Dir: Martin Campbell. UK. 2006. 147mins
Bond Is Back. The old promise takes on a freshemphasis in Casino Royale, amuscular, wildly successful attempt to strip the lucrative James Bond franchiseback to basics. Returning to the origins of the series in the first Ian Flemingnovel, Casino Royaledepicts Bond as a rough, reckless diamond before he acquires the polish ofsuave sophistication required of an international man of mystery. Ridiculousgadgets, pneumatic lovelies, flamboyant megalomaniacs and flippant one-linersare largely jettisoned in favour of heart-thumping action, fullercharacterisations and relatively gritty realism.
In his first Bond venturesince Pierce Brosnan's debut in Goldeneye (1995), director MartinCampbell has achieved the considerable feat of reinventing the franchise for asecond time and creating a film that can kick sand in the face of upstartrivals like Jason Bourne and Ethan Hunt.
Jackpot global returnsshould follow as exhibitors around the world (the film opens in many internationalmarkets from next week) discover that absence has made the heart grow Bonder. Puristswill revel in its seriousness of intent and respectful treatment of their hero:more casual audiences will simply love it for its action and attitude.
Certainly it should be aworldwide hit with returns on a par with the most recent Bond films like 2002'sDie Another Day,which took $432m globally, and The WorldIs Not Enough (1999), which similarly grossed $361m. Also expect it tosurpass relative newer franchises like the Jason Bourne films (eg The BourneSupremacy, 20004, worldwide: $289m) and possibly surpass the higher reachesof the Mission: Impossible series (eg Mission:Impossible II, 2000, worldwide: $546m).
The many technical aspectsof the film are so outstanding, especially editing and cinematography, that itbegs the question as to why Bond has never been more prominent in major awardsconsideration. If Harry Potter can be considered for BAFTA'sAlexander Korda Award for Best British Film, then whynot 007, the greatest British success story that cinema has known'
First published in 1953, Casino Royalewas adapted for television in 1954 (with Barry Sullivan) and filmed in 1967 asa self-indulgent, star-studded Swinging Sixties romp that now looks more AustinPowers than James Bond.
The official Bond 21 beginsin Prague with a black and white sequence that feels like anhomage to the series Cold War roots. This could almost be the world of The Spy Who Came In FromThe Cold (1965) or TornCurtain (1966) as Bond completes his first two kills and earns his 00status. The tale continues in typical globe-trotting fashion with visits toMadagascar, Nassau and Miami.
The main quarry this time isLe Chiffre (Mads Mikkelsen) a man who has grown rich financing internationalterrorism. The cat and mouse games build towards a showdown at a high stakespoker game in Montenegro where Bond is accompanied by Treasury representativeVesper Lynd (Eva Green). The initial hostilitybetween them is played out in some sharp, well-scripted bantering and therelationship develops convincingly towards a tenderness that is unusual in theBond movies.
In a similar vein to lastyear's Batman Begins, returning tothe origins of Bond seems to have reinvigorated every aspect of the production.It has given regular screenwriters Neal Purvis and Robert Wade something freshto work with and the addition of Oscar-winning screenwriter Paul Haggis to theteam seems to have been the force behind the sharper dialogue and tougherethos.
The task for Martin Campbelland the team is to balance the assurance of the familiar with the excitement ofthe novel. Licence To Kill (1989)showed that Bond could be dour and gritty but that was a film that dividedaudiences and critics. Casino Royale does not lose sight of what made Bond so popularbut does acknowledge that the competition is tougher than ever especially fromthe Jason Bourne franchise.
The freshness comes in theway that Bond is seen to acquire a certain style in the way he drinks anddresses, how he becomes battle-hardened (in a nasty torture sequence) and whyhe has to develop a certain sadistic, emotional detachment if he is to performhis job to the best of his abilities. The familiar elements come in somebravura chase and fight sequences where Daniel Craig appears to have beenbloodied, battered and bruised in the line of fire. The pace and precision inStuart Baird's graceful editing is exemplary and there are enoughheart-in-the-throat moments to satisfy any action fan.
The plot is a little flawedin places but does contain a few genuine surprises and mercifully does not relyon the ticking time bomb climax so beloved of the series. The way we see Bondemerge and the crowd-pleasing final moments leave plenty of options for how thecharacter can develop further in Bond 22.
A controversial choice insome quarters, new boy Daniel Craig was cruelly dubbed James Blonde before Casino Royaleeven began filming. He performs with all the ferocious commitment of a mandetermined to silence his critics. Tough and aggressive, he is every inch theruthless action hero but also ensures that the character wears his emotions onhis sleeve. His Bond develops over the course of the film and we knoweverything he is feeling from the trembling adrenaline rush of his early killsto the impetuosity of his renegade actions and the attachment he develops toone of the more interesting female characters seen in a Bond film for a longwhile.
He has the panther-likegrace of Sean Connery, fills a pair of swimming trunks amply and gives the kindof triumphant performance that will leave most audiences thinking Pierce who'
Mads Mikkelsen brings a low-keyintensity to Le Chiffre, Eva Green is a spiky Vesper Lynd and Judi Dench lends atypical astringency to M.
A new, improved version ofthe single George Lazenby venture On Her Majesty's Secret Service might bean obvious and profitable option to explore. On the evidence of Casino Royalethe promise that Bond Will Return should sound better than ever to globalaudiences.
Albert R Broccoli's Eon Productions
Michael G Wilson