A Movie Review - Casino Royale (2006)

The first in a series of casino-related movie reviews from our in-house movie buff, Dennis Smale

Dennis SmaleDennis Smale
July 16th, 2022
Casino Royale
360b /

SYNOPSIS: For his first mission, James Bond confronts the all-powerful private banker of international terrorism, Le Chiffre. Bond must beat him in a high-risk poker game at Casino Royale to complete his ruin and dismantle the biggest criminal network. The very beautiful Vesper, attached to the Treasury, accompanies him to ensure that Agent 007 takes care of the money of the British government, which serves as his bet, but nothing will go as planned. As Bond and Vesper struggle to escape the assassination attempts on Le Cipher and his men, other feelings arise between them that will only make them more vulnerable...

A New 007

Taking a step back from the camp excesses of Die Another Day to provide us with a version of Bond, who was a thriller rather than an action comedy, the twenty-first instalment in the series offered something close to a "back to basics" concept. However, the producers followed Moonraker with For Your Eyes Only; low-key entries are arguably not the same as low-key entries following over-the-top instalments. For example, later films pretended to follow the same continuity with various allusions to Bond's marriage from On Her Majesty's Secret Service. However, Casino Royale attempted to start over entirely, with a new actor playing a James Bond who had just been appointed as a 00-agent.

Since the movies had already recovered from the kitsch of the Roger Moore era without a similarly extreme makeover, I'm not so sure that a total relaunch was required. I must say that the action isn't as audacious as it could seem. Even though Tarantino's own ramblings it was never discussed, the idea that he directed a Casino Royale adaptation with Pierce Brosnan sounds much more daring.

Returning to Martin Campbell as the director puts Bond back in capable hands. Campbell is well-known for directing GoldenEye, possibly my favourite Bond film. He had experience handling a character's first start and gave the movies a more complex and reflective aspect. In the three movies after his debut as Bond, successful directors wasted the personal touch that Campbell had given the role by going back to the formula of flair over substance, which had rendered the character laughable during Moore's tenure.

Therefore, it should come as no surprise that the most significant parts of Casino Royale revolve around Bond. Given that, from the moment he appears on screen, we know he's new to this, and he has a lot to discover before he's the character we know he must become—Bond Craig does, however, have a stronger starting position than any of his predecessors. To celebrate becoming a secret agent, this Bond, a "blunt instrument," chooses to blow up an embassy. His character arc has already been established; we can determine his trajectory because the audience knows where he is right now and where he needs to be. In contrast to some of his earlier forms, which occasionally served as story devices, this makes him seem more like a character.

In GoldenEye, Bond had to adjust to a world without him due to the fall of communism and changes in the action film industry. This time, Bond must transform from a cliched action movie protagonist to the cool-headed icon we know he must be. The film is undoubtedly proud of its rich past, even though it largely does away with all the gadgets and gizmos, gimmicky henchmen, and weird lairs. It enjoys playing a few notes of the Bond theme and dressing up its hero in an outrageously expensive tux.

Many would argue that producers shamelessly tried to imitate the popular Bourne movies. Bond is far more savage than usual, and the stunts and battle scenes are shot with quick edits, so there is a lot of physical activity. It's a fair criticism, but I believe it is more appropriately levelled at Quantum of Solace, the film's follow-up. While you would need to make some superficial adjustments to remain relevant, there is a sense that some aspects of Bond simply should not be lost in this instance.

The altered reality that the film takes place in makes it noteworthy. In the years following the fall of the USSR, Brosnan's Bond was lost at sea and unsure of what he was doing with his life. The fact that Casino Royale was the first Bond movie made following the 9/11 tragedy is evident. The film follows Bond in the early scenes as he thwarts a terrorist assault on an American aeroplane, and M speaks for one of the conspiracy theories that surfaced following the attack about various people making money off the stock market. There's no doubting that we need heroes like Bond in our world, even though the film admits certain concerns about Bond becoming antiquated ("the accountants seem to be ruling MI6 these days," Bond's contact, Mathis, remarks - recalling Bond's early scepticism about the female M in GoldenEye). Compared to GoldenEye, Casino Royale does a better job reusing Bond. He doesn't experience the same existentialist doubts in today's political climate as he did after the Cold War ended.

The film also embraces Bond's duality, which some of the less successful instalments have had trouble doing. When Bond asks M if she anticipates him to be "half monk, half hitman," she replies that she does. Mr Bond has always been a glorified assassin, one of those "former SAS types with easy smiles and fancy watches," despite his arrogant elegance. Craig's acting is reminiscent of Brosnan and Connery; he is endearing yet distant. He wouldn't feel guilty about killing you if you got in his path.

