Review: Casino Royale
Reboot, remake, reimagination. Casino Royale is all of these. But primarily thanks to its star, it’s a revelation.
The 21st official film, yet confusingly the first James Bond story, Casino Royale is the story of how Bond became Bond, a fact that some reviewers – notably the Independent – have completely missed. They complain that Craig is different to Bond as we know and love him. But that, a-holes, is the point.
Casino Royale was the only way to forget the pisspoor Die Another Day and the Emmental-like The World is not Enough. They’ve taken it back to the beginning, brought in a real actor, and stripped Bond back to the basics. Literally, in one scene.
Astonishingly, the producers invited the scriptwriters of Die Another Day and The World is not Enough back to write Casino Royale. Thank god they then gave it to Paul Haggis to ‘polish’. Bond has emotional depth for the first time since George Lazenby briefly stepped into the role. There’s even a great plot, although inevitably the set-piece action sequences aren’t always an essential part of it. There’s not much dialogue in the first third of the film, which is maybe a bit of shame. But when it gets going, it’s clear the 21st Century Bond isn’t going to be the tongue-tied ponce he was in the 1980s and 1990s.
David Arnold’s soundtracks have been much criticised in recent years and it’s true that Tomorrow Never Dies was probably his highlight. But the rebirth of Bond also allowed some of the music to be reborn as well. The traditional theme is deliberately held back until the very end of the film, which has given Arnold the space to be a little bit more creative. And Casino Royale has definitely made the case for the opening titles theme to be written before the rest of the soundtrack. It’s cleverly inserted into many scenes in the film, far more subtly than with the awful Die Another Day. That said, Chris Cornell’s You Know My Name clearly isn’t perfect, but I’m pleased they went for talent over A-list credentials. Next time I’d like to see Kasabian give it a try.
Eva Green is fantastic, although her last scene in the film is perhaps a little over the top. I won’t give the game away, but she’s in a lift and her eyes look like they’re about to pop out of her head. I hope Mathis returns in the next film as he could potentially be a great ‘Uncle’ figure to Bond if he turns out to be a good guy. The same goes for Felix Leiter, who doesn’t get much to do in this film but will hopefully return. Judi Dench has never been better as ‘M’. Having Daniel Craig to play against obviously helps, but her relationship with Bond is far more interesting than ever before. She also gets more screen-time which can only be a good thing. If they ever succumb to the inevitable temptation of doing a Bond spin-off, it should be centred on Dench’s M. And Mads Mikkelsen’s Le Chiffre is a good villain. Not fantastic, but a good mixture of megalomaniac and human. I hope Mikkelsen gets a break in Hollywood as he has a lot of potential.
Martin Campbell, who directed Brosnan’s debut, Goldeneye, returns to wean Craig into the role, and does a fine job. The black-and-white sequence at the beginning is a fantastic introduction and some of the camera work during the poker scenes is very good too. If I had one criticism it would be that we don’t always get as close to Bond as we might. A few extreme close-ups might have given a little more emotional intensity, although to be fair it’s not as if the film is particularly lacking in that department.
And last, but by no means least, Bond himself. Quite simply, Craig is the best actor to play James Bond. That isn’t to say he’s absolutely the best Bond as I think he can only be judged after 3 or 4 films (assuming he makes that many). But no-one has tried so hard to understand the spy – or look like a realistic assassin – as Craig has. I was rooting for Craig before he even got the role, especially after seeing him in the BBC’s Archangel last year, and I’m really pleased he’s proved his critics wrong. The fact that the film has barely had a bad review is down to two men: Paul Haggis and Daniel Craig, with the emphasis on the latter. If Brosnan had been given the same material, much of it would have been corny.
My favourite part of the film is probably the torture sequence, where despite the darkness of the scene there’s a moment of humour which got the entire cinema laughing for the one and only time in the film. The reference to Photoshop is also brilliant, as is Craig’s first encounter with Vesper Lynd.
Having waited years for this film to arrive, it could so easily have been an anti-climax. In fact, it was anything but. Casino Royale is the best Bond film since the Connery era, and once the dust has settled on it, may turn out to be at the very top.
I’ve left my final gripe until the end.
I have to wait over 800 days for the next one.