Casino Royale is the 21st film in the James Bond series (not counting the spoof version of the same title and 1983’s Never Say Never Again); and the first to star Daniel Craig as the British superspy, 007. Martin Campbell directs from a screenplay by Neal Purvis, Robert Wade and Paul Haggis that is very loosely based on the first of Ian Fleming’s novels featuring the British spy. Some 44 years after Bond’s first feature film appearance in Dr. No, Casino Royale is a new beginning for the character, showing him first earning his Double 00 prefix, his license to kill.
In this “re-boot” of the character, after having earned the license to kill, Bond finds himself being ordered to take part in a high-stakes poker tournament at the Casino Royale in Montenegro organized by a man named Le Chiffre (Mads Mikkelsen, who played Tristan in King Arthur) who is a major banker for terrorists throughout the world. It turns out that Le Chiffre has engaged in stock market speculation with his client’s money to generate profits for himself and when an attempted terrorist act that Le Chiffre was counting on to improve his portfolio is thwarted by Bond, Le Chiffre’s resulting losses in the market are more than he can handle. Thus, the tournament is organized with the idea that by winning, Le Chiffre can more than make-up the lost funds before his clients come looking for their money. Bond is the best poker player in the British Secret Service and the government is going to provide the ten million dollar stake, although Bond must proceed with the knowledge that if he loses, England will have directly financed international terrorism.
Please note that this is very similar to the base plot of the Fleming novel, except that in the book, Le Chiffre’s financial difficulties spring from his ill-time purchase of a string of bordellos. The purchase was ill-timed because almost immediately after the purchase, the French outlawed that particular business. The other big difference from the novel’s base plot and the film version is that the game of chance in the book was Baccarat and not Texas Hold-em. Kudos to the writers for taking Fleming’s base story and tweaking it only slightly this time in order to make it modern, instead of making wholesale changes making it unrecognizable.
In the film, the government is willing to bankroll Bond, but they insist on providing oversight, in the form of someone from their Treasury Department, in the form of one Vesper Lynd (Eva Green) and there are sparks, or friction, or something between she and Bond from the moment they meet. In addition, she and she alone will determine whether or not Bond will receive the backup funding of five million dollars, should he lose his initial ten million dollar stake (the rules of Le Chiffre’s tournament call for an initial buy-in of ten million and do permit one additional re-buy of five million).
The details of the tournament’s play and the aftermath I leave for you to discover on the big screen yourselves. From that fateful moment the first cards are dealt, until the last bullet is fired should be enjoyed by you without description or narration from me or anyone else.
Craig is the sixth actor to portray Bond on the big screen (again, not counting the spoof version) and his is a different Bond. This James Bond is more physical, less dependent on gadgets and not nearly as suave as Sean Connery. Nor does he dispense a pun every nine minutes and thirty-eight seconds (roughly) like Roger Moore. If his portrayal is closest to any of his predecessors, it is to that of Timothy Dalton who probably displayed the level of darkness within Bond as written by Mr. Fleming. Craig’s Bond violates limits that previous Bonds would not think of exceeding. He displays levels of durability, endurance and resistance to pain that goes beyond anything done by any previous Bond.
Campbell, who joins an exclusive list of directors (Terrence Young, Lewis Gilbert, John Glen and Guy Hamilton) who have directed multiple Bond films, was also the director for the debut Bond film of the last actor to play the role, Pierce Brosnan. As in that particular picture, Goldeneye, the producers made some changes in the character to fit the new actor portraying 007. Once again, Campbell’s deft touch in the director’s chair nicely handles the transition to a new actor in the lead role.
The biggest weakness in Casino Royale is the opening credits, which are unlike any of the many Bond films of recent years, devoid of beautiful women and instead filled with guns and bullets. Another mark against it is the absence of the “Q” character or his successor “R” as played by John Cleese. In Live and Let Die, the producers made the same mistake, omitting the character of “Q” and the outcry was so great that he had to be brought back in the following Bond film, The Man With the Golden Gun. But aside from these two flaws, this is an excellent effort in introducing a new James Bond and re-booting the character’s timeline.