Filled with trepidation, the audience entered the packed screening room to see the new 21st century James Bond. Capturing this larger-than-life character on film after the quintessential Bond, Sean Connery, aged out of his gig in 1971 was close to impossible for the owners of the Bond franchise, the Broccoli family company Danjaq, LLC. Pierce Brosnan gave it his best shot, and got better as his tenure went on; Roger Moore sleepwalked his campy and faux-sophisticated way through his Bond, ending his last few years wearing a man girdle. George Lazenby and Timothy Dalton are better left forgotten.
But good news - Casino Royale could have easily been called Bond Begins. It is essentially a re-imagining of a beloved character and closely resembles the re-imagining of the Super Hero journey in Christopher Nolan's excellent Batman Begins, with a similarly new dark and more intense character in the casting of Christian Bale in the title role. Bond is recreated here in the same image of a deep and dark intense man-of-the-people hero.
Hiring Daniel Craig to play the newest Bond had legions of fans and critics up in arms. Some threatened boycotts of the film, blogs were written in and websites were set up in protest - even this reviewer was mighty concerned. Everyone rushed to worry before all the facts were in. Now the new Bond film is out and now the new James Bond should be crowned! This reviewer is thrilled to report that Daniel Craig IS Bond!
Craig's Bond drips charisma; he is grittier, sexier, deeper, tougher, more intense, more thoughtful, more human, more physically fit, less needy of special cars and gadgets, and just about the most perfect Bond since Sean Connery. Craig's work in this outing could be hailed as one of the best acting jobs of this season, especially after seeing his standout performance as serial killer Perry Smith in Infamous.
Only a true actor can take a role so closely defined by one man, Connery, and make it his own. Craig has done this in spades. His body is a blinding allure that women will be dreaming about, and his icy blue-eyed stare hints at the cold, haunted depth of a real man. Craig's Bond takes us back to the true roots of Bond as writer Ian Fleming imagined him, with a grittier update for our 21st century world.
Casino Royale was first filmed back in 1967 as a spy spoof with David Niven and Peter Sellers as Bond. It was loosely based on Fleming's first Bond novel of the same name, published in 1953. After Sean Connery's defining performance as Bond, no actor who played Bond even came close. The Bond films always had a big audience due to the popularity of the Fleming books, the Bond character, and the great SpFx and stunt set pieces, but no actor who played this role even came close to the intensity of Connery until now.
The film opens with Bond making his first kill as a 00 agent and after that he is sent to Madagascar to spy on a terrorist involved with the evil money-laundering expert Le Chiffre. The film proceeds at an astonishingly fast pace in an incredible action set piece that recalls the opening of many Hong Kong martial arts films starring any number of greats like Bruce Lee, Jackie Chan, and Jet Li. Bond races after a terrorist and in the process destroys an entire ship-building yard.
The terrorist he chases is the creator of the free running and jumping aerobatic Le Parkour, Sebastien Foucan. The physical art form he created, Le Parkour, is heavily influenced by Asian philosophy; as Foucan says, "The art of moving from one place to another with fluidity allows you to see your environment differently. The quest's goal is to become a part of the environment in order to develop your mind and body." Le Parkour is best demonstrated by closely watching the opening free running chase scene, trying to keep your eyes on Foucan during the chase. Even though wires were clearly used in some of the chase scene shots, most moves were pure Parkour, and it is a delight to behold. One could not imagine any Bond other than Craig's — even Sean Connery's — able to keep up with Foucan. This is a brilliant chase scene that sets the tone for the rest of the film. Another appropriate title for this film could have been Run Bond, Run.
Bond is next sent on a mission to infiltrate a high-stakes poker game in Montenegro to compete with Le Chiffre and other gazillionaires. Le Chiffre provides a global money-laundering service to the world's terrorist organizations, and he must win this game to pay back all the despots he has laundered money for before they kill him for it.
Bond girl, Vesper Lynd (played by the inexperienced Eva Green, who looks like she still belongs in high school, not traipsing around Europe with Bond) is sent along as the representative of Her Majesty's Treasury to keep tabs on Bonds' bids. No Bond film would be complete without the girl, but in this Bond film the girl never takes her clothes off. In this film it is Bond who keeps taking his shirt off - to the audiences' great enjoyment.
During the poker game, one hour breaks are taken and it is during these times that Bond's life is continuously threatened by Le Chiffre's minions with poison and stairwell gun battles. When Bond loses his stake in the game, and Lynd refuses to up his ante, he is staked by CIA agent Felix Leiter (Jeffrey Wright), who has also been playing in the game but knows he cannot win. Bond eventually squeaks out a win in the game and Le Chiffre repays him in a horrific torture scene that belies the fairness of the MPAA's PG-13 rating.
Vesper Lynd finally falls for Bond and the two begin a romantic waterside idyll ending with Bond emailing his resignation to M as they sail into Venice in a breathtakingly beautiful scene. Of course the plot twists once again and Bond is betrayed and the audience is treated to a thrilling finale as we watch an old Venetian building collapse into the water below while Lynd, Bond, and an army of terrorists fight for their lives.
Though this film could have lost 20 minutes without a thought, it was still a pleasure to watch Craig at work as Bond. If the high standard of this Bond recreation holds on in future outings this reviewer happily expects many more exciting shirtless Daniel Craig Bonds in the future.
A film that could have had many titles: Bond Begins, Run Bond, Run, Hard Body, Back to the Roots… This reimagined and updated 21st century Bond has redefined the archetypal spy genre – and it's all good.
Digital Dogs rating: A! A brilliant new Bond for the 21st century.
MPAA rating: Rated PG-13 for intense sequences of violent action, a scene of torture, sexual content and nudity. (The torture scene alone deserves an R rating).
Running Time: 144 minutes
Producers Barbara Broccoli, David Minkowski, Matthew Sullivan, Michael G. Wilson, Charlie Woebcken, Director Martin Campbell, Screenplay Neal Purvis, Robert Wade, Paul Haggis from the book by Ian Fleming, Editor Stuart Baird, DP Phil Meheux, Actors Daniel Craig, Eva Green, Mads Mikkelsen, Judi Dench, Giancarlo Giannini, Sebastien Foucan, Jeffrey Wright
© 2006 by Digital Dogs