Best. Bond. Ever. No, I'm not talking about Casino Royale itself, although that's certainly in the top five Bond films*. I'm talking about Daniel Craig. Throw Sean Connery to one side (if you can): there's a newer, better Bond in town.
Since Casino Royale was the world's introduction to James Bond, it seems fitting that this, the last of the Bond books to be filmed by Eon Productions, should be a reboot of the series. Bond isn't even a 00 until the (admittedly not very good) title sequence rolls; he doesn't know whether he'd like his Vodka Martinis shaken or stirred; he makes loads of mistakes; and he has rubbish taste in dinner jackets. Over the course of the film, he slowly gets carved into something more like the Bond we've come to know.
Casino Royale as a movie is an interesting combination of film Bond and the Bond of the book. Casino Royale makes up the middle half of the film, with Bond trying to bankrupt terrorist financier Le Chiffre (the rather excellent Mads Mikkelsen) at the eponymous casino. There are a couple of changes. The casino is now in Montenegro and they're playing poker instead of Chemin de Fer. But the bare bones of the plot are the same. And yes, fellow Bond aficionados, that scene is in there. You know the one I'm talking about. If you don't, you'll know exactly which one I'm talking about as soon as you see it onscreen.
Framed around this are the traditions of movie Bond: set-pieces in exotic overseas locations, things blowing up, lots of stunts, etc. And there are Bond girls aplenty, with Caterina Murino setting the scene as one of Bond's married conquests and French actress Eva Green taking over as Bond's bankroller Vesper Lynd. For some reason, she employs a strangely South African accent to do this, but she's not half bad and in one of the best developed female characterisations of the series.
Book Bond infiltrates all parts of the film, not just the mid-section, however. This Bond is a killer, a man who obeys orders and does it in wonderfully brutal, jiu jitsu fight scenes, without stupid one-liners, ridiculous gadgets or arched eyebrows anywhere in sight. He's also a character, a human being with a past, ideas of his own - some of them very misogynistic - and some actual personality traits.
The film has a few stupid and ridiculous moments. It's over-long at about two and a half hours, making it the longest Bond film ever. It also has so many false endings, you'll be praying for them to JUST DECIDE WHEN TO FINISH, WILL YOU. But, I couldn't imagine where they'd want to cut it, there are so many important scenes in all the potential chopping points (or at least trademark stunt scenes that would eviscerate the movie of any traditional film Bond elements if they were removed). So I'd advise finding a very comfortable cinema to watch this at or maybe holding off until the DVD release. It's weird, I know, imagining buying a Bond DVD, but with this one, you might just want to.
Now for Daniel Craig. Everyone mocked him, even me, when he joined. I was mainly amused by the stories of his not being able to drive manual cars and loosing a tooth in his first fight scene, but others went as far as launching an online petition to get him un-cast, arguing he wasn't Bond enough.
They were wrong. They were horribly, horribly wrong. Daniel Craig is more Bond than any previous actor. Firstly, he actually seems comfortable with the stunts, fighting and handling a gun. Secondly, he actually looks like he could do them. Previous Bonds, excepting perhaps Connery, have all had a touch of the actor about them. With Craig's Bond, you never doubt for a moment this man is ex-military** and would kill you in a second without blinking if he had to.
But Craig makes him real, too. Coupled with some excellent dialogue (and some not very good dialogue as well), his acting convinces you that this is a person rather than an icon.
So pack away any reservations you might have had. This is the best action film of the year by far. Go watch it.
Cinema used for the review: Odeon Beckenham; adult tickets £7 each; print quality: average - some weird colour balances in places; chair quality: awful - the seats are on a very gentle slope, so we had to slouch to avoid blocking the views of everyone behind us (our backs still hurt today).
* Top Bond movie? Maybe From Russia With Love, The Spy Who Loved Me or On Her Majesty's Secret Service, although I have a soft spot for parts of Goldeneye. What's your fave?
** Ex-army or ex-navy, we're not sure, since his rumoured defection to the SAS appears to be unfounded, judging by the official Casino Royale web site
Here's the trailer, BTW.
UPDATE: Casino Royale has had the strongest opening of any Bond film in UK history.
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