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REVIEW: Casino Royale (2006) – ManlyMovie

REVIEW: Casino Royale (2006)

Run Time: 144 Mins
Rated: PG-13
What To Expect: Daniel Craig’s best outing as Bond

It might have been yet more Bond rumors over the weekend (or maybe I’m just spending too much time at casino.com) but I decided to watch Daniel Craig’s first outing as 007, way back when they hit the reset button with Casino Royale.  For me it is safe to say that if Daniel Craig is actually finished up with the franchise, this was his best role.

After cheese and cringe of Tomorrow Never Dies, The World is Not Enough and Die Another Day especially (sorry, these are just bad movies to me), the industry’s go-to espionage series was looking decidedly laughable next to the emergent Jason Bourne series.  One was taking audiences for granted with silly bullshit like invisible cars, the other was to harken back to 1970’s spy yarns both in political cynicism and kinetic bent fender car chases.  I guess the Broccoli dynasty got spooked and hit the reset button.

What better way to shake Bond up by going back to Ian Fleming’s roots, with a screen adaptation of Casino Royale. To recap, we see a newly minted ’00 with Daniel Craig.  He’s rough around the edges and lambasted by the sardonic M (Judi Dench), who frets over why the hell she promoted such a thug so quickly.  On the other end of the spectrum, still recovering from the tectonic events of 9/11, Mads Mikkelson is Le Chiffre, a banker who is funding terrorism and must be eliminated.  We build towards a high (high, $150,000,000) poker game, which Bond must infiltrate. Naturally, Eva Green plays Bond’s working wife, there to distract at the game.

I didn’t like this movie at first.  I used to say that every Bond released since GoldenEye has sucked, the fact of the matter is that I have difficulty sitting through most of Pierce Brosnan and Daniel Craig’s Bond movies.  But I think Craig’s other movies have kind of clouded by perception of this one, because it has grown on me.

I like Craig in this movie, even if he utilizes about three facial expressions throughout and dances that fine line between stoic and wooden too much.  He says less, including cutting the awful Moore-esque one liners off at the knees.  He observes more.  That’s good.  I also like the fact that this Bond is not a superhuman, for example in that (fuckin’ brilliant) chase at the beginning, Bond stumbles, falls and hurts himself like John McClane would’ve done. Bond bleeds, screws up and has issues.  He also has somewhat of a backstory… another Bond might’ve appeared to be some upper class superhuman, but we learn that Craig’s quieter Bond was probably an orphan coming from meagre means.  It helps that the average viewer can relate more.

The second half of the movie is weaker than the first, which is something that got to me a little when I watched it when it first came out.  The pacing slows, the action crammed into the first half is kept there and we’re reduced to a game of wits and glares across the table.  This isn’t a bad thing but I think they should’ve interwoven the Die Hard 2 style action sequences more evenly.  In some sense, they’re almost overcompensating with the more ‘grounded’ stuff.

But it’s easily better than the three prior movies Brosnan came out with.  I’m not a Bond fanboy, I like very little of this series, but in reflection I’d put this close behind GoldenEye and the two Dalton movies.  I just hope that the new Bond reboot (if that’s the direction they go) can at least match this movie, or to see Daniel Craig leave the franchise in a better way that Brosnan did.