Casino Royale Reviews
Back in 1999 Barbara Broccoli and her step brother Michael G Wilson had finally secured the filming rights to Ian Fleming's first Bond novel Casino Royale, Having settle a rights dispute the film was now in a position to be made by EON productions the official Bond film production company run by Brocoli and Wilson. The book had been previously filmed back in 1967 directed by a total of 6 people including John Huston at one point, the film has gained cult status over the years but bears no relation to the original series or Fleming's novel for that matter. This being Fleming's first Bond story the makers needed to make a decision would they retool this to fit an older more experienced 007 or was it time to let the current actor go and search for new talent to take on the role.
While the idea of rebooting a series may sound common place now back in 2005 it had been attempted rarely but the idea was on the radar especially as Warner Brothers had rather successfully relaunched the Batman franchise earlier that year. The film while not a monster (that would be its sequel) was a big enough success to secure the opportunity for more, it stole the thunder that summer from George Lucas' final Star Wars prequel Revenge Of The Sith but more importantly appeared to wipe the memory of the hole that Joel Schumacher had dug for the series back in 1997 with the atrocious Batman & Robin. This is not to say that Brosnan final film had been a disaster it was clearly liked by the public having been at that point the most lucrative film of the series. Though the reboot option was one way to start again plus the advent of the Bourne films had changed audiences expectations of what to expect from the spy genre and also 9/11's impact can not be underestimated as a factor into why films took a darker direction in the 21st century.
Back in 1995 it seemed that EON had tried to change things with Goldeneye the film did seem different to what had previously been but it was business as usual when Brosnan returned 2 years later in Tomorrow Never Dies, it was like Roger Moore never left (this is not a compliment), The series had been ridiculed by the likes of the Austin Powers franchise and the next three entries starring the Irish man seemed to be completely oblivious to this, appearing as farcical as those parodies. Could a noughties audience really take this version of the character serious again? If James Bond was to appear relevant again he would need a serious remodelling so when Broccoli and wilson announced in 2005 that they'd found their new Bond and that they would be bring Fleming's celebrated first Bond novel to the screen with Goldeneye director Martin Campbell returning to take the helm with the reset button pressed, the expectation was huge and things didn't begin too successfully to start with.
Daniel Craig a critically acclaimed stage and screen actor who had been bought to the public's attention in 1996 when he appeared in the BBC adaptation of Peter Flannery's masterful Our Friends In The North alongside future Doctor Who Christopher Eccleston and rising star Mark Strong. Craig then settled into a series of roles in acclaimed drama appearing alongside Derek Jacobi's Francis Bacon in Love and the Devil, Roger Mitchel's controversial The Mother and playing Ted Hughes alongside Gwyneth Paltrow in Sylvia. Craig also flirted with blockbusters with a supporting role alongside Angelina Jolie in the first Tomb Raider movie. Although it was been cast in Mathew Vaughn's gangster flick Layer Cake that brought him to a bigger audience and also caught the attention of Brocoli who believed she'd found her Bond.
Craig's announcement wasn't received that favourably, the brick bats were out pretty quickly, the tabloids voiced their disapproval and a web site craigsnotbond was set up where Bond fans could voice their concern of his appointment, too short, too ugly and too blonde were comments that were bandied about at the time. Craig certainly wasn't typical of what had previously been seen in the role, his looks while to some immediately set up as a global sex symbol were to some just not good enough to play their super spy (incidentally many of these were male). Although what Craig did have was a strong dramatic background. EON wanted to dispense with what had gone before and felt for their new Bond they needed something far more serious that what had gone before, the attempt to make Bond more likes Fleming's character with Timothy Dalton in 1987-89 had not gone down well with the public despite Dalton's terrific but brief time in the role, the time hadn't been right for a gritty Bond. EON felt now in the 21st century some 17 years later that now they would be.
The thing that strikes you about Casino Royale is that it feels like a proper film, not some cookie cutter entry in an on going series with the usual tick the box antics that audiences had just come to expect, no sense of drama or thrill it was obvious Bond was going to get out of whatever predicament he was in. Royale presented Bond as a newly minted 00 who in the pre title sequence of the film in monochrome black and white (a series first) in Prague would be introduced performing his second kill to earn his status while we flash back to him performing the first one, Craig's Bond informs Dryden (Malcolm Sinclair) a corrupt government official who seems unruffled until he realises Bond is cementing his 00 credentials as him as his second kill as he intones nervously "made you feel it did he?" Cutting back to Bond in a brutal punch up in a bathroom with an assailant. The scene switches back as Dryden says " ...you needn't worry. The second is-- " Craig cutting Dryden sentence short with a single silenced gun shot followed with a witty quip, " Yes Considerably" Craig immediately announcing his presence in the role. We cut back to the bathroom as the assailant goes to shoot Bond as we get the camera view of him looking straight at us and shooting his target as the scene dissolves into a familiar sight as the colour bleeds in as the opening credits begin.
