Monday 13 January 2014

Movie Review: Casino Royale (2006)

The most significant reboot in the history of the James Bond franchise, Casino Royale takes the series back to its origins and emerges with one of the best entries in the storied adventures of the British spy. With Daniel Craig taking over the role by the scruff of the neck, Casino Royale is serious, violent, involving, action-packed and emotional.

James Bond (Craig) earns his double-0 licence to kill designation by eliminating a British traitor in Prague. His next assignment is in Madagascar, where he chases a suicide bomb-maker all the way into a foreign embassy, causing an embarrassing diplomatic incident. Despite protestations of outrage from M (Judi Dench), Bond tracks down clues retrieved from the bomb-maker's cell phone to Bahamas-based criminal Alex Dimitrios (Simon Abkarian), who does the dirty work for terrorist master banker Le Chiffre (Mads Mikkelsen). Bond seduces Dimitrios' wife Solange (Caterina Murino) and extracts information allowing him to thwart another bomber targeting Miami airport.

Bond's interference causes the terrorist financial empire to wobble, so Le Chiffre arranges a high-stakes, $100 million poker game at Casino Royale in Montenegro. Bond is inserted into the game with the purpose of bankrupting Le Chiffre, and teams up with Vesper Lynd (Eva Green), a Treasury Department agent safeguarding the $10 million entry fee. Local contact Mathis (Giancarlo Giannini) and the CIA's Felix Leiter (Jeffrey Wright) are also at the game. Bond and Vesper gradually fall in love, while Le Chiffre proves to be a formidable poker opponent. But as the game unfolds even Le Chiffre is being threatened by his terrorist clients, while Bond has to guard against murder attempts and potential betrayals from all sources.

Bond: You worry you won't be taken seriously.
Vesper: Which one can say of any attractive woman with half a brain.
Bond: True. But this one overcompensates by wearing slightly masculine clothing. Being more aggressive than her female colleagues. Which gives her a somewhat prickly demeanor, and ironically enough, makes it less likely for her to be accepted and promoted by her male superiors, who mistake her insecurities for arrogance. Now, I'd have normally gone with "only child," but, umm, you see, by the way you ignored the quip about your parents...I'm going to have to go with "orphan."
Vesper: All the cut of your suit, you went to Oxford or wherever. Naturally you think human beings dress like that. But you wear it with such disdain, my guess is you didn't come from money, and your school friends never let you forget it. Which means that you were at that school by the grace of someone else's charity: hence that chip on your shoulder. And since you're first thought about me ran to "orphan," that's what I'd say you are.

A reasonably close adaptation of Ian Fleming's book of the same name, Casino Royale introduces Bond as a rookie killer, and quite enjoying his first few tastes of dishing out death. He attitude is bullish, his methods messy, and his longevity prospects are dim. Daniel Craig gives the role its roughest treatment yet, his Bond primarily physical, brazen and committed.

Bond: Vodka martini.
Bartender: Shaken or stirred?
Bond: Do I look like I give a damn?

Casino Royale's one fault is stretching out some scenes to a length beyond what is absolutely necessary. The chase in Madagascar, admittedly featuring terrific parkour stunts, and the action sequence at Miami airport could both have used a trim. And the interlude between the end of the confrontation with Le Chiffre and the climax in Venice does meander through a few too many romantic travelogue shots. The result is a 144 minute film that could have been tightened up by shedding about 15 minutes.

But overall, New Zealand director Martin Campbell delivers a tough-as-nails, violent and edgy film, fed by an undercurrent of Bond's still unrefined rage, a new found lust to kill, and an unexpected romance. The opening credit sequence sets the tone by losing the naked lady silhouettes, and Chris Cornell of Soundgarden and Audioslave fame contributes the uncompromising theme song You Know My Name, with lyrics that confront Bond's profession like never before:

Arm yourself because no one else here will save you
The odds will betray you and I will replace you
You can't deny the prize it may never fulfill you
It longs to kill you, are you willin' to die?
The coldest blood runs through my veins
You know my name

The song brilliantly find its echo in the film's final line of dialogue, a piece of audaciously symmetrical, and historically fulfilling film making.

Throughout the film, and in no uncertain terms, Campbell and screenwriters Neal Purvis, Robert Wade and Paul Haggis announce the end of Bond's long-standing frolic with fluff. All the recent excesses of the series are dispensed with. The lame jokes and one-liners are gone, there are no tech gimmicks or ridiculous gizmos, the CGI effects are kept in control, the principal villain is quietly dangerous without any bombast, even the product placements are manageable, while the dialogue is uniquely sharp for a Bond adventure

M: You don't trust anyone, do you, James?
Bond: No.
M: Then you've learnt your lesson. Get back as soon as you can. We need you.
Bond: Will do.
M: If you do need time...
Bond: Why should I need more time? The job's done..and the bitch is dead.

Casino Royale kicks up the violence to explicit levels that the series has rarely encountered, with many of the deaths preceded by prolonged struggles to emphasize how difficult it is to kill an opponent. A quite horrific torture scene, Bond strapped naked to a chair with the seat hollowed out, receiving repeated blows from a knotted rope to the most tender part of his body, erases all remaining vestiges of the old, harmless Bond adventures.

And what most defines Casino Royale is the affecting romance between Bond and Vesper, the spy learning some eternal lessons about his heart, his life, his profession and his destiny from the first serious love of his life. Eva Green deserves enormous credit for bringing to life Vesper as a sparring partner who earns the right to be loved by Bond, their scene together in the shower perhaps the single most emotionally captive moment in the history of the Bond series.

Mr. White (a powerful and mysterious terrorist organizer): Hello?
Bond: Mr. White? We need to talk.
Mr. White: Who is this?
[White is suddenly shot in the leg. He screams in pain. He drags himself toward the house. He looks up to see Bond with an assault weapon]
Bond: The name's Bond. James Bond.

Dealing from a new deck and not afraid to go all in, Casino Royale is a straight flush.

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