Casino Royale (2006)


Laura Clifford of Reeling Reviews
Laura Clifford 
Casino Royale (2006)
Robin Clifford of Reeling Reviews
Robin Clifford 

Newly promoted to 00 status, James Bond (Daniel Craig, "Road to Perdition," "Infamous") gets himself right into hot water when the media captures him executing an unarmed prisoner within embassy walls.  A shaken M (Judi Dench, "Die Another Day," "Pride & Prejudice") may believe Bond has fled to the Bahamas, but he is proving his promotion, following the trail of terrorist financier Le Chiffre (Mads Mikkelsen, "King Arthur," "The Pusher II") right to the table of a high stakes poker game at "Casino Royale."

Laura:
After enduring months of media and fan bashing, British actor Daniel Craig must be having the heartiest last laugh of his life.  The new Bond is at least as good as perennial favorite Sean Connery in the role, and his first vehicle, thrillingly directed by series vet Martin Campbell ("GoldenEye," "The Mask of Zorro"), is the bracing breath of fresh air Bond has been gasping for.  "Casino Royale" is one of 2006's best adult entertainments.

Right from the opening credit animation one can feel both the comfort of something familiar and the excitement of something new.  Rather than the over the top stunt sequence which recent editions have opened with, we're plunked outside a gray building in Prague in a black and white sequence that recalls the Cold War.  But this is not the 1950s - this is a post 9/11 Bond and in a slick silvery scene intercut with a grittier, grainer flashback sequence, we see Bond earn his stripes - the double kill an agent needs for his double '0' status.

The golden green jungles of Uganda introduce the shift to color and the villain, Le Chiffre, taking a seriously large cash investment from Steven Obanno (Isaach De Bankolé, "The Skeleton Key," "Miami Vice"), while off the continent's coast Bond trails Mollaka (Le Parkour stuntman Sebastien Foucan), a link to the lethal lynch pin.  It is Mollaka whom Bond assassinates after a lengthy, death-defying chase across huge construction cranes and building frames, but his seemingly rash act moves him closer to his target.

A splash of bright blue sea finds Bond at his next destination - the Bahamas - where cards are first dealt with money man Alex Dimitrios (Simon Abkarian, "Yes").  After divesting the shark of his Aston Martin, Bond adds insult to injury by picking up his woman (Caterina Murino) and his password.  This leads him to the next agent and when Bond foils his attempt to blow up the world's largest airliner, Skyflight, on the night of its debut at Miami International Airport, he also backs Le Chiffre, who bet heavily on the airline's demise, into a corner.  Now Le Chiffre has his investors on his heels and he stakes $10 million in Montenegro's Casino Royale game where he will bet against Bond, but Bond hasn't bet on treasury officer Vesper Lynd (Eva Green, "The Dreamers," "Kingdom of Heaven"), the mysterious beauty he falls for, then endangers when he calls Le Chiffre's bluff too soon.

Screenwriters Neal Purvis and Robert Wade ("Die Another Day") together with Paul Haggis ("Crash") have fashioned a strong, silent Bond - one whose silences often speak as more than his words - and fittingly they find the joke in the word not said, unfinished sentences ripe with ribaldry, Bond's tumbles funny for what went before them.  He's well matched with Vesper, a woman not forthcoming with her history.  These two flirt psychologically profiling each other.  Craig is a fabulously flinty Bond who also convinces of a lost heart.  He's strong and defiant - this man tosses off jokes under extreme torture - but also capable of hurt, both physically and emotionally.  The little known Green isn't quite up to his league, but she is stunning and creates a complex creature.  Along with a newly rejiggered 007, we get a new kind of villain in Mikkelsen, a quieter mind-gamer far removed from some of the cartoonish foes of Bond past.  This is a bad guy looking over his shoulder at his own bad guys.  The always marvelous Judi Dench is most welcome as the only link to past casts, especially in a Q-less Bond, but Giancarlo Giannini is a bit bland as a duplicitous agent and the great character actor Jeffrey Wright ("Broken Flowers," "Syriana") is wasted as the CIA's entry at the gaming table.

