in the driver’s seat.  This sequence ends with a terrific film geek moment that is immensely satisfying.

The second half is quite different.  Almost like a whole other movie.  The pace slows down and we get to know the character of Bond (much like how we got to know the characters more in KILL BILL Volume 2, rather than the action-packed Volume 1).  Most of this portion focuses on the poker game.  I love the relationship that slowly builds between Bond and Vesper.  There’s a great moment after another thrilling action scene (the fight in the stairwell) that has Bond comforting Vesper while they sit in the shower completely clothed.  This is a very touching moment and says a lot about both characters even though neither of them say a word.  I love the tension between 007 and Le Chiffre during the poker sequences.  I have no idea how to play poker or have any interest in it, but the filmmakers really made the game exciting to me.  There are other great moments: Bond getting poisoned, an amazing record-breaking car stunt, a great torture scene (with a fully naked Daniel Craig getting a thick rope to the balls), and an expensive looking finale involving a sinking building.  And I seriously can’t think of a better way the film could have ended.  It’s a legend-making last shot, along with the last line spoken.

Daniel Craig may seem like an odd choice.  He doesn’t look charming.  He’s good-looking, but in a more sinister sense.  He actually looks more like a bad guy.  And despite all of that, this bold casting proves extremely well.  He’s a blunt instrument (as M call him).  An assassin.  He shows no remorse, and has no time to make inappropriate one-liners.  Well, I guess he says a few, but they never seem too cute.  He’s the first Bond that you can actually believe as an action hero, physically.  And that’s because Craig is just fucking ripped!  He’s not like any other Bond, and that’s refreshing.  Eva Green as Vesper is sexy (especially without makeup), smart and vulnerable.  And unlike most actresses in Bond films, Green can actually act.  Her character turns out to be more complex as the picture goes on too.  Mads Mikkelsen doesn’t say a whole lot as Le Chiffre, but he doesn’t need to.  His cold stares from his blood-dripping eyes make him absolutely intimidating.  And when he does speak, he’s a creation of pure evil.  Great villain!  Judi Dench as M has never been better.  Since the Bond series is being rebooted with this movie, it gives Dench the opportunity to reinvent her character as well.  I love her scenes with Craig, as they try to size each other up.  A great moment is when Bond almost says what her real name is, and her response is classic.  The rest of the cast is terrific.  Jeffrey Wright as the constantly recurring Felix Leiter is low-key.  Love how he made his voice 2 octaves lower for the part.  Giancarlo Giannini is amusing as an ally policeman, and Jesper Christensen makes a lasting impression with his brief screen-time as one of the men that Le Chiffre works for.

Director Martin Campbell also made GOLDENEYE. Now, while I did enjoy it, nothing in that movie would make you think he would be able to make a film this fantastic.  As with the Zorro films though, Campbell has proved that he knows how to create action, and this film is no exception.  It features some of the best action sequences in the Bond series.  Even during the poker scenes, it’s expertly executed.  I love this new stripped down approach.  Gone are the silly, overblown special effects.  In its place are grounded action scenes with practical stunts.  This is the way to go for a bond film I think.  I honestly think, after the Bronsan films, that this approach was the only way to go.  It’s superior than anything that came before it.  The story is riveting for the film’s nearly two and half hour run time.  There’s even a few twists and turns that I didn’t see coming.  David Arnold returns again to do the music, and it’s his best score to date, and that’s saying a lot!  For the Brosnan films, he modernized the Bond themes, mixing electronic programming with an orchestral esthetic.  But since this movie is stripped down, so is the music.  It has a more traditional approach, but still retains that epicness that Arnold has brought to the series.  The music brings the entire film together, and wraps it up in a perfect package.

