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Movie Review: Casino Royale

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MGM gets back to basics with the twenty-first installment in the James Bond film series, Casino Royale, based on the Ian Fleming novel of the same name. Series standards like worldwide filming locations (Czech Republic, Bahamas, Italy, England) and inventive beginning sequence (sans nude girl silhouettes) remain intact as the series reboots back to Bond’s origins. The filmmakers, producers, and casting directors pull out all the stops with talented choices to remediate Agent 007 yet again.

Martin Campbell, who also directed Pierce Brosnan in his first James Bond film, Goldeneye, takes the filmmaking helm as a great international cast creates yet another espionage-filled adventure.

The black and white beginning and iconic shot of Bond looking in a mirror while wearing his tuxedo demonstrate Campbell’s familiarity and newfound flair. The entire film has a great new visual style complete with veteran British cinematographer Phil Meheux (who also worked with Campbell on Goldeneye). Paul Haggis (Crash, Million Dollar Baby) co-wrote the solid screenplay with previous Bond film writers Neal Purvis and Robert Wade, which sustains a 144 minute screen time (the longest ever for a James Bond film).
Bond’s talents and character traits originate during his first assignment involving terrorists and, as the title suggests, a high stakes casino game. Daniel Craig (Road to Perdition, Munich, Layer Cake) debuts as the famous British spy. His formidable acting talents elevate the film as 007 conquers all situations with confidence (or, depending on your perspective, ego).

In the Bahamas, Bond encounters Dimitrios, played by French actor Simon Abkarian and his girlfriend, Solange, played by Catalina Moreno. “I’m not that girl,” Solange tells Bond as she mildly dismisses his advances. “Maybe you’re just out of practice,” he replies.

Bond also teams up with female treasury agent Vesper Lynd, played by 26-year-old Eva Green. It’s very interesting to see how Vesper shapes James’ view toward women as “meaningful pursuits” then “disposable pleasures.”

Of course, Bond also finds plenty of antagonists. He first encounters Mollaka, played by Sebastien Foucan in a fantastic foot chase sequence in Africa, then settles into the main rivalry with banker/terrorism financier Le Chiffre, played by Denmark star Mads Mikkelsen. Bond gets some support from Mathis, played by famed Italian actor Giancarlo Giannini (Man on Fire, Hannibal) and the familiar U.S. agent Felix Leiter, played by Jeffrey Wright (Syriana, Lady in the Water).

Judi Dench also reprises her role as Bond’s superior, M, who has to “crack the whip” early and often. “Utter one more word and I’ll have you killed,” she says. Bond’s superiors have their doubts during Bond’s first run. “Maybe he can pull this off,” they say. Audiences do witness Bond’s mistakes, but they don’t keep him down for long and he actually uses them to his advantage.

Gadget guru Q is absent, but Bond still has plenty of modern technology (check out all the Sony product placements) even with the “back to the beginning” plot. Fans will find familiar elements like the Aston Martin car plus a twist on the martini, but filmmakers thankfully put more edge and fewer stereotypes into the film. Hints of alcoholism, grueling brawls, and “behind the glamour” duties like cleaning up bodies visually etch new schematics into the Bond persona.

As a BIG bond fan, this film comes highly recommended for Craig’s acting, the stunts, and quality plot. Rated PG-13 for intense violence, sexual content, nudity and a torture scene.

James Bond composer veteran David Arnold provides the score and co-writes the film’s theme song, “You Know My Name”, with former Soundgarden front man Chris Cornell.

Filmmakers definitely have a firm grasp on Bond’s new direction (the next 007 film is due for release in 2008).

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