Director Campbell's sprawling cast parallels his sprawling saga, which admittedly has a few scenes too many, but Campbell so adroitly marries globe-trotting action with romance that the film never feels its 144 minutes.  Like the well-chiseled Craig, the film itself has a pungent physicality.

A-

DVD:

"Casino Royale" arrives in a deluxe, slipcovered 2-disc edition featuring 90 minutes of extra material and multiple language options, but no commentary. The extra material, however, provides a lot of the information traditionally provided in voiceover.

"Becoming Bond" addresses all the controversy over the choice of Daniel Craig as the first blond Bond and the decision making process that led up to his casting (having decided to go back to Bond's beginnings, the producers deemed Brosnan too old).  Even if you followed the news stories, this is packed with interesting info and a lengthy interview with the man himself is interspersed throughout. Craig has a great, self-deprecating wit that livens this material.

"James Bond for Real" goes in depth into all the incredible stunts and what the actors and stunt men endured to pull them off.  This is another fascinating bit for anyone interested in the craft of filmmaking.  Craig did a lot of his own work and men did really jump across cranes 200 feet up.  The piece also provides the background of Le Parkour, the physical art form created by Sebastien Foucan, who shows it off in this movie.

The 2002 television special, "Bond Girls Are Forever," is a sometimes interesting look back at four different decades of the actresses who played them and how the changing times affected their characters.  Host Maryam d'Abo begins at the beginning with Ursula Andress and spends considerable time with Honor 'Pussy Galore Blackman,' but, with the surprising exception of Carey Lowell, once we get past the 70's women, things become far less interesting.  Halle Berry is positively boring. Maud Adams, the only actress to be a Bond girl in two of the series' films, is the only woman interviewed who seems to have regrets.  All the women, no matter their age, still look gorgeous.

The final extra is the Chris Connell music video of "Casino Royale's" theme song "You Know My Name."  Nothing special here, although the song itself was perhaps too much maligned when the film opened.

And of course, there's the film itself, a treat to be enjoyed over and over again.

Robin:
Bond is back!” I’m glad to say with the release of the first real adaptation of Ian Fleming’s first novel of the adventures of secret agent 007 (the first, not counting the 1954 British TV version, was a silly 1967 spoof starring David Niven). It’s back to the roots here as we are introduced to agent wannabe James Bond (Daniel Craig) as he fulfills the MI6 requirement to assassinate two bad guys to become a double oh spy.

Casino Royal” does something we have never seen in over 40 years of the James Bond movie franchise. It shows us the man before he became the legend. This is risky business because we all have preconceived notions about our favorite super spy. But, director Martin Campbell and Daniel Craig come up with a fresh, gritty look at the Bond’s beginnings as a smart, tough and ruthless man who wants the coveted “license to kill.”

This is the most intensely physical Bond to date and Daniel Craig is equal to the task - running, running and running as he chases the villains in one exotic location after another. The action, and there is loads of it, jumps from Prague in the Czech Republic to Madagascar, Uganda, the Bahamas, Montenegro and Venice as James goes undercover to stop cold-blooded international financier, Le Chiffre (Mads Mikkelsen), who launders the ill gotten gains of the world’s terrorist leaders. The suave, vile terror banker has a problem, though, as he loses the $100 million+ dollars entrusted to him by an Ugandan warlord. His only chance to recoup his loss is to play in a high stakes poker game in Montenegro. Bond follows with plans to bust the banker of terrorists.

Daniel Craig is a solid choice for the rough-edged recruit selected by M (the always wonderful Judi Dench) to be elevated to 00 status. She soon regrets her decision when Bond executes an unarmed man (a man he chased in, out, up and down buildings and streets. But, there is a method to his seeming madness as he treks off to the Bahamas in pursuit of Le Chiffre without his boss’s knowledge. M has no chose but to back her new agent as he follows his greedy prey’s tracks to Montenegro, where the ultra high stakes poker game ($10 million to just sit at the table) is set to play out at Le Casino Royale.

