guppy's film reviews

Sunday, November 19, 2006

Casino Royale

Year: 2006
Director: Martin Campbell
Notable Actors: Daniel Craig, Eva Green, Judi Dench
Score: B
Summary: Kind of formulaic, but a damn sight better than the last three Bond flicks.

If you haven't heard, Casino Royale is the newest installment -- number twenty-one -- in the James Bond series, the last since Die Another Day four years ago. It's a complete series reboot -- James has just been promoted to 00 agent status and nothing in any of the other movies has happened. It's also set in the modern day, which makes for an unusual starting point for Bond.

Casino Royale also brings us a new Bond, with Daniel Craig replacing four-movie veteran Pierce Brosnan. To my mind this is a good thing; while Brosnan made a good Bond at first in Goldeneye, he seemed less happy in the role with each passing movie. Of course, that leaves the question of whether Craig is a solid replacement. I'm happy to report that he fills the role admirably and with much more charisma than I expected. My only complaint with him is that once or twice I had a hard time hearing what he was saying. Well, that and he looks like an idiot when he's running.

After a brief introduction, we're greeted with an old-style Bond montage opening. Historically, I haven't liked those, but I quite enjoyed this one. A word of caution, however: this is the first Bond movie I caught in a proper theater, so it's possible that I'd have liked the others more if I'd done the same with them.

The movie's plot is slightly convoluted. The first large chunk of the movie is only tangentially relevant, though it does feature a pretty impressive parkour scene. From there we move on to a quick bomb plot at an airport, and then there's a banker or something but I couldn't be much bothered to remember the details since it was totally unimportant.

All of this nonsense is a leadup to a poker game. That's right, a poker game. See, all this stuff about bombs sets the stage for terrorism, that being the watchword, and at the end of the day somebody has to finance all that stuff. In this case, that someone is Le Chiffre (Mads Mikkelsen), a brilliant if deranged financier. Whose, uh, eye weeps blood occasionally, not that it matters. He's lost a lot of money as a direct result of the airport business in the early segments, and as a result he is setting up a high-stakes poker game so that he can win the money back. Bond's government arranges his participation due to their obvious interest in Le Chiffre's financing of terrorism. The catch? It's a $10 million buy-in, winner take all, and Bond is playing with British money, which means that if he loses, MI6 has handed a huge terrorist bloc a great deal of money.

Bond is joined by new Bond girl Vesper Lynd (Green) and local contact Mathis (Giancarlo Giannini). Lynd is a solid choice as a Bond girl, much better than the past several choices; she is attractive and intelligent, and has some depth, whereas other recent picks have usually maxed out at two of those traits. Green handles her well. I'd also like to recognize Judi Dench's excellent work as M, a role she has filled for the last several movies.

I have to say that Casino Royale is a substantial improvement over the last few Bond films, which ranged from dull to outlandish to downright stupid. No one would be happy with a Bond film that wasn't at least a bit over the top, and we get that here, but the film avoids the almost cartoonish action sequences of the last three. While we do have some of the requisite explosions and all that, they aren't overused as they have been in some other films. The script -- and Craig himself -- make for a grittier Bond experience than we've seen lately. However, it is a bit predictable. I saw several of the major plot devices coming long before they actually occurred, and I expect others will as well, so don't expect any mindboggling twists. The script also suffers from mild schizophrenia, as the movie has a number of segments just barely held together with the main plot, and it likes to jump back and forth between them.

All in all, Casino Royale is a solid update to the Bond franchise and an auspicious start for Craig. It rescues the series from the downward spiral in which it's found itself for the last ten years or so and sends it off in interesting directions, but it is unlikely to replace series fans' favorite films.


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