Daniel Craig as James Bond
Eva Green as Vesper Lynd
Mads Mikkelsen as Le Chiffre
Judi Dench as M
Jeffrey Wright as Felix Leiter
Giancarlo Giannini as Mathis
Caterina Murino as Solange
Simon Abkarian as Alex Dimitrios
Isaach De Bankolé as Steven Obanno
Jesper Christensen as Mr. White
Ivana Milicevic as Valenka
Tobias Menzies as Villiers
Claudio Santamaria as Carlos
Sebastien Foucan as Mollaka
Malcolm Sinclair as Dryden
An international terrorism financier known only as Le Chiffre (Mads Mikkelsen) has just lost $100 million dollars of his clients’ money, which is certain to shorten his life expectancy considerably if he doesn’t find some way to make up the losses very quickly. To that end he enters a high, high stakes poker game at the fashionable Casino Royale in Montenegro. The British Secret Service, hoping to force him to give up his contacts in global terrorism, send in their best – or possibly riskiest – gambler; newly promoted 00 Agent James Bond (Daniel Craig).
The first film for new James Bond Craig, “Casino Royale” is also the first straight version of Fleming’s initial Bond novel and serves as a complete reboot of the franchise, chronicling a somewhat less-experienced Bond’s first assignment. It’s a risky endeavor for a franchise that has remained, for the most part, unchanged and successful for 40 years.
Director Martin Campbell (“GoldenEye,” “The Mask of Zorro”) and the longtime Bond producers at EON have wisely decided to stick as close to Fleming’s novel as possible in a fairly bare bones (well, for a Bond movie, anyway) adaptation. Craig and Campbell are trying their hardest to make this James Bond, and the world he inhabits, real (or at least as real as it can be in the context), which means necessarily jettisoning a lot of what has made the series so popular over the years; the gadgets, the dry one-liners, the over-the-top villain with his army of goons and inescapable, improbable death traps.
For fans largely familiar with the film version of Bond it’s not entirely clear how this will go over, but it makes a very welcome change. This Bond can be hurt, both physically and emotionally, he can get in over his head and he can make serious blunders. And he can actually fall in love. This is most certainly the most romantic Bond film since “On Her Majesty’s Secret Service.” Craig and Green as Treasury Agent Vesper Lynd have a nice repartee with some genuinely clever dialogue that is thankfully void of cumbersome puns and double entendres.
It’s also a bit slower than film fans may be used to as well. Fleming’s books were more thrillers than action adventure stories, very interested in building up mood and paranoia, and “Casino Royale” the film stays very close to its source material.
Which isn’t to suggest things don’t get blown up – they certainly do. “Casino Royale” is front loaded with several spectacular action sequences, leading up to the moment Bond enters the casino (where the book itself actually begins), which are more than enough to satisfy most action junkies. After that, however, it slows down considerably, trying to be much more of a thriller than a Bond film has tried to be in decades.
It’s not the best Bond film ever – for all it’s achievements it’s occasionally a little arch, and never quite has the raw fun and enjoyment of Connery’s earliest endeavors – but I don’t think it’s a stretch to suggest it’s the best Bond film in 20 years.
“Casino Royale” is a welcome break from the past and a strong and entertaining film in its own right, proving the continuing viability of Fleming’s creation 50 years after his inception. If this is the shape of things to come, things are looking up for the next 50 years.