James Bond Movie Review – Casino Royale (2006)

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OMG –he’s…he’s BLONDE!

I don’t know for sure, but I’m fairly confident that when the next Bond is announced the collective sphincters at Eon Productions will be decidedly twitchy. They must have been going like a randy spaniel at a Miss Lovely Legs competition when Casino Royale was announced. More realistically, the tension arose thanks to the casting of the new Bond, one Daniel Craig. So what is so appalling about Mr. Craig? Ian Fleming described Bond thusly… “Rather like Hoagy Carmichael in a way. That black hair falling down over the right eyebrow. Much the same bones. But there was something a bit cruel in the mouth, and the eyes were cold.”

Obviously, you need to know what Hoagy Carmichael looked like to get an idea of what Fleming intended but, as he died in 1981 and hasn’t done much lately, not many people could pick him out of a line-up. As a result, they tend to focus on the “black hair falling down over the right eyebrow” bit and forget about the 6’0” tall and 12 stone in weight (1.83m and 76kg).

So Daniel Craig’s crime is having blond hair!

At least that’s what they claim, but I tend to see him more as having light brown hair.  Anyway, in 2006 we were really getting into the whole colour blind/gender blind/age blind casting thing, so having hair that was a bit too light is a minor thing and definitely not worth going to the trouble and cost of setting up an Anti-Daniel Craig as Bond website!

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Throw in that it would have cost $30 million to get Pierce Brosnan back for a fifth outing as Bond and, well…

Why Is It That People Who Can’t Take Advice Always Insist On Giving It?

As the references in the novels describe Bond as having “dark, rather cruel good looks” and being, frankly, a bit of a thug, then the introduction to Craig’s Bond is spot on. Shot in moody monochrome, the pre-titles scene (requiring 6000 ft of RX-2222 black-and-white film stock) shows how Bond gets the two kills required for gaining the infamous Double “O” status. One is a cool and clinical execution in an office, while the other is a rough and messy scrap in a toilet involving being battered against a sink before being drowned in it.

Now I know that some of our merry band (Jilly!) prefer the more humorous, slapstick approach that was demonstrated to a lesser extent by Pierce Brosnan and to a much greater extent by Roger Moore. Personally, I prefer the funnies to be dialed down to about two or three and the action up to eleven or twelve.

Action — that is what the 2006 version of Casino Royale gives us in spades full

For instance, the first proper time that we get to see our new Bond is at a fight between a cobra and a mongoose in Madagascar. Here Bond and another agent are scoping out a bad guy. The other agent is playing on the spy film trope of holding his finger on his ear so he can hear the comms properly. Bond tells him to stop touching his ear and, of course, it’s the ear touching that gives him away; it may not be Noël Coward but it made me smile.

Then begins a ten-minute chase sequence… I’d say high octane but it’s about 95% on foot. Then again, on foot involves a lot of parkour-type free running on a building site; up and down cranes and through a half-completed building, sometimes literally! So we’re barely twenty minutes in and you could feel the excess adrenaline dripping down the cinema walls.

The Job’s Done And The Bitch Is Dead 

Unusually for Bond films going back to, well… pretty much the Sean Connery era, Casino Royale follows the plot of the original source novel very closely. So much so that they didn’t bother producing a novelisation of the film to tie in with its release, they just re-released the original Fleming version.

Le Chiffre (Mads Mikkelsen) is the money man for international terrorists, Bond is sent to bankrupt him in a card game, torture takes place to try and recover it, deception is uncovered, and lives are lost. Put it like that and it’s a very short and terminally boring story. Thankfully director Martin Campbell and Eon Productions, with stellar talent on both sides of the camera, and somewhere in the region of $150 million made sure that it wasn’t.

Perhaps more interesting would have been the result of talks that were, apparently, taking place between Sony and a certain Mr. Quentin Tarantino regarding himself becoming director; he was planning on bringing in Samuel L Jackson as Felix Leiter and Uma Thurman as Vesper Lynd, instead of Jeffrey Wright and Eva Green.

This doesn’t stop Casino Royale from showing its age, though that’s more to do with the speed that technology has developed over the last fifteen years

The Sony Ericsson phones that were used had only just been released, so they suggested that they were using cutting-edge tech. Unfortunately, that particular cutting edge was two years before the release of the first iPhone so, by today’s standards, they look quite dated.

Then again, this was the first time in the franchise’s history that Sony Pictures had direct involvement in the film and its promotion, which explains why the film is loaded with Sony products, including the Sony Ericsson M600i, the Sony Ericsson K800i, Sony Cybershot T-50 and Sony VAIO FG notebook.

Another potential sign of age could be the card game played in the climactic scene in the eponymous casino. Originally it was Baccarat Chemin de Fer, but that had fallen from grace in the real world to be replaced by Texas Hold ’Em; it used to be shown on the TV every night, but now has disappeared. Maybe there’ll be something else that is the card game du jour if a remake is made.

I’ve Got A Little Itch, Down There. Would You Mind? 

As well as introducing a new actor playing Bond, Casino Royale is almost like a total reboot. Some of the iconic touches are missing or in a different place. The aforementioned B&W opening is the first time any Bond sequence was not in colour apart from some of the early opening gun barrel walks. Talking of which, the barrel walk is mixed into the action as a segue between the brutal bog fight and the opening titles which, in another change from tradition, have done away with the cascades of naked women.

Oh yes… there is no mention of Miss Moneypenny, neither hide nor hair is seen or heard of her until she crashes into the fray in Skyfall. There are things that give a nod to the heritage of the franchise.

Tsai Chin was the Chinese woman who orchestrated Bond’s death in You Only Live Twice, so you think he’d recognise her as Madame Wu at the final card table.

Also, playing cards was Diane Hartford as Card Player #3, who had a few lines as a girl in the Kiss Kiss Club in Thunderball. We also get the iconic line “The name’s Bond… James Bond,” but it is the last line of the film and so is, appropriately, followed with a fanfare on the soundtrack.

One mistake that is perpetuated surrounds the divine Dame Judi… M

M is supposedly the head of MI6, for whom Bond works. Unfortunately, the chief of the Secret Intelligence Service, as MI6’s mum calls it on Sunday, is known as C.

So are we mixing up MI5 and MI6? Well, until recently, the head of MI5 was known as K so… no. The initials come from the first holders of the posts: Captain Mansfield Cumming and Captain Vernon Kell.

Back in 1909, there was a chap who did most of the legwork, going round the country investigating the scores of reports of German spies secretly at work here. One of them was a retired Metropolitan police superintendent called William Melville, and it was he who came to be known as M.

And so we come to the review proper… or would if Casino Royale wasn’t fifteen years old, anyone interested in the Bond franchise has seen it, and anyone not interested wouldn’t be reading this. I’ll just say that it is one of my favourite Bond films, the other being Skyfall, which is why it was among my first picks for this exercise.

Movie Grade: A+

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