The producers choosing wisely not to begin traditionally as all the Bond films since 1962's Dr No with the gun barrel sequence as we are clearly witnessing Bond begins, instead having Daniel Kleinman incorporate into the titles a redesigned gun barrel, kleinman having grabbed the baton with aplomb back in 1995 from series titles legend the late great Maurice Binder, here Kleinman delivers his best and most striking titles to date using the card theme of the story. Soundgarden's Chris Cornell and David Arnold co written title song "You Know My Name" while not being a instant classic is definitely the best since Bono and the Edge penned Goldeneye theme sung by Tina Turner, the title of the song announcing the arrival of the new Bond with a real fan fare.
The second half of the film would pretty much be a straight adaptation of Fleming's novel, the first half being original material written by Bond regulars Neil Purvis and Robert Wade with some polish been applied by Oscar winning director and writer Paul Haggis. We have brief introduction to our villian Le Chiffre (Mads Mikkelsen) as well as shadowy operative from an unknown organisation Mr White (Jesper Christensen) as details of a sinister stock market transaction are revealed, then we fling into a break neck pursuit sequence in Madagascar (actually Abandoned Motel, Coral Harbour, New Providence Island, Bahamas) with Craig's Bond pursuing a terrorist bomb maker Mollka, real life Parkour expert Sebastian Foucan, Foucan's skill adding an extra dimension to the chase sequence. After witnessing a Bond who for most of the time can't get around without the help of some gadget or other it refreshing to see Craig's Bond go at full throttle, the new post 9/11 007 a real physical presence if not a tad reckless. This new Bond is not the Bond we all know and love just yet, the idea that Purvis and Wade would introduce him as not quite the finished article, even Arnold's score would tease small amounts of the Bond theme (although not played in full till the end) to signify each time he Bond earned one of his stripes. Craig's Bond would appear impulsive and after being told by M (a returning Judi Dench) to go and bury his head after his altercation with Moloka ending in a hasty execution which unfortunately for M & Bond his documented by the worlds press. This being Bond never one to fade into the background with the Intel he acquires heads to The Bahamas.
The idea of Bond's actions causing a scandal the Bond of old would seem to cause havoc with no real accountability, the writers inserting somewhat of a more real world feel than previous instalments. Craig said he watched all the previous entries for preparation for the role and then promptly forgot them. Although he presents a new interpretation of the character, there are little subtle nods to Connery and even Moore. Bond using the opportunity of been mistaken for a valet at his hotel in the Bahamas to obtain surveillance to further his investigations has more than a hint of Sean and when he says to the receptionist " What if I felt compelled to" echoes a touch of Sir Roger. Arnold teases a little of the theme out as Bond wins a vintage Aston Martin DB5 from the next suspect on his list Dimitrios (Simon Abkarian). Purvis and Wade's script touches on the literary Bond's penchant for married women, the ease of the seduction of Dimitrios' wife Solange (Caterina Murino). The film offering a welcome touch of dialogue and intrigue before Bond ends up in Miami foiling the destruction of the Skyfleet airliner in an action packed chase sequence, setting up Le Chiffre's being forced to set up a high stakes poker game to retain the money of the client he has just lost on his rather risky venture foiled by Bond. Setting up the events that would pick up Fleming's novel for the duration of the film.
Murino's Solange is more typical Bond girl material although Vesper Lynd is probably the most significant female in Bond's life and evolution. Eva Green charged with the job of bringing to life on the screen establishing her relationship with Bond with a rather spiky introduction, her obvious cynicism in Bond's mission. A credit to the writers and director Campbell as the rather mundane idea of a poker match is made a tense experience interspersed with some drama and a brutal hand to hand combat. Craig and Mikkelsen spark off each other with a game of one-upmanship leading to the famous torture sequence detailed in Fleming's novel, apart from some black humour inserted this is pretty much to the letter of the book with some minor adjustments.
The events of the conclusion of the book are played down with Vesper's fate but it would be churlish to expect EON to go the same route with their climax, the sinking house sequence has caused much division among fans and critics. I for one are more of a fan of this than the watered down Raiders of The Lost Ark truck sequence in the Miami segment of the film. It was always going to be the case that this moment was never going to as subtle as the book, the series was being relaunched and this was supposed to be the most significant moment that starts to mould the new Bond into the fully formed 007 and the big emotional climax was the way to go. These films are not made for a small percentage of fan boys who's wet dream scenario's would most likely have no bearing on the general public, these films are made for a mass audience and they weren't going to let their re-booted franchise go out on a whimper. It is also an imaginative sequence that also incorporates a big emotional and significant climax for Bond.