The rest of the vast cast is well peopled by a bunch of fine actors. Young Eva Green is a bit, uh, green to take on the role as a Bond babe, Vesper Lynd, the Brit Treasury office rep sent to monitor James’s $15 million poker fund. She is a likable actor and has the talent and looks to mature nicely in the next few years, though. Mads Mikkelsen is a new millennium bad guy that is grounded in our current events, playing Le Chiffre both cool and uncollected. Others, like Jeffrey Wright and Giancarlo Giannini, as CIA rep Felix Leiter and MI6 functionary Mathis, respectively, help to flesh out the background characters.

Helmer Campbell shows great skill with a huge cast, many locations and copious action sequences. He forgoes the cartoon villains in favor of one more grounded in today’s current events with Le Chiffre, and what he stands for – greed, power, death and destruction for his own gain. The means to getting to the ultimate end, Le Chiffre’s demise, is packed with wall to wall action, intrigue, romance. This sequence repeats its self throughout “Casino Royale” but is so well backed by top-notch techs you can forgive the formula handling.

Scripters Neal Purvis, Robert Wade and Paul Haggis do Sir Ian’s original tome justice with their modern update of the beginnings of the man who became the subject of the most successful movie franchise ever. Casino Royal” is overlong at 144 minutes but this lengthiness is due to the multiple endings that finish the film. Once the main story is resolved, the script tacks on a couple of extended codas that were somewhat interesting but, to me, unnecessary to the film’s flow. The main story, before the last 20or 30minutes, is fast paced, exciting and holds your attention throughout. Maybe the director’s cut should be shorter and edit down the coda.

Casino Royale” goes against “Happy Feet” for its opening weekend but I don’t think its distributors need worry. I can see the dads, taking the kids to see the penguin adventure, sneaking off to see Mr. Bond, James Bond, instead. I give it a B+.

DVD:

As we all learned last year, Bond is back with a new 007 (Daniel Craig) joining the pantheon of actors to play the most famous spy of all. Now, you get to see James in all of his gritty glory and get a few extras in the deal with the DVD release of “Casino Royale.”

The Bond Is Back!’ craze that met the release of Casino Royale” stemmed from a number of different things – it is the first real adaptation of Ian Fleming’s first novel in the lucrative 007 series; it brings us a new James Bond, one that is far rougher than any other, with Daniel Craig putting a brand new spin on this iconic character; and, it forgoes much (though not all) of the flashy special effects that have come to be in the more recent of the 20+ relaease film franchise.

The DVD release fails to provide an alternate audio track for our viewing pleasure (a missed PR possibility and extra for fans both old and new). But, the extra material included is enough to warrant purchase or rental. The disk does have several featurettes – “Becoming Bond,” which shows the selection process to find the new Bond, the controversial choice of Daniel Craig and his introduction to the worldwide media (where he is delivered by a small fleet of British Marine fast attack boats), and the making of Casino Royale; “James Bond: for Real,” focuses on the detailed, non-CGI effects that include the rolling of a quarter million dollar Aston Martin (7 rollovers, which may be a film record), and the incredible foot chase sequences that incorporate the sport of free running; “Bond Girls Are Forever” is a 2002 TV special with interviews of past Bond girls, including Ursula Andres and Honor Blackman, two of the most famous of the Bond babes; plus, there is a music video by Chris Cornell.

The “Casino Royale” DVD has enough extra bells and whistles to make it a must for second viewing. The featurettes are chock full of behind the scenes information, especially the Aston Martin bit and the free running sequences. (To see an even better use of this crazy sport in a film, rent “District B-13.” Stunt action fans will love it.) An alternate audio narration would have been a plus but the two DVD set does not suffer for it. I give “Casino Royale” a B+ and the DVD set a B.

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