Bondathon #21: Casino Royale (2006)

Posted: April 13, 2016 in Movie Review
Tags: , , , , , , , , , , , , ,

Casino Royale (2006)

Director: Martin Campbell

Starring: Daniel Craig, Eva Green, Mads Mikkelsen, Jeffrey Wright, Judi Dench

The James Bond series has taken many risks over the years, but waited until crossing into the 21st century to make its biggest gamble yet. After the sub-par “Die Another Day,” I welcomed the news of a complete series reboot. I also chose not to join the crowd of objectors to the hiring of Daniel Craig, noting that once upon a time even Sean Connery was doubted at first. That “GoldenEye” director Martin Campbell was returning only added to my enthusiasm. The consequences of failure could have been a permanent retirement of the character. But “Casino Royale” didn’t just ensure the series would survive. It gave us the best James Bond since Connery and the best film in the franchise since the 1960’s.

“Casino Royale” establishes its gritty tone by beginning with a prologue shot in black and white. Here, we see MI6 agent James Bond (Daniel Craig) acquiring his 00 status by performing his first two kills. The first one, inside a public restroom, is as sloppy as it is brutal. The dead man is an accomplice of a traitorous MI6 section chief named Dryden, Bond’s second target. Bond gets the drop on Dryden in his office and, before Dryden can finish assuring Bond that the second kill is easier, Bond puts a bullet right between Dryden’s eyes. Bond later botches an assignment in Madagascar where, after a long and dangerous chase on foot, he kills the target he was supposed to apprehend for questioning. Chiding him for his recklessness, M (Judi Dench) speaks to Bond like a mother reprimanding her insubordinate son.

At the same time that all this is going on, a meeting takes placein Uganda between freedom fighters and Mr. White, a man from the same criminal organization as the man Bond killed in Madagascar. Mr. White introduces the freedom fighters to Le Chiffre (Mads Mikkelsen), a financier of terrorism. It will be Le Chiffre’s job to look after the Ugandan warlord’s money. To this end, Le Chiffre is going to gamble the money on the failure of an airline company, which he means to ensure by blowing up the company’s new plane. Bond heads for Miami, where he is able to put a stop to the bombing just in the nick of time. The loss of the Ugandans’ money forces Le Chiffre to set up a high-stakes poker game at the Casino Royale in Montenegro. In an effort to force Le Chiffre into accepting help against the Ugandans from the British government in exchange for information, MI6 sends Bond to Montenegro to beat him in the poker game. On the train ride Bond meets his banker, Vesper Lynd (Eva Green), a woman who is about to change Bond’s life forever.

As the game gets underway, Bond believes he’s learned the signs to look for to tell when Le Chiffre is bluffing, and gains confidence. During a pause in the game, Le Chiffre is accosted in his suite by the Ugandan warlord. Bond eavesdrops nearby, and is spotted by the Ugandan, whom Bond chokes the life out of with his bare hands. When the game resumes, Bond incorrectly assumes that Le Chiffre is bluffing and blows all of his money. When Vesper refuses to front him any more money, a furious and impulsive Bond decides instead to kill Le Chiffre, but is stopped at the last minute by a fellow player: CIA agent Felix Leiter (Jeffrey Wright). Felix notes that his own odds are not improving, and agrees to trade the money Bond needs in exchange for custody of Le Chiffre when it’s all said and done. Bond’s luck begins to change almost immediately, prompting Le Chiffre to have Bond’s vodka martini poisoned. Bond nearly succumbs to the poison, but is resuscitated by Vesper. Determined to win now more than ever, Bond ultimately cleans Le Chiffre out with a straight flush.

A sore loser now in fear for his own life, Le Chiffre baits Bond by capturing Vesper, leaving her in the middle of the road so that Bond will be forced to swerve to miss and then crash his car. Le Chiffre reveals that Bond’s MI6 contact, Mathis, actually works for him. Le Chiffre then tortures Bond for his account password (which is V-E-S-P-E-R), but Bond refuses. Having completely and utterly failed, Le Chiffre is shot and killed by Mr. White. As Bond recovers in a hospital, MI6 takes Mathis into custody. Bond expresses his love for Vesper, and sends his letter of resignation to M. After Bond and Vesper arrive in Venice, M calls Bond to inform him that Vesper has stolen the poker winnings. Bond spots her as she meets with the intended recipients of the money. They kidnap her and lock her in an elevator inside a building under renovation. Bond kills Vesper’s captors, but the battle causes the building to collapse and sink. Bond attempts to free Vesper from the elevator, but she allows herself to drown. Mr. White then takes possession of the money.

Feeling betrayed, Bond rejoins MI6. M tells Bond of the true nature of Vesper’s involvement in the scheme. It turns out that Vesper had a boyfriend whom the mysterious criminal organization had captured and threatened to kill if she didn’t cooperate. Vesper’s love for Bond was real, however, and it was that love which saved Bond from being killed by Mr. White along with Le Chiffre. Checking his cell phone text messages, Bond discovers that Vesper had left him Mr. White’s name and phone number. The movie ends with Bond tracking down and arresting Mr. White.

You would think that a Bond movie revolving around a high-stakes poker game would be a tough sell to a modern audience. If that were all there was to “Casino Royale,” then it’s conceivable there might be a problem. However, the incredible action sequences (which draw inspiration from “The Bourne Identity” and “Batman Begins”) coupled with the dazzling chemistry between Daniel Craig and Eva Green (the best Bond girl since Diana Rigg) make “Casino Royale” a modern classic. Far, FAR greater than I remembered, it is in my opinion one of the absolute best films in the series. I love seeing Bond at this early point in his career: more violent than the Timothy Dalton Bond, yet also more vulnerable than the George Lazenby Bond. The producers were wise to bet the series’ continued longevity on Daniel Craig, and even smarter to ask him to return. As if I wasn’t already sold on Craig as Bond, after “Casino Royale” I was all in.

  1. Sylvia Williams says:

    Perfectly stated on all points. Craig is the absolute coolest Bond ever. I especially appreciate that the plot doesn’t take more turns than we can believe or tolerate. It doesn’t rely on unbelievable gadgets or stupid jokes. Craig is good enough in the role that his presence on the big screen carries
    every scene; he mesmerizes the audience. This new series with Craig as Bond treats the character and the audience with respect and dignity. Finally.

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Google photo

You are commenting using your Google account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s