By: Muneeb Arshid
Casino Royale was the 21st film in the ever-popular James Bond anthology starring a brand new Bond in Daniel Craig, Eva Green as Bond-Girl Vesper Lynd, Dame Judi Dench as M and the ever dead-eyed Mads Mikkelsen as Le Chiffre. Casino Royale can only be described as a high-stakes gambling thriller where Bond is forced to play a ludicrously big poker game in order to defeat a master weapons dealer.
Casino Royale was Daniel Craig’s first go at being 007 and the movie goes with that theme, this essentially being an origin story as to how Bond becomes a 00 agent. It starts off with a beautifully constructed black and white scene which goes to show the style that this new Bond undertakes during his missions. But right after the gorgeous theme opening, the film cuts to an action scene with Bond tearing Africa apart and shows his naivety as a special agent and how much he still has to learn to become the agent that he is in that opening shot. And on cue, Bond gets called out by M about it. This beginning to a “new” Bond really sets the tone for the movie as Bond now has to deal with overcoming his childishness and put away his ego if he wants to prove himself as a 00 agent.
Intertwined with this theme of becoming a mature 00, Bond has to now delve deeper into the mission that involves essentially defeating the supposed villain Le Chiffre in a very high stakes Poker game. However, if you thought that the poker game would be as simple as showing a few hands and eventually the final outcome of Bond winning, well you’re wrong. There’s never any time for Bond to be just sitting idly, and in the midst of the entire poker game (which has to have lasted about 45 minutes) a bunch o’ danger things happen to Bond, which when they happen, you’re just saying to yourself: “Yea, that’s something that would only happen to Bond.”
I think it has to be said right away that I absolutely loved this film, not just because as we progress through his series, I feel Daniel Craig is the best Bond in terms of being able to emotionally relate to him when he goes through his trials and tribulations. Minus Quantum of Solace of course. But this movie also gives us its utmost best attempt at portraying Bond and the rest of MI6 to be more like what would be found in the modern day. Gone are all the ridiculous gadgets that the Bond series has had to rely on for the past 20 years (most prevalent in the Brosnan era) and gone are the ridiculous characters and story lines from years gone past. Okay maybe not the storyline, but it’s not Roger Moore level crazy.
However, this film is not perfect, not by a long shot. First off, it is way too long, clocking in at 144 minutes. The last 20-25 minutes could easily have been lopped off as it becomes more akin to a romance gone bad than a typical Bond movie. Second, the way it deals with the villain is atrocious. One of the things that made a Bond film a classic was the villain. You look at past movies like the early Sean Connery films and you remember that you had great villains in Dr. No and Blofeld. Le Chiffre belongs to that club as being a very memorable villain, playing this weapons dealer who’s got his own issues to a tee. What ruins it, is how the plot develops to get rid of him. Of course, he’s gonna be killed, this is a Bond film, the villain would never survive and make Bond look bad. But the way Le Chiffre is killed is partly a connection to the last 20 minutes when the actual villain of the story is revealed. But that is still the 20 minutes that I would have chopped off in the cutting room. They should’ve ended the movie in a better way with Le Chiffre being the main baddie, which would have lead to this movie receiving a much higher rating. But the movie’s purpose in the portrayal is that there is always a higher up who is in more control of the supposed main characters.
The other memorable part of Bond films tends to be the Bond Girl. In years past, Bond girls have been iconic characters like Pussy Galore covered in gold in Goldfinger, or just like her, the girls have had manic names. But in previous movies, they’ve been there, for the most part, for the pleasure of Bond. In this, Eva Green nails the performance by bringing out the emotional side of Bond. Their interaction is key and the building of their relationship is crucial as to how the plot progresses to defeat Le Chiffre. They start with this witty banter which moves to a more loving relationship after an “unfortunate stairs scene” involving Bond, Vesper and a couple of mad African killers. However, even after the twist that director Martin Campbell throws the viewers way, Bond is now in an emotional state that shows that the “game” is not all about him anymore and that there are people around who immensely care about him anymore. And this is the biggest redeeming factor of the movie as you get a complete rounding of Bond from being egotistical to by the end being the Bond that we’re all used to seeing. And that is none too apparent than Bond not using his trademark line of “The name’s Bond, James Bond” till the absolute end of the movie.
Overall, Casino Royale does a great job of “rebooting” a franchise which had gotten over-reliant on using gimmicks and odd storylines for their movies, in a way that made James Bond look like he was invincible. Casino Royale doesn’t do that. You can actually feel every blow that Bond takes in the movie and makes him almost like a normal, mortal human being and what it would be if they took that much punishment. There are reservations that I had about the film, a lot of them regarding the final 20 minutes, but I am willing to overlook that just cause the rest of the movie was shot marvelously.
Casino Royale earns its 00 status and gets a B+