The character's other changes in the movie haven't exactly won me over. Vesper remarks that "my guess is you didn't come from money, and your school classmates never let you forget it" during the scene with her; this seems to run against Connery and Moore's air of upper-class entitlement. Being from a wealthy family is allegedly more embarrassing than being a government assassin. Perhaps this tells contemporary viewers that Bond was a gentleman of distinction and status. You were at that school on the grace of someone else's charity: therefore, that chip on your shoulder, it seems crucial that we not think of Bond as a person who was born into wealth. It seems unusual for the movie to change that aspect of Bond's character deliberately; did the writers worry that the audience would reject him if he came from money? I used to like that Bond was unapologetically intelligent and witty.

Three Into One

The film has specific issues. One is that the movie is essentially three films combined into one. There is an opening airport terrorist attack, a scene at the titular casino, and a (very) extended epilogue. The peaceful second third, which doesn't require insane stunts or explosions to complete, was the most effective for me. The plan for Bond to turn an enemy by bankrupting him at cards is a clever and intelligent thriller plot. There are some fascinating action sequences, but the early part of the movie is almost cliched; it appears to be treading water. The movie's last third essentially builds on the middle third and lingers a little too long.

The gambling sequences are what shine here. In the movie, Texas Hold 'Em is used instead of Baccarat, which was the game in Fleming's original novel. Although the film explains everything, poker is simpler to follow and understand; Mathis explains at one point, for the audience's sake. Additionally, it results in a psychologically tauter thriller.

It also succeeds because it's the one plot point where Bourne or any other secret agent couldn't replace Bond and expect the same results. I don't think Bourne would look as nice playing cards in a tuxedo, even though he could save an airline and recover stolen money. That has a Bond-like element to it that is distinctly British. In a scene like that, which is absent from the direct sequel, you could clip out Bond and substitute anyone else, and it would still work.

However, there are a few storyline points that do feel very Bond-like. We see a wicked organisation that is already established, and we know that it will appear in several movies (and they feel insidious and nebulous in a way that is lost in the sequel). The antagonist is physically deformed (in this movie, he weeps blood and assures a guest that it's "nothing terrible"). I never understood all these intricate tortures," he confesses to Bond, referring to the absurd deathtraps that are standard issues for a Bond villain. The film is inherently conscious of being a Bond movie.

I like Vesper if only because she is the best-characterised Bond girl in recent memory; she is possibly the most remembered. She is Bond's intellectual equal since she can quickly and expertly analyse his most significant character defects. She observes, "you conceive of women as fleeting pleasures rather than important activities." She inquires about his lamb once she has done chopping him to bits. He answers, "Skewered," adding, "One sympathises."

She doesn't appear to be treated any differently from other Bond girls in the movie. Despite her intelligence, she lacks strength both physically and emotionally. Bond is prepared to start playing cards again after mercilessly eliminating two bad guys in a stairway. She has to clean herself while seated in the shower. She doesn't participate much in the fight other than run away, eventually succeeding in holding the bad guy's hand (rather than assisting Bond in subduing him). She needs Bond to protect her despite her sophistication and refinement because she can do little to defend herself.

Like GoldenEye, Campbell has put together an incredible cast to bring the story to life. As Bond's "brother from Langley," Felix Leiter, played by Jeffrey Wright, I adore him. I would suggest the series to keep him if they can afford it. Eva Green would be a fantastic Bond girl. Although Mads Mikkelson lacks an underwater lair or a weapon of mass destruction, he is a beautifully subtle Bond villain who nevertheless seems like a Bond villain. Giancarlo Giannini, who plays Bond's contact Mathis, is outstanding. He's a superbly quiet Italian actor, and Mathis's phrase, "Just because one is dead doesn't mean one cannot be useful," is foreshadowing.

Casino Royale Marks a New Era for the Franchise

By returning to the origins of a 007 less adept at good-natured humour, which Roger Moore had popularised in the 70s and 80s, the producers hit the jackpot and had their noses hollowed out. Martin Campbell's staging, breathless, gripping, ultimately marries the edgy style instilled in the film. Dotted with several incredible action sequences, each crazier than the next, but without them ever exceeding the rest of the story, Casino Royale contains several pieces of an anthology. In addition, we find pell-mell, a striking bad guy, sexy James Bond girls with real characters to defend, an insane game of poker and especially Daniel Craig. Craig as the new Bond, is therefore feverish, prey to his inner demons, and the actor plays across the range with the same class. Thanks to the depth of his playing, Craig gives the character all the hardness that had evaporated after the Sean Connery period and that we had found sparingly with Georges Lazenby and, closer to us, Timothy Dalton, but without experiencing the same success. In the end, Casino Royale stands out as one of the very best parts of the saga and sets the bar very high for the next opus, Quantum Of Solace. But the durability of James Bond seems assured for a good while.