So yeah…. I guess you can say I liked this movie a little.  Heh, heh.  No….. CASINO ROYALE is an outstanding achievement on every level.  It takes what we love about Bond, and starts from scratch.  Everything is still there, just a little different.  Even the martini makes an appearance (holy shit, loved Bond’s reply if he wants his drink shaken, not stirred).  I think in about 20 years, this is going to be one of those iconic films that every Bond fan will reference too.  You know how most fanatics talk about how awesome GOLDFINGER is?  That’s how they’ll be talking about this one in due time.  Wait a minute… fuck that!  I’ll talk about how awesome it is RIGHT NOW!  GOLDFINGER?  SHMOLDFINGER!  CASINO ROYALE is the best James Bond movie to date.  I’m not sure if it will ever be topped.  It’s near impossible.  It’s not only the best Bond film, but also one of the best action movies ever made.  And now, has become one of my favorite films.  This is a classic.  ★★★★ (out of ★★★★)

– Rated PG-13 for intense sequences of violent action, a scene of torture, sexual content and nudity (though you don’t really see Bond naked.  not even his butt, just the side of his legs.  So…. no.  There’s no nudity here.  Fucking MPAA).

– Runnign time: 2hrs 24min.  (making it the longest Bond film)


Categories: Austin Kennedy, DVD/Blu-ray Reviews, Reviews

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5 replies

  1. Agreed but i think Skyfall tops it just

  2. My SKYFALL review will be up sometime tomorrow. I need to see it again to determine if I like it more than CASINO ROYALE. But for now, it’s at least right behind it.

  3. Okay so I just thought I’d hop on and say I really loved your review because you weren’t afraid to express your abundant enthusiasm about the MANY awesome things about this movie.

    I find critics often compromise too much when it comes to enthusiasm and try too hard to sound like some kind of ethereal spectator that has no emotional involvement in a picture. To me personally, Casino Royale evoked more lasting emotion than I could have ever imagined from a movie, let alone a Bond movie. I don’t know what it is but something about the almost dreamy tone of this movie in some scenes blew me away. It has all of that irresistible Bond charm (despite what some may think) on top of a grounded story that I also do not think this movie will ever be topped, even with Skyfall here. It’s so believable and real, and Daniel Craig is ridiculously convincing in his cold, yet ultimately charming approach. The guy is a badass, and despite looking a bit less of a prettyboy, he still has a charm to him, like a dangerous animal or something that you can’t help but admire.

    • Forgot to ask, given that I have not seen Skyfall :(, did Skyfall evoke any charm or lasting emotion similar to Casino Royale? I’m curious to know what you think because your reactions to Casino Royale virtually mirrored my own.

  4. anyone who thinks Evil Green (tho she is pleasing to the eye from the neck down) is a good actress needs their eyes or their heads examined . . . tho she does almost redeemed herself in the drowning scene, but after that she is not convincing even supposedly dead laying there afterward with Craig on the roof or whatever. . . but not that much is expected from actresses in Bond films anyway. I pretty much hate Craig as Bond and all the Craig movies so far especially Skyfall, with all its numerous plotholes is among the dumbest Bond films ever made . . . what is the Goldfinger car doing in Skyfall since it has no logical connection to the Craig/007 reboot? were they attempting to sucker back in those discerning few who just don’t like Craig? Since the Craig update is obviously modern, how can you squint and pretend Craig was somehow the Bond driving the car in the Goldfinger adventure in which Bond disparages the Beatles. I know Bond-watchers aren’t supposed to think, but y’all are claiming Craig is the thinking-man’s Bond. For Craig to be age-appropriate for both Goldfinger and Skyfall Craig would have to be Connery or Moore’s age (Craig was born in 1968). Sure the producers are proud (they seem to longer proud of their pre-Craig efforts, maybe Barbara Broccoli has daddy issues?) to say they are “going back to Fleming” (as they have said many times in the past) but Fleming’s Bond wasn’t humorless or oafish as he is currently being played . .. and in fact I think Craig may have had enough of the humorlessness and oafishness, as he once said he wished they could get back to the old Bond formula . . . and between Quantum and Skyfall he made noises about quitting and that he should never have taken the role in the first place . . .I think he thought Skyfall was going to be as bad as Quantum . . . of course a billion undiscerning dollars later he has changed his mind . . . I do seem to remember him trying to wrap his mouth around a couple of one-liners in Skyfall . . . I thought after a few films I would get used to Craig, but it’s just not happening, he doesn’t look like a Bond, and every time I see a Craig film I feel like I’m not watching a Bond at all. . . in fact he gets stranger-looking with every film, like he should be in a Hobbit movie and not 007.

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