Film Score: David Arnold Cinematography: Phil Meheux
Starring: Daniel Craig, Judi Dench, Mads Mikkelsen and Eva Green
Casino Royale is the film that began the Craig era and it’s a good one. Rather than continuing with an entrenched mythology, the producers wisely chose to begin the series anew, with Bond being given “double-0” status by MI-6 and sent on his first mission. One of the most obvious differences between the new series and what had come before is less of a reliance on gadgetry and more on Bond’s physical strength and training. The audience also gets a prolog that shows Bond in action getting is first two kills, the actual double 0s.
Setting the stage for the new series, the film begins with a chase, this one almost all non-mechanized. Bond is leading a team on the hunt for an African with a secret in his backpack. But once his own man has been spotted, it’s up to Daniel Craig himself to run down the courier. Running, jumping, scaling tall buildings and leaping off them in a single bound, the Bond franchise is in good hands with these kinds of Superman heroics. In this era of the kinder and gentler action hero who doesn’t kill--Salt comes to mind, though there are plenty of others--it’s easy to forget that 007 has a license to kill and he does when he storms an African embassy to catch his man and, just before his escape, he kills him. And that sends Judi Dench--the new M--into a tizzy. When she finds him comfortably broken into her home, leisurely perusing her personal computer, their antagonistic but dependent relationship is set.
The caper this time out is a villain who manipulates the stock market for terrorist groups by taking their money, bombing certain targets to bring about predictable fluctuations in stock prices, and taking a cut of the action. It’s the bombs that Craig gets onto first, tracking backward from his initial quarry, it leads to Simon Abkarian who winds up being the guy who hires the bombers for the villain. In an incredible sequence at the Miami airport in which the bomber attempts to use a fuel truck to blow up a plane, Craig is impressive in close quarters combat and humorous in his dispatching of the bad guy. The film’s climactic third act happens when MI-6 figures out who the villain is, Mads Mikkelsen, and that since his failed attempt at the plane he has resorted to a high stakes poker tournament at the Casino Royale in Montenegro to recoup his losses. Of course Craig wants in and with the help of government accountant Eva Green, he attempts to break him financially.
One of the pleasures of the new series is getting to grow into the part along with Craig. His Bond does all sorts of things that we wouldn’t expect from a more experienced Bond. At one point when he has lost a big hand and asks for a martini, the bartender’s query about shaken or stirred is met with, “Do I look like I care?” Another shocker is when Bond falls in love. At first it’s inconceivable, but by the final scene of the film it all makes sense. Judi Dench is terrific as M and she gets more screen time as the Craig series evolves. The one part that didn’t ring true for me was the torture sequence after Craig has been captured by the villain: I’m sorry, but nobody’s that tough. While the gambling sequences are pretty sedate, there are still plenty of thrills and that makes Casino Royale and great first outing for Daniel Craig and a nice opportunity to see Bond from the beginning.