based on the novel by Ian Fleming
Casino Royale was the first Bond movie I ever saw and, until I started the Bondathon after watching Skyfall, the only James Bond film I’d seen. My father took me as part of our long-standing agreement to see action films with each other since my mom can’t take the surround sound. I remember being utterly delighted by the opening sequence and offended by the end. This was the year I concluded that the use of the word “bitch” was an instant and unredeemable misogyny bomb; I read Slaughterhouse-Five the same year. In my defense, I was fifteen. Still, I remembered it fondly as my Bond film, my entry-point into the franchise, so I was quite looking forward to revisiting it for the Bondathon.
Casino Royale follows MI6 agent James Bond’s first assignment after receiving his double 0 status—his license to kill. Bond is assigned to track down a mysterious man who bankrolls terrorism: Le Chiffre. When a stock market deal goes south and Le Chiffre’s enemies come calling, he sets up an incredibly high stakes poker game to recoup his losses. As the best poker player in the service, Bond is sent to play and win, aided by accountant Vesper Lynd. But Bond’s rough and tumble style sits poorly with both MI6 and Le Chiffre himself. And if that wasn’t enough of a problem, Bond is finding himself falling in love with Vesper Lynd. In international espionage, though, nothing is ever quite as it seems…
While Pierce Brosnan is the Bond I was born into, Craig is my Bond, never so much so than after watching Skyfall. I have a weakness for stories about aging action heroes getting back into the fray, thus my love of the Star Trek films featuring the original cast, Live Free or Die Hard (SHUT UP), and Red, so Skyfall is exactly up my alley. Returning to Craig’s first outing after not only seeing all the other Bonds but his iteritation of 007’s future is an odd experience. In the context of other Bonds, Craig’s clear predecessor is Timothy Dalton, who has, as my friend Natalya says, “the light of a saint in his eyes”. However, Craig’s Bond goes further. He’s huge, almost beastly, no matter how dapper and handsome he looks in a tuxedo. His eyes can flash a thousand different ways. Craig’s Bond is a natural predator struggling between the darkness he thrives in and the light that could save his soul.
Casino Royale shows us Craig’s Bond balanced more towards the light. While he still turns into an unstoppable, remorseless killing machine (witness him bust through dry wall like an albino Frankenstein), he still enjoys life, wooing married women because they’re less complicated. (Also, I suspect Craig’s Bond of having mother issues. Delicious mother issues.) And not only is he capable of falling in love with Vesper, he’s capable of leaving MI6 for her—how terribly romantic. And how terribly On Her Majesty’s Secret Service. Through Vesper, Bond has a way to crawl back to the real world. But, of course, the escape and sanctuary she represents is just a ruse; Bond is totally severed from the real world and commits himself to MI6 because it’s the only place he has.
It’s hard not to get poetic about it, really.
Eva Green, in a role that tumblr has decided is the female version of Steven Moffat’s Sherlock, is just as sharp and dark as Craig is. Judi Dench’s last stretch as M is my favorite, especially given the new relationship between Bond and M. There is perhaps nothing so sweet as seeing M snark at Bond and Bond just taking it, although he’s just learning to do that here. (He’s not as dependent on her at this point, because he’s just coming off giving his soul to Vesper.) Mads Mikkelsen’s Le Chiffre is capable, although it’s only the torture scene that really sticks with you. Giancarlo Giannini as Rene Mathis, Bond’s fellow MI6 contact in Montenegro, however, is engaging and affable.
The stunts, due to Craig’s sheer physical presence, are hypnotizing and brutal, although Quantum of Solace and Skyfall will improve upon them. Alas, this is the first Bond film to feature an amazing title sequence with a lackluster song (it’s usually the opposite): Daniel Kleinman’s dazzling card-themed credits remain thrillingly gorgeous, while Chris Cornell’s “You Know My Name” is the kind of song you forget while you’re listening to it. I couldn’t hum it if I tried. (And I scream-sing “Tomorrow Never Dies” in the shower.)
Bottom line: Casino Royale reboots the franchise by stripping it down to its dead basics, showing us how James Bond started on the path from contract killer to monster. Well worth a watch.
I rented this film from the public library.