Movie review by Greg Carlson
Breathing new life into a dinosaur franchise, Daniel Craig makes an absolutely smashing James Bond, infusing the character with a raw sense of humanness to go along with the dashing cosmopolitanism, the seductive charm, and the formidable talent for using that license to kill. The Pierce Brosnan run of Bond films was tremendously lucrative, and the performer made a decent spy, but for all of its pyrotechnical prowess and budget-busting action, the last several movies in the series have been mired in dull repetition, forgettable villains bent on Dr. Evil-esque plans for world domination, and a general haze of self-parody and musty anachronism.
“Casino Royale” erases virtually all of those problems, carving out a terrifically rousing Bond tale that makes the most of its “back to basics” mentality. The lion’s share of the credit rests with actor Craig, whose discovers all sorts of dimensions never explored by any of the other men who have portrayed 007, and that includes undisputed critical favorite Sean Connery. If the upcoming Bond screenplays offer Craig opportunities to avoid the arch disdain and aloof derision that has been a hallmark of Bond portrayers, he could very well find himself in the position of all-time best Bond.
While that assertion sounds the alarm for cries of sacrilege among the Connery faithful, Craig’s work in “Casino Royale” is marvelous. Reinventing the Bond series by serving up details of an origin story certainly helps, as the movie introduces us to an agent in the process of earning his stripes. Bond’s exchanges with the caustic M (Judi Dench) are invigorating for viewers who never expected to discover that 007 had so much to learn. Better yet, the movie wisely omits as much of the goofy gadgetry and groan-inducing punning as possible.
“Casino Royale” might be the best James Bond film in a very, very long time, but it is not without its drawbacks. The 144-minute running time works against big chunks of the final act, when plot developments reconfigure enough material to nearly merit another film. The familiar, stylized opening credits sequence is one for the Bond history book, but the theme song “You Know My Name,” sung by Chris Cornell, is a dud. Like many other contemporary thrillers, there is altogether too much reliance on and screen time allotted to cell phones. The pluses outnumber the minuses, though, and “Casino Royale” appears poised to entice a whole new generation of Bond fans.
Eva Green is first-rate as the treasury hawk who aids Bond during the high stakes poker game that serves as one of the film’s tastiest sequences. Green’s Vesper Lynd is everything that previous Bond “girls” are not: shrewd, competent, and able to match James line for line. More importantly, she exists as a fully formed character whose interactions with Bond don’t solely function as a pretext for sex. Hard as it may be to believe, something like love enters the equation, and it is just the sort of break the series needed. Additionally, director Martin Campbell, who helmed “GoldenEye,” stages several of the best adrenaline-rush moments in franchise history. Near the beginning of the film, a parkour-inspired scramble that utilizes urban free-running practically shouts that “Casino Royale” is going to be better than the average Bond. Like several other moments in the movie, it surprises you with its exhilarating images of extremely physical acrobatics. If the next Bond movie works even half as well as “Casino Royale,” one of the cinema’s longest-lived series has new places to go.
This review was originally published in the High Plains Reader the week of 11/20/06.