Director: Martin Campbell
With: Daniel Craig, Eva Green
Runtime: 144 min
Die Another Day was a sham, a soulless slideshow of invisible sports cars, product placement and referential gags that plunged a once respectable franchise into the depths of self-parody. Casino Royale is a distinctly different film, returning to Ian Fleming’s first novel concerning Bond’s development as a 00 agent. Though elements of the classic Bond formula remain, (exotic locations, beautiful girls and car chases) Casino Royale is a darker, grittier affair, exposing its protagonist as morally dubious and borderline psychotic.
The fantastic opening sequence roots us in reality, as Bond assassinates two spies to gain his 00 status. Rendered in black and white, these opening scenes stress the psychopathic undercurrents so prominent in Fleming’s novels. The film works best as a revisionist exercise, dismantling preconceptions of what a Bond film should or should not entail. After losing millions in the pivotal poker game, a barman asks whether Bond likes his martini shaken or stirred, to which he retorts “Do I look like I bloody care?” Daniel Craig plays this re-imagined Bond, with a charm and physicality not seen since Connery, instilling the role with a palpable sense of menace and danger. He is certainly a Bond for our time, no longer the fantasy figure lending itself to parody, but a terrifying, mentally unhinged killing machine.
With this dehumanisation of Bond comes an intensification of action scenes. With the exception of the leaden airport bomb sequence, these are perhaps the best Bond action sequences committed to celluloid. The best stunt in the film is the flipping of Bond’s Aston Martin, just when the audience expects a huge car chase to begin.Though it is a difficult film to dislike outright, there are fundamental problems preventing it being truly satisfying. Thankfully, there is no nefarious scheme for world domination; the villain’s diabolical plan is foiled at a poker table. However, the game is laboriously handled.
Seemingly aware that it is just not that exciting, Campbell throws in sword-wielding terrorists and poisoned champagne, but the tension is just not there. After the game the film meanders into narrative uncertainty: chief baddie La Chifre is killed off 40 minutes before the curtain, and Bond and Vesper wander into the obligatory soft-focus montage, only for the plot to resurface in a twist unpredictable only to the lobotomised. The film is too long, and whilst Campbell succeeds as an action director, he fails in gearing the film towards a successful climax.
Similarly, the film suffers from a lack of memorable characters; the villains are instantly forgettable and Craig, wonderfully adept as the sadistic hard man, is wholly ineffective as the irresistible playboy. Such factors hold Casino Royale back from true greatness. One only hopes future Bond movies will capitalise upon its successes and avoid its mediocrities.