Tuesday, June 24, 2014

Casino Royale (2006)

So when it comes time for a new James Bond to take center stage, well let’s just say franchise fans get nervous. When Daniel Craig was announced to take over the role of 007, you could call the response nothing short of a general uproar. Probably hadn’t seen this many people complaining since Dalton landed the role. What is funny is that looking back at it now, it seems kinda silly, because most folks have accepted Craig in the part. But 2006, it was crazy talk I tell ya, crazy talk!


Newly promoted British Secret Service agent James Bond (Daniel Craig) is given his first assignment as a “00” agent. He must track down a bomber in Madagascar. After an extended chase and an explosion, Bond finds that the bomber is only one of a team. The trail takes him to the Bahamas where he discovers another bomber and a middleman who is taking his orders from a figure known as Le Chifre (Mads Mikkelsen).

Le Chifre is bankrolling terrorists, and his next scheme is to win a huge amount of money at a poker tournament at Casino Royle in Montenegro. M (Judi Dench) sends Bond, the best poker player in MI6 to go and trounce Le Chifre, forcing the terrorist to come running to the secret service and spilling his guts. If Bond loses, the British government funds terrorism. At his side is Vesper Lynd (Eva Green) a lovely treasury agent who’s around to make sure Bond doesn’t screw up. However, M didn’t count on all the other people just waiting to take a shot at the money and at Bond. So begins a very deadly game at Casino Royale.

Good Points:
  • Daniel Craig brings back some danger to James Bond
  • Vesper is one of the best Bond girls in the franchise
  • Some top-notch action balanced with an interesting story

Bad Points:
  • The villains of the film are very nebulous
  • Not wall-to-wall action like some of the previous films
  • A very long film, will test some viewers patience


Scores (out of 5)
Visuals: 5
Sound: 5
Acting: 5
Script: 4
Music: 4
Direction: 4
Entertainment: 5
Total:  5

In Depth Review
Bond. James Bond - 2006
I think we all know that Die Another Day ended up being a film that didn’t satisfy too many people. In fact a lot of folks consider it the nadir of the series. I still think that the early 70s Bond flicks were worse, but the final Brosnan outing does leave a lot to be desired.

In any case, it was time for a change, and the producers decided that not only were they going to get a new actor as Bond, but they were going to shake up the franchise and do something completely new. They were going to show us Bond as an agent starting out in the role of 007. That’s right, the popularity of Batman Begins inspired them to take this route, but the concept had been brought up before, back when Dalton took the role. At the time, the head producers were not sure that audiences would take to seeing Bond as anything other than a pro. But Batman Begins showed that this angle could work for an established character, and it could reinvigorate a stale franchise.

Let the games begin!
So the reboot button was pushed. But where to start the story? Why not back with Ian Fleming’s first James bond novel, Casino Royale. It was an inspired choice. It was one of the few stories not yet adapted by the official franchise. But oddly it is the novel that has been adapted the most number of times. There was a 1954 episode of the television series Climax that used the story. It featured the American agent Jim Bond, but it was the same plot. Then there was the infamous James Bond parody version in 1967.

This version would go back to the novel’s core plot, and that would take up the second half of the film. But the first half would be all new material that would drive Bond to the poker table in Montenegro, and face to face with Le Chifre. The novel didn’t have a lot of action in it, focusing more on suspense and tension. The portions of the film that are based on the novel use the same format, but the new material injects action sequences into the proceedings, something modern audiences expect in their James Bond adventures.

With the script in place for Casino Royale, a director was chosen. Martin Campbell was selected based on his wonderful work at introducing a new James Bond to the world in 1995 with Goldeneye. Campbell was very familiar with filming top-notch action scenes as well as balancing these with tension and thrills. He was the perfect man for the job.

The third time a Bond film went to Venice.
Like most Bond films Casino Royale has some wonderful location shooting. James travels the world from Madagascar, to the Bahamas, Montenegro and then to a finale in Venice, Italy. We get lots of great establishing shots for these locales, and Bond gets to do some serious exploring in both the Bahamas and Venice. There is also some fine studio work for the interiors used in the film. Everything has that James Bond glamorous look. But the work here is actually closer to what we saw in the Dalton films like The Living Daylights where everything looks like it could be from our real world, but with a touch more pizzazz. No super villain lairs out of You Only Live Twice for this film.

