Casino Royale

I have a confession. I’ve never been a James Bond fan. To tell the truth, I’ve never understood all the fuss over Sean Connery and frankly, I get irritated over all the endless debates and questions, “Who’s your favorite Bond?” But I’ve got to admit, I’ll be venturing out to see each and every Daniel Craig–Bond portrayal from this day forward until the day he is replaced by some poor chap who will have to fill his shoes. Pierce Brosnan, who are you?

After a high-impact opening fight scene, the typical cheesy opening credits and a dramatically dull and uneventful scene written to establish Bond’s future adversaries (a Ugandan warlord, the middle-man Mr. White, and Le Chiffre–financial investor to terrorists, played by Mads Mikkelsen) I began to think it was all the same Bond. But quickly I was corrected. Starting in Madagascar, this tight, compact-sized Bond sets his new screen career afire in a chase that would put the Road Runner and Wile E. Coyote to shame. He leaps and bounds after a gun-for-hire who is refreshingly Spiderman-like and equally impressive. They are tumbling and bouncing like monkeys all over a construction site, breaking through walls and dodging bullets. This new Bond is a machine– hardly resembling the Bonds of the past: typically middle-aged, gadget-dependent old fogies I had such a disinterest in ever getting to know.

While I am at the edge of my seat already and fifteen minutes has yet to pass, M is not impressed. It seems that 007 had been newly promoted and Judi Dench’s character is quick to rethink it. After the chase leads to a botched end and blood on MI6’s hands, M demands Bond think up a holiday before she demotes him. He’s then off to the Bahamas to trail an associate linked to Le Chiffre. His name is Dimitrios and Bond is quick to win the guy’s Aston Martin at poker and seduce the thug’s buxom wife all in one breath. Bond follows Dimitrios to Miami’s International Airport to inadvertently foil a plot to bomb an Airbus. Once again, Craig is off on a tear, he’s the Energizer Bunny, part man, part mechanical, his battery never running out. In a screenplay written by Neal Purvis, Robert Wade, and Paul Haggis, their creativity as writers never runs out either, each chase is as good as the last, the drama of this story building and building.

M sends Bond off to Montenegro to challenge Le Chiffre at a high-stakes poker match. En route, he meets his financier, Vesper Lynd, an accountant for the British government. Vesper is portrayed by Eva Green, and with her regal good looks and raspy low voice, she is not the typically vacuous Bond Barbie doll. There is credibility and intrigue to her character. Their caddy banter back and forth sheds a bit of light onto Craig’s range as an actor. It’s the first time we hear consistent dialogue from his smooth, almost soothing, voice and for a little while I felt I could have been watching him in a Jane Austen period piece. How fascinating, since I had agreed with M when she had referred to him as a “blunt instrument” earlier.

Now scenes with card games are usually a tuner-outer for me. However Bond’s and Le Chiffre’s equal display of panache and swagger make the poker showdown mesmerizing. Le Chiffre’s skill in bluffing or non-bluffing or whatever and Bond’s skill in reading it had me in awe and made me want to pick up a copy of “Poker for Dummies”. The match culminates at a torture scene that is written with such unexpected wit and ingenuity, it diffuses much of the agony making it one of the more humorous scenes in the film.

Martin Campbell of Mask of Zorro fame is credited with direction of Casino Royale. There is not one slow spot in all of the 144 minutes. The action sequences are electrifying yet credible at the same time, never over-the-top in the way that John Woo action scenes come to mind. Craig looks to be doing many of his own stunts and there are few, if any, special effects. Campbell relies on the slickness of the script and the charisma of his leading man to carry the story. He’s not afraid to give his new Bond all the characteristics of a “blunt instrument”– raw, bloodied, gritty, cocky, brutish– thus shedding all the unnecessary and antiquated 007 clichés and gimmicks of years past.

I suppose it would be an understatement to say that I’m recommending this movie. It’s been awhile since I could say I’ve been completely enraptured with a film that I’d succumb to watching again and again. There are very few movies that do that for me. But as Bond utters his last line of the film, we realize that what is past has been prologue to a new chapter that has only just begun.

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