2006, PG-13, 144 min. Directed by Martin Campbell. Starring Daniel Craig, Judi Dench, Mads Mikkelsen, Eva Green, Jeffrey Wright, Giancarlo Giannini, Isaach De Bankolé, Caterina Murino.
REVIEWED By Marc Savlov, Fri., Nov. 17, 2006
"The bitch is dead now." The line, from the endgame of Ian Fleming's very first James Bond novel, 1953's Casino Royale, is all too prescient, presaging Her Majesty's most volatile agent's predilection for vaguely misogynistic one-nighters which more often than not ended up with the object of his affections either dead or doomed, as well as offering a filmy glimpse into the cracked soul of Bond, James Bond. That the line made it into this 21st Hollywood chapter of the saga is a testament to the devotion of screenwriters Neal Purvis and Robert Wade (with a reported assist from Paul Haggis) to the new spirit of post-9/11 Bondage. This is the origin story wherein we get to discover, along with incoming blond Bond Daniel Craig, where 007 got his Walther PPK, his love of fast cars and suave daredeviltry, vodka martinis (at one point a barman asks "Shaken or stirred?" To which Bond cattily replies: "Do I look like a man who cares?"), and highest-stakes cardsharpery. The good news is Craig, who was riveting as a London pharmaceutical salesman in the recent Brit import Layer Cake, is equally mesmerizing here; you can see Sean Connery in his future, and it looks just about spot-on. Craig carries Casino Royale with gutsy aplomb, and if his Bond carries more than a hint of streetwise rough trade – evident in his first kill, which opens the film with less of a bang than a frantic, panicky, sweat-soaked tussle-to-the-death (in a men's room, no less) – it only adds to the film's edgy, grim demeanor. At 144 minutes, however, this is by far the longest Bond of them all, and when you factor in the crucial love story (yes, hard to believe, but love it surely is) with the drop-dead gorgeous, witty, equally street-savvy MI-5 bean counter Vesper Lynd (Green, nearly as incandescent here as she was outside the Cinematheque Francaise in Bertolucci's The Dreamers), well, you're in for a long haul. Bond purists, and those who thought Roger Moore's flip incarnation the height of black-tie panache, will rankle at this film's extended – but necessary for future character development – backstory, which until now is not a phrase I'd have used to describe 007. Unlike the other Bonds, this one feels pain, lots of it, and bleeds a lot of blood, even going so far as to maim his craggy-handsome face and, at one brief point, die outright. Those who always hoped the series would morph into something approaching realism (if only cinematic), will find their wait justly rewarded. Craig, simply put, is Bond. His cooly menacing performance obliterates everything between Diamonds Are Forever and now, including Never Say Never Again, thank goodness. Director Campbell helmed 1995's above-average GoldenEye, so he's not specifically new to the franchise, but Casino Royale is unlike any other Bond film. In fact, the only other Bond film that feels less like one of Fleming's outings is the original Casino Royale, an epic, ultra-mod, everything-and-Woody Allen catastrophe set in swinging Sixties London, featuring Orson Welles as the villainous Le Chiffre (here played, with much less style but far more believability, by Mikkelsen). That film must be seen to be believed. This one, on the other hand, need only be seen.