One of the key elements of any James Bond adventure are the action scenes. In the mid 2000s, there was a trend to film and edit action scenes with hand held cameras, lightening fast editing and tons of zooms. The idea to create an immediacy during these scenes that pulls audiences in. Used correctly this technique can be very effective. The problem is, not many directors knew how to use it correctly. The result is action scenes that are difficult to follow at best or completely incomprehensible at worst. The action scenes of Casino Royale avoid this trap. All the key action scenes are well filmed and edited, allowing the viewer to follow the action and thrill to some of the amazing stunt work on display.

One of the best action scenes in the series.
That’s right, we got away from the dreadful CGI mess that ruined Die Another Day for a lot of Bond Fans. Instead we get some elite stunt work. The opening foot chase in Madagascar has to be one of the best action scenes in any James Bond film. Bond chases the bomber through a construction site, and dodging all kinds of obstacles and dangers. The free running is impressive and you can tell that it was done for real, even at some dizzying heights. Additional action scenes at the Miami airport (with some crazy stunt driving) and the final shoot out in Venice are also impressive. But I think the foot chase tops the rest. It is a bit of a shame that it comes at the beginning of the film, but it does get things started with a bang.

One of the reasons the action scenes work so well is that Craig really brings a grittiness and edge to his performance, something we really hadn’t seen since Dalton. For Craig it seems like the stakes are real. and he really throws himself into these sequences. In Casino Royale we see Bond really get trashed, especially during the Miami bomber sequence. We haven’t seen Bond get this beat up since the finale of License to Kill. But seeing Bond throwing himself in, often over his head, raises the thrills a notch.

I'm smiling now, but I'm about to shoot you.
Craig’s take on Bond is very similar to Dalton’s and it is clear both men based their performance on Fleming’s literary version of the character. The main difference is that Craig’s version is still making mistakes and getting in over his head. By the time we reach Skyfall, Craig’s Bond has gotten better at gauging his adversaries, allies and his own capabilities. One of the great things about the Casino Royale script, and the reboot in general is that we get to see this version of Bond change over the course of the films. This film is the starting point, but James Bond at the beginning is not the same man at the end. This is a rare thing in the franchise, the last time it happened was in Goldeneye, and you have to look back to On Her Majesty’s Secret Service before that. Craig delivers in the role. He is tough, arrogant, but still has a heart. And that heart is what ends up betraying him.

"I'm the money."
But can you really blame him? Eva Green plays one of the most intriguing and compelling Bond girls in franchise history. In a lot of ways she reminds me of Tracy from On Her Majesty’s Secret Service, a woman who is confident in her skills, but is hiding her fragility behind a cold mask. Green and Craig play off each other perfectly. The scene where Bond comforts Lynd after the attack at the Casino is perfectly acted and filmed. Her vulnerability comes through and Bond must protect her. The genuine attachment Bond has for Lynd by the end of the film is apparent, and makes the ending have more punch. That ending comes right out of the book, I’m impressed they kept it.

Beware the tears of a gambler, especially the
bloody ones.
The other key component of a James Bond film in the villain, but in Casino Royale we get something a bit different. The movie doesn’t really have a primary villain in a traditional sense. Le Chifre is set up as the main evildoer. Mikkelson plays him with a cool and dethatched contempt, very similar to Dr. No, actually. Le Chifre has the bleeding eye and facial scar – typical Bond villain visuals. But the tables shift when Le Chifre has Bond in his clutches he becomes something else – a desperate man. Mikkelson does a great job with this element (and there are hints all the way through his performance that he is merely a tool, and he knows it). Even while torturing Bond we can see he’s losing his control and is desperate to stay alive. The evil in this movie is like a hydra, Bond may kill one head, but another more dangerous one appears. The trail leads to the mysterious Mr. White (Jesper Christiansen), but even he turns out to be a hand of a larger organization, revealed in Quantum ofSolace.

"You look like hell. Did you blow up again?"
Some familiar characters and faces returned for this reboot. The head of the British secret service is still named M and still played by Judi Dench. Her performance here is a lot closer to the one she gave us in Goldeneye, where she treats Bond more as a tool and less as a person. In the Brosnan era we saw a kind of bond develop between these two characters. And a similar thing happens with Craig and Dench in the new continuity. But here she treats him as a professional, but one who keeps making mistakes. The creators did not keep any of the other London characters in the mix: no Moneypenny, no Q branch. A lot of people were disturbed by this, but I think it allowed us to focus on Bond as the primary character, something the films hadn’t really had a chance to do in a long time (although you could argue that The World is Not Enough attempted this in its own muddled way).