Of course thing were not going to end with Bond down and out and the epilogue see's a suited and booted Daniel Craig finally get to utter the famous line in a brief but big moment with Arnold letting rip finally with the fully fledged Bond theme to close proceedings which also sets up the first full blooded sequel of the series history as the sign off tantalises of what is to come. Casino Royale is not perfect no Bond film is, the Miami sequence of the film could have been handled with something more than a generic chase sequence, it seems a little pale after the inventive parkour pursuit. Like most Bond films the script is not perfect (although better than anything seen in the series for decades), yes there are clunkers, an unforgivable piece of blatant product placement in the Bond/Vesper introduction which brings an otherwise great scene to a halt. Despite some attempt to include some subtle dry wit for the most part the little finger line would be more welcome in a Carry On flick and is as juvenile as the puerile lines in the Moore and Brosnan era. It's unclear who's to blame while Purvis and Wade had their critics and are no script writing gods it's possible Haggis is responsible although he probably lent the film the dramatic weight it needed. This David Arnold's fourth score, while most likely the best work he's produced to this point it still feels wanting, he makes good use of alternative arrangements of his and Cornell's title theme, he creates an emotional Vesper theme and seems to cope enough without having his usual safety net of the JB theme to lean on. Although at times his score just seems to be just pounding percussion with no melody and we hit an all time low when he lets loose with the blaring brass that would be more welcome in the Austin Powers franchise when the Skyfleet plane is unveiled in the Miami sequence, marring an already problem sequence of the film. Would this film have been better with a John Barry score? Of course it would, when you consider the substandard entries that Connery and Moore were afforded Barry musical gold and Daniel Craig gives more to the role than any actor in the series history and he's rewarded with Mr Arnold trying.
These things aside this arguably the best entry since 1969's On Her Majesty Secret Service, choosing Martin Campbell to helm once again after he successfully did in 1995 this time getting a proper actor rather the then TV actor Brosnan. In Daniel Craig we have found an actor who has added dramatic weight unlike Pierce he approaches the role with no awe or fan boy wonder, just wanting to do an impressive job, never raising to any of the criticism flying around while this was being filmed just quietly getting on with the job and spectacularly proving people wrong who questioned his appointment a year before. He also cuts an impressive figure filling out the tux like no other actor since Sean Connery and getting as close to that panther strut that personified the Scots man in 1962. While his critics will baulk he hasn't the confidence of Connery's 007, at this point he's not supposed to . This a newly introduced Bond the films have never approached the character from this point before, it's always been an established agent, with this re-boot option we are getting to see Bond earn his stripes and although we are seeing this here it's obvious this Bond is still learning. While Connery's 007 in 1963 From Russia With Love set the bench mark for the definitive fully fledged Bond, Craig's is the most impressive all out performance of any actor in the series to date and hints at a bright future for this enduring character.
There's something uniquely nuanced about Craig's Bond in this particular installment. He feels self-deprecating in a way that no other James Bond has. Rather than relishing in being a suave super spy, he seems to despise the job and himself for being the one who has to do it. This is a brutal and calculated Bond that also happens to be a charming detective, rather than the latter being his sole attribute.
so cool and still so classic,
so modern and still so... Bond.
It also boasts my favourite title sequence to date and an excellent choice of song to accompany it.
The final act feels a little long, which is often a symptom of any movie in which the main villain is out if the picture sometime before the rest of the story is completed. And that is my only "criticism" which barely even qualifies as a nitpick at that. Not just an excellent Bond movie but an excellent movie full-stop.
But a sophisticated story isn't all that makes this movie; something was needed to lift things above that grittiness. Luckily, this film found that solace in Daniel Craig. My gosh is this guy a good Bond; bringing a steeliness to compliment the new-found tone, yet a charm and witt to make everything all the more enjoyable. You properly, properly root for the guy, and that's thanks to Craig's performance, as well as his relevance and arc in the overall story. He can do smooth, he can do cold and he can damn well do action and as a result he's already the best Bond since Connery. Put all that good stuff in a film with all the usual fun action, glorious locations and sweeping musical numbers? It's kind of a Bond movie, but it's something quite a bit more too.
WHAT I DIDN'T LIKE: A film this fresh and ambitious is bound to have problems, but the question is do they hinder the overall experience? Well, rarely; the only issue I have is that the overall tone is a little hard to adjust to - being such a fan of the classics. Having said that, in the words of 007 himself: "do I look like I give a damn?" Hmm I probably shouldn't, but I can say the feeling would have been less jarring had it stayed consistently dark throughout.
VERDICT: I'd go as far as saying that the story in 'Casino Royale' is one of the biggest achievements in Cinema history. It engages, it flows and it works, and Daniel Craig elevates it even further. Just wow.
The film is more serious (no Q or Moneypenny characters, less gadget emphasis) but still has breathtaking action sequences that are less CGI and an improvement on its predecessor Die Another Day.
I remember when Craig was first cast the furore it caused amongst some Bond fans. They need not have worried to be fair.
Many memorable scenes from the novel are faithfully adapted but the card game in the Casino Royale is changed to Texas Hold'em Poker.