Wednesday, March 28

High Stakes Gamble

Daniel Craig steps into 007's well-worn shoes.

I finally got to watch Casino Royale a couple of nights ago at home, on luscious widescreen. I've had harsh words before for this new Bond, but I also mentioned that I would keep my mind open on this latest 007. So, did the studio's gamble pay off in spades, or did we get a Joker?

Set as a sort of 'restart' of the James Bond saga (instead of following the established mythos of the previous films), Casino Royale sees a brash James Bond (Daniel Craig) in action, just recently promoted to the elite Double-O status of 007. This Bond is a stone-faced, ice-cold killer, relentless and physical... in fact, he spends a great deal of the film just running. At least as much time running as he does driving. The start of the film sees a quite remarkable bit of parkour (the amazing 'free-running' sport where athletes do incredible leaps, shimmies and steps to get over ANY obstacle in their way) displayed by one of 007's targets. The long chase is thrilling and cool, though for the most part Casino Royale is more of a quiet Bond film, the majority of the 'action' taking place in a, well, Casino. Hence the title.

The first part of the film basically establishes the new Bond- a newly anointed killer in the service of MI-6. This early he's already gotten the attention of M (Dame Judie Dench, reprising her role from the later films), and not always in a good way. Bond is not above hacking into his own boss' security access to get the info he needs. However, he's a relentless son of a gun, as unyielding as a bloodhound when he's onto his prey. Eventually, he's formally assigned to take on Le Chiffre (Mads Mikkelsen), a self-styled 'banker' to the world's terrorists. But this isn't a simple assassination... Bond has to engage the scarred Le Chiffre in a high-stakes game of poker, staking millions of the crown's money to clean out the house and force Le Chiffre to turn state witness against his terrorist clientele. Joining Bond on the mission is the ravishing Vesper Lynd (Eva Green), a smart and sassy Treasury Agent who just may be the one woman to melt the ice-cold OO7's heart.

This is a very unusual Bond film- it has some intense action, but for the most part is leisurely-paced. The villain and plot aren't world-beating, but it's fitting for a first-romp for the new 007, and I didn't find myself bored at any point in the film. Daniel Craig acquits himself very well as 007- as I have always said, he looks more like a villain than a Bond, but I accepted him in the role midway into the movie. He's intense and has perhaps the steeliest eyes of any Bond, and he looks quite imposing. Easily, I like him better than Timothy Dalton, who perhaps shares the same 'grumpy' Bond flavor, at first glance. In the end, I look forward to seeing him again in action.
As for the rest, what can be said? M is M, Judi Dench is as motherly and bossy as always; Eva Green is hypnotically beautiful and quite a character (though her final resolution seems a bit abrupt), while Le Chiffre is menacing for the time that he is onscreen.

There are quite a few standout qualities to this latest Bond- utterly beautiful settings (this is certainly one of the more glamorously-shot Bond films) in almost every frame, pretty intense and well-done action sequences, and a surprisingly effective new Bond. An intriguing new take on the classic spy/action title, and that's all a Bond fan can ask for right now- well, aside from having SPECTER back. But I'll take it and I'll like it. Heh.

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