Another returning character with a new face is Bond’s CIA chum Felix Leiter (Jeffery Wright). He makes his first appearance in the novel of Casino Royale, so it makes sense to have him here. Wright does a good job in the small but key role. We also meet Rene Mathis (Giancarlo Gianni), a fellow agent working with Bond (or is he?) on the case. Both these characters are interesting enough and will appear again in key roles in Quantum of Solace.

"I have no armor left."
Another element that the producers brought on to reassure viewers that the new Bond was still James Bond was the music. David Arnold had scored the three previous 007 adventures with Pierce Brosnan, and his style had taken what John Barry pioneered in the 1960s and modernized it with 1990s electronics. For Casino Royale Arnold maintained his Barry inspired style but minimized the electronics. This is a leaner and meaner score in a lot of ways, getting back to the basics of James Bond music. But instead of using the classic James Bond theme by Monty Norman, Arnold worked with Chris Cornell to write the title song You Know My Name. It was the first time in decades that we had a title song for a James Bond movie sung by a man (The Living Daylights was the last one, but this shares more with Live and Let Die with it’s more rock oriented style). You Know My Name becomes the main theme for the film. This combined with the love theme do a wonderful job musically. Arnold hints at the James Bond theme a few times in the movie, such as when Bond starts on his trail for Le Chifre, or when he sees himself in a tuxedo for the first time. But he saves a full-bodied rip roaring version of the theme for the final scene – where James Bond steps forward for the first time and says the classic line “Bond… James Bond”. Arnold nails it, and this score is one of the best of his career.

Bond is definitely back in action.
Casino Royale is a James Bond film stripped down to its basics. It is a movie about James Bond, focusing on his job, his interaction with Lynd and Le Chifre and showing us how he became a 00 agent. By stripping away the super villains, the over the top action and the huge sets the film shares a lot of similarities with Dr. No or From Russia with Love. The film is 144 minutes long, the longest of the James Bond film to date. But the movie earns the length with a pacing that keeps everything balanced and interesting. Even the poker scenes, which could be a dangerous narrative trap are edited in such a way that Martin Campbell keeps the tension high. The final result is one of the best James Bond adventures of the entire franchise. It was easy to see that James Bond was back and Daniel Craig delivered.


  1. For any long-lived movie or TV series, there comes a point when one simply has to accept the chronological impossibility (Bart Simpson, for example was 10 in 1987, so must be 37 today) or reboot. Assuming James Bond was 35-ish at the time of Dr. No (as he is in Fleming’s novels), he would be 87 today, and probably a tad slower in his reflexes than he once was. Reboot was the way to go. I remember the fuss when Craig was announced, now that you mention it, but he made the part his own. A lot of re-introduction to the character was necessary, which made this film long, but it didn’t drag.

    John Cleese recently complained that the Bond films aren’t funny anymore, and attributed the change to the studio’s deference to the Asian market where the British style of humor doesn’t play as well. I’m not at all sure that’s the reason, but the new films are more about grit and action – as were the first few in the 60s, as you mention. The humor is more muted in the Craig films though not entirely absent.

    Trivia: Some of Le Chifre’s attributes were inspired by Aleister Crowley, with whom Ian Fleming worked on disinformation schemes during the war.

    As for the ’67 Casino Royale, which I saw in the theater…what can I say? What can anyone say?

    1. I love that Bart Simpson should be 37, that is hilarious. Yeah, a reboot was needed for James Bond. I always thought it was odd that Brosnan would reference events from "On Her Majesty's Secret Service". In the back of my mind, I imagined that 007 and James Bond were names given to different men through the ages by MI6. So each time we got a new actor we got a new agent. No it didn't really work, but the logical part of my mind demanded it. :)

      Yeah, I'm not sure Cleese is right on that either. I think modern audiences don't really want humor in their action films. These last few Bond films have been inspired more by Christopher Nolan and his Batman films, as well as the modern Bourne movies. The previous Bond films were actually more influenced by their own legacy, but that became part of the problem. The clean slate made things fresher and more approachable for a new audience. But they certainly take more from the modern approach to action films. Still we are getting more and more humor in popular super hero films. "The Avengers" had some very funny moments in it.

      I'd never heard of the Crowley connection, but that's interesting. Fleming had a real interesting life. Just watched a documentary on it a few weeks back.

      I need to break down and see the 67 version of "Casino Royale". I've read about it and know what to expect. It sounds like a lot of stupid fun to be had. Besides, I've seen "Operation Double 007" :)