It is with some trepidation that MI6's M (Judy Dench) gives secret agent James Bond (Daniel Craig) his first 007 assignment. His mission is to stop Le Chiffre (Mads Mikkelsen), a deadly villain who is banker to the world's terrorists, winning a $100 million Texas Hold 'Em poker game at Casino Royale in Montenegro. If Le Chiffre wins, he will use the money to repay the terrorists money he owes them, thus funding further terrorist acts. Treasury sends its own agent, Vesper Lynd (Eva Green), to keep an eye on the Government's money with which Bond will play the game. Thrown together in a series of life threatening confrontations with Le Chiffre, James and Vesper develop a romantic bond, but this increases the risks and as the climactic race for the winnings intensifies, events unfold that will shape James Bond's life forever.
Review by Louise Keller:
(In the original Ian Fleming novel Bond was playing his regular game of choice – baccarat. But because of its increasing popularity in recent years it was changed to no limit Texas holdem in this screen adaptation.)
Gritty and thrilling, Casino Royale has it all - action, glamour, spectacular locations and a new Bond that is above all, vulnerable. Even before the striking black and red opening credits with figures that collapse like a deck of cards, it is clear that Daniel Craig's 007 is no glossy celluloid hero. Gone is the super-slick, over-produced Bond of recent years, making way for a darker, more complex character that its creator Ian Fleming would warmly embrace. Beyond the steely toughness, physicality and sheer nerve, there is a vulnerability to Bond. He does not always win the battle, nor does he always get the girl. We can almost smell the danger in his exploits. The stakes are high and as he puts himself on the line, we know he has everything to lose.
Craig quickly establishes himself as a superb James Bond. He sweats, he hurts and bares his all, both emotionally and physically. He might be stark naked in the torture scene as he sits strapped to the chair, but beyond his impressive muscles, we see something far more important - character. The plot involving terrorists and a high stake poker game which Bond has to win, moves quickly, dashing from locations as diverse as the history-rich Czech Republic to the ethereal beauty of Lake Como. The first action sequence is a ripper, and it is indicative that it is all self-propelled man power and not gadgets that drives it. Mads Mikkelsen is chilling as Le Chiffre, the banker whose scarred eye eerily weeps tears of blood. A highlight is the poker game shot in the elegant surrounds of the fictional Montenegro Casino (filmed at Karlovy Vary, but more likely to have been intended by Fleming to be in Evian-les-Bains). Tension builds when eyes lock over the table as millions of dollars are raised in stakes. Whether you can follow the Texas Hold'em poker game, it matters not.
'Do I look like I give a damn?' Bond retorts when the barman asks whether he would like his martini shaken or stirred. Little does he know it has been spiked with deadly poison.
There are twists and surprises and plenty to hold our interest. An enticing dynamic is created between Judi Dench's M and her newly appointed 00 agent, while Eva Green's unfathomable accountant Vesper Lynd is at first glance, an unlikely Bond girl ('Even accountants have imagination'). It is not she, but Bond (wearing a tight-fitting swimsuit with little boy leg) who makes an entrance from the sea in the tropical paradise of the Bahamas. There is sufficient push-pull attraction and all stops are taken out for the spectacular climactic sequence in Venice. So realistic is the depiction of the sinking of a Venetian piazza, that I gasped out loud.
Helmer Martin Campbell who also directed Goldeneye in 1995, keeps things moving at great pace, involving us in every part of the action and storyline. The 145 minutes whiz past at lightning rate, and Casino Royale delivers an impressive royal flush. Now we can fall in love with James Bond all over again.
Review by Andrew L. Urban:
Everything old is new again, and thank goodness for that as far as the James Bond films go. In Casino Royale, Bond reverts to real type as a tough secret agent with weaknesses, insecurities - and guts replacing the smugness that crept into the past few Bond personas. Daniel Craig makes his entry in the story that tells of Bond's own entry into the 00 team; this has a subtle but positive psychological benefit for the audience, helping us to accept him. The screenplay sets Bond in the post Cold War and post 9/11 era - the demise of the former wistfully lamented by M (Judi Dench) at one stage - which requires a bit of mental time shifting for audiences but it's not a real hurdle.
Martin Campbell gets things going with a noirish opener, followed by an extended chase sequence that is at once extraordinary yet real. This is the first hint of the film's tone: stunts will be exciting, but Bond isn't going to jump out of a jetfighter with an umbrella for parachute and land on the back seat of a racing sports car driven by a Pamela Anderson-a-like. The fights are brutal and well shot, so we can get a sense of perspective, instead of a blur of bodies and blows edited into a cinematic punch. And the famous Bond theme is perfectly placed.
A strong, well defined story, some unexpected betrayals and hidden corners, sensational locations and an absence of gadgets make Casino Royale a right royal Bond movie. Campbell keeps control of the pace by slowing it down to allow for characterisation and relationship building, which adds welcome texture to the film.
A fine actor, Daniel Craig develops a real character for Bond, a man with a very different background to the one we're used to, with no hint of privilege. He has a brain and a sense of values, and enough insight to recognise his basic, unalterable flaws. Eva Green, beautiful as well as intelligent, plays a tantalising role with panache, and Mads Mikkelsen (along with Jesper Christensen as the enigmatic Mr White) shows the deep well of talent available in Europe.
If Craig doesn't quite have the presence of Sean Connery at his peak, he does have Connery's raw energy and determination, with an understated sense of humour and 100% credibility.
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MARTIN CAMPBELL INTERVIEW
CASINO ROYALE (M)
CAST: Daniel Craig, Eva Green, Mads Mikkelsen, Judi Dench, Jeffrey Wright, Giancarlo Giannini, Caterina Murino, Simon Abkarian, Isaach De Bankole, Jesper Christensen, Ivana Milicevic
PRODUCER: Barbara Broccoli, Michael G. Wilson
DIRECTOR: Martin Campbell
SCRIPT: Neal Purvis, Robert Wade, Paul Haggis (novel by Ian Fleming)
CINEMATOGRAPHER: Phil Meheux
EDITOR: Stuart Baird
MUSIC: David Arnold
PRODUCTION DESIGN: Peter Lamont
RUNNING TIME: 145 minutes
AUSTRALIAN DISTRIBUTOR: Sony
AUSTRALIAN RELEASE: December 7, 2006