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Casino Royale Review

Casino Royale Guest Post

Like just about everybody else, I walked into 2006's Casino Royale ready to give James Bond a fresh start. I actually enjoyed Pierce Brosnan's version of the character for the most part, but Die Another Day, Brosnan's last Bond film, had essentially abandoned everything that makes 007 so great in favour of outright silliness. It was almost a parody of its own franchise. For that reason, I was excited to see what Daniel Craig could do to revive the character. I wasn't disappointed.

The story of Casino Royale is actually fairly simple for a spy film. It's set up as Bond's first mission as a Double-O agent, and his task is basically to track down a series of villains ultimately leading to a financially motivated terrorist named Le Chiffre (Mads Mikkelsen). Le Chiffre's game is to short stocks in major businesses and then bring about their crashes (and thus his own, and his financiers', profits) through attacks and sabotage. After thwarting Le Chiffre once, Bond ends up travelling to Montenegro (and incidentally to the Casino Royale) to compete against him in a high-stakes poker game in an attempt to win away enough of Le Chiffre's money to force him to turn on his creditors. Bond is accompanied by Vesper (Eva Green), an MI6 operative sent to oversee Bond's own finances for the game. As the film reaches its climax, the relations and dealings between Bond, Le Chiffre, and Vesper grow more complicated than they initially seem.

Actually, taken out of the context of the film as a whole, it's almost a boring plot line. But the film itself is anything but dull. It excels not only as a stand-alone project, but as the movie that brought Bond back to his roots. Here's a bit more on how specifically Casino Royale accomplished this feat. 

First and foremost, the action sequences in this film are real. In Die Another Day, much of the action unraveled more like a video game: there were car chases on ice plains, hovercraft gun battles, and even a high-tech space station harnessing the sun's energy to strike the Earth with a concentrated laser beam. It's fun, perhaps, but entirely fake. Casino Royale went a different route entirely. When Bond drives his car, it gets dinged up; when he sees a bad guy, he chases on foot and assaults with his hands; when he does pull a weapon, it's an unassuming handgun. Not only are these elements more realistic, but they were actually filmed and not drawn in later. Roger Ebert spoke to this point in his own review of the film, stating that "the public is getting tired of action sequences that are created in post-prodcution." He also noted that most of the action in Casino Royale takes place "in something vaguely approaching real space and time." I can't speak to the public as a whole, but Ebert perfectly captured what was so appealing to me about the stunts, fights, and chases in this movie. 
Another area in which Casino Royale impressed were that its poker and casino scenes (of which there are many) were so delightfully old school. This is actually an element of the film that showed great restraint given its 21st century setting, simply because the world is now more accustomed to gaming online than in person. Indeed, to the U.K. audience that makes up so much of Bond's fan club, the online poker rooms at Betfair are probably more familiar than the hotel lobby tables and upscale Montenegro back rooms depicted in Casino Royale. Tournaments online, where players can gamble real money against real people in virtually any kind of casino format they wish certainly carry their own drama. Also, again, they are relatable to a modern audience. But instead of taking advantage of modern casino trends, Casino Royale held stubbornly to the sexy settings and their tense, intimate interactions of old-school poker rooms.

This allowed for the best of both the script and the cinematography: the snappy back-and-forth between hero and villain across a poker table, the sharp-dressing characters, the flicking and fidgeting of chips and clinking of martini glasses. It all adds to the flavour of a 21st century Bond film without doing anything they couldn't have done 50 years ago.

Perhaps this is all getting to, or surrounding, the point that really won me over. Daniel Craig's James Bond is a human being, rather than a superhero. I think the title of the NPR review that followed the film's release probably sums it up best: "He's Shaken, We're Stirred." This is a Bond who isn't bulletproof, whose attraction to the lead actress goes beyond sexual intrigue, and who bothers to question whether there may be a better life out there for him than stopping criminals for MI6. He takes a beating in every sense of the word: he's tied up and tortured, poisoned to near-death, scratched, punched, forced into a car crash, and heartbroken. It all just seems to combine to make the movie more worthwhile as if, should you choose to look away, you might actually miss something important. 

Guest post written by Roger Murray.

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