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Casino Royale November 17, 2006

Posted by Ian W in : Film Reviews, Action, Thriller , 1 comment so far

A new James Bond is always something to get excited about but with Daniel Craig in the part I was much less excited than normal. I’d seen Craig in Tomb Raider, Road to Perdition and his starring role in Layer Cake and was extremely under whelmed. For me he had the same problem as another actor whose name was bandied about for the part – Clive Owen, said problem being a severe lack of personality. Both men seemed to have had charisma bypass surgery. This had the making of another On Her Majesty’s secret Service i.e. a perfectly good Bond film ruined by the man playing 007.

I wasn’t completely without hope though. Martin Campbell was the man calling the shots behind the camera and he’d got Mr Brosnan off to a great start with Goldeneye. At the very least the film promised some good action scenes…

It’s clear right from the start that this isn’t a Bond film, at least not the kind of Bond film we’ve grown used to over the last 40 odd years. Filmed in black and white, the pre credits sequence shows how Bond got his 00 rating. He’s a cold emotionless killer and he’s not afraid to get his hands bloody to get the job done. We’ve seen James kill before but never like this.

Post credits we head to Madagascar where Bond is keeping a terrorist bomber under surveillance. Tipped off to the fact he’s being watched the bomber, Mollaka makes a run for it and as he’s played by Sebastien Foucan one of the leading lights in the sport/art of Parkour, he’s going to take some catching.

This chase sequence is not only the films finest moment but one of the best action sequences ever seen in a Bond film. No match for Sebastien Foucan’s fluid freerunning Craig’s Bond uses his wits and brute force to keep up. Parkour’s been featured in films before most notably in the recent French action movie District B13 but this ups the anti to a whole new level.

Following the explosive conclusion to the sequence M makes an appearance in the now familiar form of Judi Dench. Great though she is in the part I think it was a mistake to keep her as she provides a link to the past when it would have been better to have a clean break. Still it doesn’t spoil the film and she does have some great lines.

After the breakneck pace of the opening the film slows down in order to allow for some plot and it’s a plot that encompasses the currently trendy subject of terrorism. Bond must foil not only a bomber but also the man behind the money, Le Chiffre.

The next big set piece takes place at Miami airport as Bond attempts to avert disaster and while not as original as the chase sequence it still packs in plenty of bang for your buck.

It’s only when the film arrives at the Casino Royale of the title that things start to go a little wrong. The introduction of Eva Green as Vesper Lynd, the treasury official who inevitably becomes involved with Bond serves to not just soften the character but weaken him as well. He’s far more interesting as the “blunt instrument” referred to by M than the man besotted with the beautiful Lynd. Still this is a requirement of the plot so one can’t complain too much.

Far worse is the high stakes game of Texas hold ‘em where Bond attempts to bankrupt Le Chiffre. Campbell does a good job of wringing some tension from the confrontation but it’s all but ruined by Giancarlo Giannini as Mathis, the local MI6 agent tasked with aiding 007. Giannini is a great actor who I have a lot of respect for but here he’s playing Austin Powers Basil Exposition with an Italian accent. How the dialogue he comes out with during the card game made it to finished script, let alone the film, is anyone’s guess. One can only assume these pages were missing from the version worked on by Paul Haggis, award winning writer of Million Dollar Baby and Crash.

From there the films moves to a fairly predictable conclusion that comes as a let down after the earlier set pieces. Only the torture scene recaptures the greatness of the first hour and reinforces the fact that this is nothing like any Bond film we’ve seen before.

It may be a very good movie but it outstays its welcome by a good twenty minutes, both the card game and the romance could have done with some trimming. A tighter script wouldn’t have gone amiss either. But my biggest complaint is the lack of a henchman, a physical opponent for Craig to match Le Chiffre’s mental one. Still the pluses out weigh the minuses.

The cast are all great. Eva Green makes a compelling Bond girl and will soon be seen opposite Daniel Craig again in His Dark Materials: The Golden Compass. Mads Mikkelsen makes an unpleasant villain, though one who fails to live up to his full potential.

But this is Craig’s film. Some reviewers are calling him the best Bond ever and while I wouldn’t go that far, I would put him in the top three (Connery and Brosnan being the other two in case you were wondering) and that’s high praise particularly from someone who was expecting another George Lazenby. His Bond is a cold eyed killer a man who’s not only good at his job but enjoys it as well. He may loose that edge a little during the romantic scenes but by the memorable final shot he’s back to being a real mean bastard. I wouldn’t have it any other way.

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