Starring: Daniel Craig, Eva Green, Mads Mikkelsen, Judi Dench, Jeffrey Wright. Rated PG-13.
James Bond has been described many ways during his 44 years as Her Majesty’s most enduring cinematic export. In the
eyes of both colleagues and adversaries, he is sadistic, smug and pathologically reckless. To his numerous lovers, he is brave,
impeccably polished and, in the end, heartlessly detached. Never before could he be mistaken for vulnerable.
Yet here he is, in the capable hands of Daniel Craig, baring his soul and promising his undying affection to Vesper Lynd (Eva
Green), the British treasury agent who bankrolls Bond during an impossibly high-stakes poker competition. Unlike the suave
sophisticate played so deftly by Pierce Brosnan, Craig’s Bond is a rugged killer who loses his cool, foolishly placing
himself in harm’s way by allowing ego to dictate his actions. More than ever, he seems human, emotionally exposed and
Chalk it up to impetuous youth. After consecutive lackluster entries in the 007 saga – The World Is Not Enough
and Die Another Day – Casino Royale represents a homecoming of sorts for the famed secret agent. It is
the third filmed adaptation of Ian Fleming’s first novel, published in 1953, and it introduces Bond just as he earns
his first stripes. He is young, dumb and full of venom, and he chafes at the thought of wearing a finely pressed tuxedo. When
asked if he wants his martini shaken or stirred, he responds with a flustered, “Do I look like I care?”
Gone are the clichés of recent Bond adventures – the too-clever quips, the loveless conquests, the gaudy gadgetry and
the BMW-sponsored sports cars. Casino Royale ambitiously explores the origins of the character’s pathos, stripping
him of all the decorative baggage and building him nearly from scratch. Even so, no Bond movie would be complete without daredevil
chases, acrobatic fistfights and quirky villains, and in that sense, this latest installment delivers the expected goods.
The story remains faithful to the spirit of Fleming’s novels, perhaps more so than any Bond movie since the Sean Connery
era, but the plot itself is negligible. This time, 007’s target is Le Chiffre (Mads Mikkelsen), a financier who balances
the checkbooks of the world’s most notorious terrorists and, on occasion, weeps blood. Bond bludgeons his way through
scores of henchmen to reach him, setting up a tense showdown in a Montenegro casino, where the stinking rich convene to play
Texas hold-’em. No points for guessing who wins the big pot.
At nearly two-and-a-half hours, Casino Royale is also one of the longest Bond movies, thanks to an extended third act
that features plenty of surprises but suffers from a lack of economical pacing. Still, the action is fast and furious and
mostly thrilling, and the insights into one of film’s most impenetrable heroes are welcome. If anything, Casino Royale
distinguishes itself as a character study, a brooding meditation on a man who, over the decades, had morphed into a stylized
cartoon. It’s about time.