CASINO ROYALE (2006)

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Published on: 2006.11.27

This isn’t your grandfather’s James Bond. This James Bond is really cool.

I guess I’m not quite an old fogey just yet. When I first saw the ads for Casino Royale, I felt the first symptoms of growing old. I thought to myself, “Well, it can’t be as authentic as Sean Connery‘s James Bond. Or as flashy as Pierce Brosnan.” Others I talked to harkened back to Roger Moore.

Everyone’s got their favorite James Bond actor, and I think mine is still Connery. The new bond — Daniel Craig — isn’t as attractive. He’s not as personable. You might not want to invite him over for a dinner party. But this bond isn’t about stiff-necked British sophistication, or wooing the ladies with smooth Connery-esque pickup lines.

Casino Royale (2006, directed by Martin Campbell) is about gritty reality. Not the fake “reality” of “reality TV,” but actual reality. This is the James Bond you might know if there really was a British secret service agent named James Bond. He gets hurt. He bleeds. He loves. He trusts. He gets betrayed. He’s tortured after being captured.

This new James Bond doesn’t deal with half-witted arch-enemies who leave the room after tying Bond to a table, giving him plenty of time to escape. There aren’t any super-criminals who are so dumb that they just keep talking instead of trying to kill the hero.

To summarize: this is the best James Bond movie ever. Not Bond himself — no, Craig isn’t the perfect Bond. But the movie itself? Better. Grittier. More real. Just as flashy. More emotional. Scarier. Sexier, even.

The action scenes in Casino Royale are above par for the Bond movies — way above par. For one thing, they’re believable. For another thing, special effects have come a long way since the 1960s.

The gadgets? This movie only has a few, and none of them are too fantastic to be believed. There’s a tracking device implanted in Bond, which isn’t far from today’s reality. There’s a defibrillator that fits in the glove box of an automobile, which also isn’t far from what small-town ambulance services have today. Nearly everything else in the film is something that we’ve all seen and used.

The cars? Just as flashy and exotic as ever.

The fight scenes? They’re actually believable, because Craig is actually in shape. Unlike previous Bonds, Craig looks like he’s been in the gym recently, pumping iron. He also looks trim and firm, like a runner, or a soccer or rugby player. This Bond doesn’t have a beer gut or sagging pectoral muscles. He’s not pretty in the face, that’s for sure, but he looks like he could take you in a street fight.

This is a far cry from Brosnan, who looks like he’d hide under a table at the first sign of danger, or Connery, who looked too old — even in his earlier Bond films — to take on a young and healthy bad guy. It’s also a far cry from the middle-aged slouch of Moore, who looked like he’d rather watch the Notre Dame game on TV than get out in the back yard and throw a few passes.

The dialogue is better than the last 10 Bond movies, and maybe as good as the best ones. The writers actually thought the lines through before putting them on screen, and Craig delivers them with perfect sharpness that seems like he’s in the room with you instead of in some faraway studio under hot lights and surrounded by directors.

What else are the Bond films known for? Oh yes, the women. Who can forget the women?

Casino Royale delivers in that department too, casting Eva Green as Vesper Lynd, the main love interest of Bond, and the only one close enough to betray him. She made her feature film debut in Kingdom of Heaven (2005), and so isn’t so recognizable that it distracts from the story. She’s pretty enough and smart enough to be believable in the role, and she has real emotions too, unlike the cardboard cutout women from previous Bond movies.

Earlier in the film, there’s the spicy Caterina Murino as Solange, the wife of bad guy Alex Dimitrios. Murino, who makes her American film debut with this movie, is as hot as any previous Bond girl. It’s too bad she doesn’t get more screen time in this movie.

And finally, evil villain Le Chiffre (Mads Mikkelsen) is accompanied by Valenka, ably played by the sizzling Ivana Milicevic. Milicevic has been in and around movies and American TV for a while, but hasn’t yet hit the big time. She’s had small-time roles on Buffy the Vampire Slayer, and was in Vanilla Sky, Love Actually, Paycheck, and Just Like Heaven. After this Bond movie, she may start finding the roles she deserves.

I won’t spoil the plot here, but you may have already heard that this movie tackles Bond’s early days with the British secret intelligence service (M16). He’s just getting started in the spy business, so he makes a few mistakes, and occasionally trusts the wrong people. By the end, we see a Bond that more closely resembles the character we all know — more mature, trusting no one, and almost slick and polished. The character development is handled well by the movie’s makers.

One problem for some will be the timeline. How can the “prequel” take place in 2006, when the other Bonds lived and worked in the 1960s, ’70s, ’80s and ’90s? If you can ignore this, or just pretend the others never existed, you’ll be fine. This angle reminded me of the recent Batman and Superman feature films, which “went back to the beginning,” yet set the story in modern times, AFTER the superheroes had their hey-days. Can’t really be helped, though, unless the film-makers decide to set the newer movies back in the olden days.

But Bond films have rarely been about timelines. Somehow, the same secret agent has gotten older, younger, fatter, shorter, skinnier, taller, cuter, uglier, and so on, throughout the last several decades, and still manages to thwart the bad guys.

Some notes:

Craig is the first actor to play Bond who was born after the death of creator Ian Fleming and after the release of the first Bond film, Dr. No. He is shorter than all the previous Bonds by at least two inches.

The movie is only the third to exclude the famous character “Q,” and is the first one without Miss Moneypenny.

Other actors reported to have been picked for the role (before Craig) included Clive Owen, Hugh Jackman, and Eric Bana.

Casino Royale was filmed in Prague (Czech Republic), Pakistan, Uganda, Madagascar, London (UK), The Bahamas, Miami (Florida), Montenegro, Lake Como (Italy), and Venice (Italy).

Personally, I recommend this film to anyone except the faint of heart.

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