Film Nerd’s Choice: Casino Royale
Director: Martin Campbell
Cast: Daniel Craig, Eva Green, Mads Mikkelsen, Judi Dench, Jeffrey Wright, Giancarlo Giannini, Caterina Murino, Jesper Christensen
Synopsis: Based on the novel by the same name by Ian Fleming, this James Bond film takes the first written novel as an excuse to reboot the series. In doing so, a harder edge is given to the franchise bringing it closer to Fleming;s source material than ever before, even if it does translocate the action forward into modern times.
As a Bond fan, it delights me that the 30 day film challenge has afforded me the opportunity to reflect on what I consider a true highpoint in the franchise after already being in a position to review the low point, that being Moonraker. I have in many ways been raised on the 007 franchise, and am intimately familiar with his adventures both in text and on-screen. I have many favourite stories in both formats, the earlier films being more direct adaptations of the novels than the later films became, the mor recent films not being based on Fleming material. Casino Royale, due to legal issues as the most prominent Bond story never yet brought to the cinema in the official Broccoli 007 franchise. Thankfully, despite shifting the setting to a modern casino in Montenegro, and changing the game of choice from Baccarat to Texas Hold’Em poker, this is once again a fairly faithful adaptation… just with more action thrown in.
Campbell is a gifted director, once before having creating a dying Bond franchise when he was in the main chair for Brosnan’s first outing Goldeneye. He managed the same magic trick twice, creating a different Bond film that also retained respect for the franchise. He portrays Bond here as a man struggling with his new role in the secret service. Though he is still a man of wit, he finds less humour in his activities than previous Bonds, bearing the scars of previous encounters, both literally and figuratively. His penchant for alcohol and women is portrayed as less suave and cultured, and more as escapism from the realities of his world. As such, we have a much more visceral film, that seems more grounded than many previous instalments.
However, this entry is for favourite action film, and as such I should spend some of the discussion on this element of the film. There is much more action in the film than in the novel, yet none of it is superfluous. Each action sequence does something to advance the plot, while also being an edge of your seat, nail-biting thrill-ride. The pace is frenetic, yet everything is filmed in such a way that things are not lost in a flurry of activity that is impossible to follow (take note, Michael Bay). From the free-running opening that redefines chase sequences, to the chase to prevent an explosion at Miami airport, to the final sequences in Venice, Craig is painted as a Bond to be reckoned with, ever resourceful without any reliance on special gadgets. I would also argue that the poker game itself is an action sequence. There is no running or bullets flying, but it manages to make a sequence of twelve people around a baize table holding cards consistently exciting, and it does so while occupying a large part of the film at the same time.
I could go on for much longer, discussing individual performances, especially focussing on the cracking chemistry established between Green’s Vesper and Craig’s Bond. The simple fact is, I can write a pages long essay on this film, though I fear my level of interest may deter readers from even starting this post. So I will leave it here with just a simple recommendation. If you like your action fast and loud with enough character development to keep it interesting, well, this is the minimum of what Casino Royale achieves and what is not only a superior Bond film, but a superior film outright.
5 stars out of 5