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Movie Review: Casino Royale (2006)

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I’ll admit I was skeptical. I’d been burned by this whole Casino Royale thing before. The first Ian Fleming novel, and the worst Bond film ever made, (starring the painfully miscast David Niven) the original Casino Royale held the dubious honor of being the only utter failure of the entire James Bond franchise. (Though, that horrid re-make of Thunderball they called Never Say Never Again came awfully close.)

Still and all, I’d read Casino Royale, and though it’s one of Fleming’s weakest novels, it’s still brief enough and action-y enough to hold a film together. Hell, with the right scriptwriter, Judith Krantz’s Dazzle could be a decent movie. (No, not really. Pick your jaws up off the floor.)

This new Bond flick had me from the opening credits. It starts with a brief introductory piece just as they all do, except this time we get to see our man James qualifying for his 00 status, and it’s an edge-of-your seat roller-coaster ride from there. Casino Royale boasts the best on foot chase sequence I’ve ever seen in any movie, and huge kudos to Daniel Craig for even being able to keep up with the stuntman who played his quarry.

Craig plays Bond like an experienced field agent who is just coming into the next level of his spycraft. He’s temperamental and brilliant, a bit impulsive and absolutely self-assured. Craig layers it all on, creating the best and certainly most human James Bond ever. At its core though, the story of James Bond is the story of a superhero. As believable as Craig makes his Bond, he never seems to lose sight of the fact that he’s playing a super secret agent. He’s more than equal to the physical challenge that that role demands.

That’s the thing about Craig. He’s not classically handsome like Sean Connery, Pierce Brosnan, or Timothy Dalton, and he’s not cute like Roger Moore. Craig is a man who blends in fine in a crowd, and like the excellent actor he is, plays James Bond as equally at home in the back streets of a third world country as he does in the power casinos of Montenegro. He’s in superior shape (plenty of rippling abs for the ladies, to be sure) and he moves like a hyperactive cat on amphetamines. You will believe this man is a secret agent.

The direction on this movie is stellar. Martin Campbell, who got superb mileage out of Brosnan in Goldeneye and had the good sense to cast Halle Berry as the Bond girl, returns with a new cast. He proves unequivocally that he was the best choice to re-start the Bond franchise. Playing off of a letter perfect action script by Neal Purvis and Robert Wade, Campbell shows us that he’s become a superb cook by serving up the tastiest Bond Film since Dr. No.

The elements, from the cinematography to the acting, blend perfectly. This is a seamless action movie that gives us a Bond for the new millennium, while still working in all the classic bits that the franchise fans know and love.

The supporting cast is excellent. The character M is reprised by Dame Judi Dench. Jeffrey Wright is cast well as Felix Leiter. Though he doesn’t have much in the way of screen time, he does make the most of what he’s given. Eva Green is spectacular as Vesper Lynd, and she proves she’s every bit Bond’s match, even up through her inevitable betrayal. Special props go to Mads Mikkelsen who gives us the best Bond villain since Joseph Wiseman first threatened Sean Connery.

The absence of jump-suited goons, a secret underground volcano lair, and even orbital laser beam death traps is not missed. Mikkelson plays Le Chiffre as a walking time bomb, seething with rage and desperation. He’s the perfect counterpart to Craig’s ice cold Bond.

Ultimately Casino Royale succeeds as both a Bond film and as an action movie. That’s twice what I expected with this franchise re-start. If you go see this movie at the theater you will not be disappointed. When it comes out on DVD you might as well buy it because you will want to watch it again and again.

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