Retro Review:Casino Royale

Taking over from the naturally charming Pearce Brosnan who had become regarded by many as possibly the best Bond after Sean Connery was always going to be a challenge. Daniel Craig was also for many at the time an unknown quantity with parts in movies like Tomb Raider, Munich and Layer Cake when he was cast as the world’s most famous spy.  Plan’s for a rebut made some fans nervous and only added to the building uncertainty as film makers had flagged their intention to follow the more physical and realistic style laid out by the Bourne series. In this climate it was announced that Daniel Craig’s first movie as 007 would be an adoption of Fleming’s first novel Casino Royale which didn’t fail to get people excited. Ultimately these decisions help lead to a successful debut and possible the best Bond film ever made.

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The switch to a more physical approach worked perfectly for the introduction of the athletic Daniel Craig. This new look is obvious from the film’s opening sequence as the planned clean kill turns into a desperate struggle for survival. It isn’t until after Chris Connell’s theme that Craig’s physical approach to 007 really comes into focus through the parkour chase sequence in a construction site. While this opening scene may have been the height of Bonds physicality it remains visible throughout the rest of the film either in several hand to hand fight sequences or Bonds torture. This change allowed the film to distinguish Craig’s Bond from the earlier versions but isn’t the main reason for the film’s success.

Instead it is the focus on character development and creating a more emotionally complex storyline that makes Casino Royale standout. The central plot based on the capture of La Chiffre makes for an interesting backdrop to develop Bond’s character. The nearly promoted 007 spends most of the film coming to terms with his new position in the secret service as he is driven by a need to prove himself to those around him. This play’s out in the suspense of the poker game where Bond matches wits with La Chiffre and tries to impress the hard to catch Vesper Lynd. Unlike other movies where everything runs to plan the poker game forces Bond to face his own failure before he is given the chance to learn from his mistakes. His success is short lived as he must learn yet another cruel lesson when those closest to Bond ultimately betray him leaving him damaged and enlighten to the dangers of failing to remain detached.

This focus on character development would not be possible without a strong supporting cast. Dame Judi Dench remains reprising her role as M, ably fulfilling a duel maternal role, part guardian and part disciplinarian.  Mal Mikkelsen gives a calculating performance as La Chiffre providing a reserved counter to Bond’s charisma. It is the rare occasions when he loses his cool that Mikkelsen makes the role work as he gives a real intensity that represents the desperation of La Chiffre position. Possibly the greatest choice made by the production team however is Eva Green as Vesper Lynda. Not only is she captivating on screen but her ability to deliver witty comebacks with believable sarcasm makes the banter with Bond work. Like the other characters in Casino Royale, Vesper drops the prickly demeanour which Bond highlights at their first meaning and Green is able to effectively communicate her character’s emotional turmoil as their relationship develops. These strong performances help make Casino Royale more believable and contribute to Bond’s own development but what I notice the most is the film’s return to Fleming’s original body of work.

Reading my first Bond novel years ago ‘Dr No’ the thing that struck me as a fan of the films is Bond’s fragility as a man of flesh and blood as he spends a large section of the book either in pain or recovering. This same element is present in Casino Royale as unlike other Bond movies every battle leaves him with new scares that he must carry, the best example is after the fight in the hotel staircase as later when he is using the defibrillator the bandage from this earlier sequence is visible. Like Fleming’s Bond the representation in Casino Royale doesn’t get everything right and this leads to his capture and torture. This scene which makes every man in a cinema wince has Bond stripped of any hope or chance of escape and he relies ultimately on Mr White’s intervention for his survival.

The film ends with the classic James Bond calling card but Casino Royale is far from the simplistic story of its 20 predecessors with clear layers of development. However, importantly for fans it does not do away with the traditional elements of the classics as the silencer, car and witty one liners are all balanced with new style of Bond movie.

9/10

Jono

About jgbarry

A teacher, poet, novelist and causal tech guru I am always keen to share my thoughts. A firm believer in critical thinking I rarely rush a decision without any research and once made my mind is primed for a good debate.

Posted on November 22, 2015, in Movies, Reviews and tagged , , , , , , , , , , . Bookmark the permalink. Leave a comment.

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