Review by Jack Foley
DVD SPECIAL FEATURES: Becoming Bond (30 Minutes); James Bond For Real (30 Minutes); Bond Girls Are Forever (30 Minutes); Chris Cornell ‘What’s My Name?’ Music Video.
JAMES Bond has gone back to basics and delivered one of the best adventures of his career in Casino Royale, the film that marks Daniel Craig’s first outing as 007.
Franchise producers Michael G Wilson and Barbara Broccoli promised a smarter, grittier and more human approach to the 21st Bond movie after the effects-laden excess of Die Another Day and they have duly delivered the goods in spades.
Casino Royale is based upon Ian Fleming’s very first Bond novel and offers an insight into 007 that few could have been anticipating.
Gone are the gadgets, quips and endless inuendos, replaced instead by a spiky wit and a brash demeanour.
This new-look 007 is not only blonde but possesses a physique worthy of a ruthless killer. What’s more, he’s also prone to making errors.
The film follows his first mission as a 00 agent, kicking off with a hugely impressive black and white pre-credits sequence that chronicles his first two kills.
And then jumping forward to Madagascar where Bond pursues a free running arms dealer (Sebastien Foucan), whose capture and eventual slaying provide 007 fans with a genuinely thrilling spectacle.
Crucially, however, the action feels authentic. Foucan is credited with being one of the creators of free running (or Parkour) and his gravity-defying stunts are astonishingly real, so much so that Craig (and his stunt double) are forced to rise to the challenge.
By the time the sequence reaches its explosive finale, Craig is battered, bloody and totally at ease in the role, making a mockery of the doubts surrounding his suitability.
From then onwards, the plot finds him facing off against an arms dealer named Le Chiffre (Mads Mikkelsen), who has set up a high stakes card game in the desperate hope of recovering the terrorist money he has lost, and falling in love with Vesper Lynd (Eva Green), a treasury official charged with keeping an eye on MI6’s purse strings.
Not everything runs smoothly, of course, and Bond is forced to suffer a wince-inducing torture sequence as well as a broken heart on the way to the film’s supremely satisfying conclusion.
By looking backwards to move things forward the series has re-established itself at the forefront of the spy genre and set new benchmarks for the likes of Jason Bourne and Ethan Hunt to meet.
There have been changes to the franchise before, of course, but never quite as emphatic as this and it’s credit to director Martin (Goldeneye) Campbell that he has crafted something that feels so fresh and contemporary.
Casino Royale is a Bond film that strives to be different at every opportunity while remaining careful to respect the better elements of its past.
So, while the likes of Q and Miss Moneypenny have been consigned to memory, there’s cheeky insights into the origins of Bond’s favourite drink, the clever recovery of his classic Aston Martin and even a sly aside regarding M’s full name!
Bond, too, is a much more interesting lead character – flawed but dangerous and believable in everything that he does.
Craig imbues him with a sharp intelligence and a ruthless killing streak that makes him a hugely viable secret agent – yet he’s also prone to moments of arrogance that cost him dearly and an all too human vulnerability.
The actor does a first-rate job of recreating a screen icon and, come the end of the film, has totally made the role his own. He deserves the utmost praise as well as the support of fans.
Impressive, too, is the ensemble cast that round out proceedings, whether it’s Eva Green, as Vesper Lynd (a Bond babe with intelligence to match her beauty), Mads Mikkelsen, as the central villain, or Jeffrey Wright, as Felix Leiter.
All are allowed to inject their characters with a little more depth and seem to be thriving on the complexity offered by Paul Haggis’ beefed up script.
There’s even a nice balance between the style of the set pieces as Campbell capably mixes some grandstanding moments (such as an airport chase and the Venice finale) with darker, more tense confrontations (such as the extended poker game).
At two and a half hours, the film could easily have felt its length but Bond fans should be having so much fun rediscovering their hero that they’ll barely have time to notice.
Indeed, the only major criticism is reserved for the titles which are marred by one of the worst Bond songs in ages.
In all other respects, this is a cracking new direction that should leave the sceptics shaken and the genuine fans stirred into wanting more.
Casino Royale is a gamble that pays rich rewards.
Running time: 2hrs 30mins
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