Language: ENGLISH Genre: Action Director: Martin Campbell
Producer: Anthony Waye, Callum McDougall, Barbara Broccoli
Cast: Daniel Craig, Eva Green, Mads Mikkelsen, Judi Dench, Jeffrey Wright, Giancarlo Giannini, Caterina Murino
In “Casino Royale,” James Bond is back. Back to his roots as Ian Fleming’s driven, bare-knuckled, rough-around-the-edges sociopathic killer in Her Majesty’s Secret Service. The movie is so retro it begins with a black-and-white sequence in which Bond brutally earn his 00 status with two textbook-perfect killings.
With every new actor who steps into the role of Bond, the producing team descended from the original producer, Cubby Broccoli, retools the series. For Daniel Craig, the handsome English actor who appears chiseled from raw granite, director Martin Campbell and producers Michael G. Wilson and Barbara Broccoli go back to Fleming’s first novel, published in 1953, “Casino Royale” — previously made as a joke movie with comics Peter Sellers and Woody Allen — to re-establish Bond’s origins in sex, sadism, murder and dry martinis.
What a relief to escape the series’ increasing bondage to high-tech gimmicks in favor of intrigue and suspense featuring richly nuanced characters and women who think the body’s sexiest organ is the brain. To demonstrate the difference, the movie’s first major set piece is a five-minute foot chase, albeit with the acrobatic stunts one associates with Hong Kong action movies.
The film is far too long, with a protracted third act pushing running time to 144 minutes. Yet the new Bond should help newcomers and older viewers rediscover what made Sean Connery’s early Bond movies the best of the series. Boxoffice looks promising here and overseas.
It’s been awhile since a Bond movie was actually based on a Fleming novel, but the screenplay by Bond veterans Neal Purvis & Robert Wade with an assist by Paul Haggis does take many of the characters, settings and themes from the original novel while eliminating the Cold War trappings in favor of cell phones, computers and infinite data basis that now rule the world of international chicanery and espionage. It all still comes down to a high-stakes card game at the Casino Royale only instead of Chemin de Fer, it’s Texas Hold ‘Em.
For “Casino Royale,” things begin afresh with Craig’s Bond evolving from wannabe assassin to the real deal — his first hit, first major mistake, first dressing down by M (Judi Dench, who too seems reinvigorated by this more “realistic” Bond), a woman to fall in love with and a slap in the face to form his callous, cold-hearted character forever. It’s so early in his career he tells a barman he doesn’t care how his martini is made.
The surrounding cast has been retooled as well. Instead of a megalomaniac out to rule the world, the villain is Le Chiffre (Danish actor Mads Mikkelsen), “the Cipher,” a banker to international terrorists who is only in the game for the money. His quirks are a tear duct that drips blood and the need for an inhaler.
The heroine is Vesper Lynd (French actress Eva Green), a female counterpart to Bond — cool, calculating, untrusting but drawn to sexual adventure if it comes packaged to suit her whim. Their exchanges contain none of the usual tired double entendres but rather sharp dialogue as the two suss each other out.
Jeffrey Wright is suitably low key as Bond’s CIA ally Felix Leiter, while Italian veteran Giancarlo Giannini is his unruffled local contact. Caterina Murino, also Italian, plays Bond’s first sexual conquest, who pays dearly for her extramarital fling.
Major sequences — that chase in and around an African construction site, a fight aboard a runaway fuel truck on an airport tarmac, a shootout in a collapsing Venice, Italy, canal building and a grueling torture sequence — emphasize the physicality of the stunt work rather than special effects. The old James Bond musical theme is saved for the end as David Arnold’s superb score chooses to mirror the rise and fall of tensions and emotions. Phil Meheux’s cinematography and Peter Lamont’s design take full advantage of the great locations ranging from Prague and Venice to Lake Como and the Bahamas. Campbell, who previously retooled the series when Pierce Brosnan came aboard for “GoldenEye” (1995), has done the series proud.