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"Casino Royale"

Directed by Martin Campbell.
Written by Neal Purvis, Robert Wade and Paul Haggis.  Based on the novel by Ian Fleming.
Starring Daniel Craig, Eva Green, Mads Mikkelsen and Judi Dench.

Release Year:  2006
Review Date:  11/20/06

Folks--

Bond, baby!

The roller coaster that is Bond flicks over the last 25 years is highly debatable; bottoming out with films like "License to Kill" (dogshit) and "The World is Not Enough" (STILL can't figure out who thought Denise Richards was a good casting move), the series went strong to the rim with highlights like "Octopussy", "Goldeneye" and "Die Another Day".  "Goldeneye" was the best of the Brosnan Bond flicks, so it was good news to hear that director Martin Campbell would return to direct the rookie offering for star Daniel Craig for the new run of flicks.

Continuing the brief run of "Die Another Day" to give us a slightly rougher Bond character (loved that Bond went through capture and extended torture for about a year in that last flick), "Casino Royale" gets away almost totally from the ridiculous run-and-gun Bond to give us the base for the character's training and first few missions as if this is taking place sometime in Bond's past...even though the timeframe is certainly the present day.  James Bond (Craig, from "Layer Cake" and "Munich", both great rentals) moves into "double-oh" status during the film's intro, and summarily receives his first assignment: track down a criminal known to be working with a larger weapons/terrorist syndicate, a syndicate that may or may not be run by Le Chiffre (Mads Mikkelsen, from "King Arthur").  After tracking down leads that seem to point to Le Chiffre as a major player on the black market, it is discovered that this Chiffre is having some cash flow issues, so to help him build up the cash for a major score, he is hosting an underground poker tournament in Montenegro where he invites nine rich guys to play a $10 million buy-in poker tourney, winner takes all.  All the while, we get to know this new Bond, who has all the makings of the world's greatest super-spy.

As he was in most of his previous movies that I've seen (including a smaller part in "Road to Perdition"), Craig is fantastic.  And, certainly, he's the most buff Bond so far thanks to getting to play this part at a younger age; the work in this film looks physical, and it works to establish the character as someone who believably beats down some of his oppressors.  (I still laugh when I watch Roger Moore throw punches; don't you?)  The film's money sequence, as Bond chases the initial criminal from snake fight to construction site through a ridiculous stunt sequence of small spaces to a shootout at an embassy, is one of the best in the series, but then action is replaced with exotic settings and more personal scenes as we are supposed to learn more about how this Bond guy thinks...I was surprised to find that "Casino Royale" really doesn't have many of the blowout action sequences that highlight Bond films, but it was a pleasant surprise.  How many "storm the castle" sequences can you really have?  No scenes of Bond running around getting shot at by hundreds of well-armed but hapless and unskilled terrorists, no crazy second-in-command fight scenes (in fact, I think Le Chiffre doesn't even have a second-in-command guy in this film, a shock onto itself), no bad, funny deaths when it comes to important characters.  It's interesting--Bond spends more time behind cover in this film while getting shot at than maybe all of the first 20 films put together.

"Casino Royale" is a great film, for many of the reasons that I was hoping for; it is definitely NOT your dad's Bond film, which is good, because I think the Brosnan run ended on a solid but fantastic note...it was almost as if "Casino Royale" should have been called "Bond 21: Reality", because save for a couple of gadgets in the new Aston Martin vehicle in this movie, the tone of the film is certainly more geared towards what a real spy might carry around--a silenced gun, a cell phone, and his training.  Q is nowhere to be found.  Jetpacks?  Nada.  Exploding chewing gum?  Nope.  No Moneypenny.  Bond seems to not understand that women have both their good and their bad sides yet, and he learns the hard way in this one.

It mostly works.  The film is really long--I'm ready to venture that it's the longest film in the series, at just under 150 minutes--and this length hurts a tad, mainly in the middle, when we focus on Bond playing poker.  And, badass actor Jeffrey Wright is mainly squandered as the newest Felix Leiter (the CIA counterpart to the Brit's Bond, who appears in almost every Bond movie); because this character is normally so useless, I'm not sure why Wright accepted this part or when he did, why the part is so badly underwritten.  And, while Eva Green is quite easy on the eyes, she was a better performer in "The Dreamers" and as Vesper Lynd, was nothing to write home about.

But, I'm excited to see how long Craig stays in this part and the road that this style is leading towards is quite impressive.  Bond needed a kick in the ass towards lower key and this film seems to achieve that.  Hopefully, the next movie won't revert to form and feature Bond killing over three thousand Iraqi terrorists while sunning himself on a yacht and sampling the goods of two hotties with very unsubtle sexually-themed names.  Although that would be pretty funny.

Rating:  $9.50 Show

 

Comments?  Drop me a line at justin@bellviewmovies.com.

 

Bellview Rating System:

"Opening Weekend":  This is the highest rating a movie can receive.  Reserved for movies that exhibit the highest level of acting, plot, character development, setting...or Salma Hayek.  Not necessarily in that order. 

"$X.XX Show":  This price changes each year due to the inflation of movie prices; currently, it is the $9.50 Show.  While not technically perfect, this is a movie that will still entertain you at a very high level.  "Undercover Brother" falls into this category; it's no "Casablanca", but you'll have a great time watching.  The $9.50 Show won't win any Oscars, but you'll be quoting lines from the thing for ages (see "Office Space"). 

"Matinee":  An average movie that merits no more than a $6.50 viewing at your local theater.  Seeing it for less than $9.50 will make you feel a lot better about yourself.  A movie like "Blue Crush" fits this category; you leave the theater saying "That wasn't too bad...man, did you see that Lakers game last night?" 

"Rental":  This rating indicates a movie that you see in the previews and say to your friend, "I'll be sure to miss that one."  Mostly forgettable, you couldn't lose too much by going to Hollywood Video and paying $3 to watch it with your sig other, but you would only do that if the video store was out of copies of "Ronin."  If you can, see this movie for free.  This is what your TV Guide would give "one and a half stars." 

"Hard Vice":  This rating is the bottom of the barrel.  A movie that only six other human beings have witnessed, this is the worst movie I have ever seen.  A Shannon Tweed "thriller," it is so bad as to be funny during almost every one of its 84 minutes, and includes the worst ending ever put into a movie.  Marginally worse than "Cabin Boy", "The Avengers" or "Leonard, Part 6", this rating means that you should avoid this movie at all costs, or no costs, EVEN IF YOU CAN SEE IT FOR FREE!  (Warning:  strong profanity will be used in all reviews of "Hard Vice"-rated movies.)

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All material by Justin Elliot Bell for SMR/Bellview/bellviewmovies.com except where noted
1999-2009 Justin Elliot Bell This site was last updated 01/08/09