Casino Royale - 2006
Director(s): Martin Campbell
Writer(s): Nel Purvis, Robert Wade, Paul Haggis (screenplay) / Ian Fleming (novel)
Cinematography by: Phil Meheux
Editor(s): Stuart Baird
Cast: Daniel Craig, Eva Green, Mads Mikkelsen, Judi Dench, Jeffrey Wright, Giancarlo Giannini, Caterina Murino, Sebastien Foucan, Jesper Christensen and Isaach De Bankolé
I grew up during the Pierce Brosnan (1994–2004) era of James Bond. I had no clue that he was the sixth actor to take on the tux, and I took them at face value – British spy thrillers that quickly became goofier and goofier, dying a slow death in 2002’s Die Another Day. During that same time frame, I, along with moviegoers, fell in love with spy movies like the Bourne Trilogy and Mission Impossible, making Sony rethink the direction of their Bond franchise. In comes, Martin Campbell, who directed the best Brosnan film, GoldenEye, new Bond in Daniel Craig, along with a trio of writers and they revamped Bond giving him a true origin story along with some pathos behind the womanizing suave spy with a license to kill facade, making it my favorite modern Bond films.
The story follows James Bond (Craig), as he gets his license to kill and status as a 00 agent after his first kill. We then see Bond in the Bahamas tracking down a suspected terrorist and gaining information through the seduction of his wife. He stops his plans to blow up a plane. Plans that would've made millions for Le Chiffre (Mikkelsen), MI6's top target and financier of the ring of terrorist, placing him in a tight spot with his employers. Le Chiffre to recoup his loss, many of which he owes to his employers, set a high stakes Texas hold'em tournament at the Casino Royale in Montenegro. Bond enlists in this tournament along with Vesper Lynd (Green), a British Treasury agent there to protect the government's $10 million buy-ins. The couple strikes up a relationship despite their rocky beginning, making Bond shade his go-to womanizing ways, ultimately paying a costly price for this rare moment of "weakness" during a mission.
Casino Royale works not only because the action is grounded in reality, with hard-hitting fight scenes that stand out from the ones that came before it and car chases that makes you grab the edge of your seat, but it mainly works thanks to the balance of character moments given to Bond, Vesper, and Le Chiffre. We see the weight of their actions, and their growth through this mission that changes the path Bond was on and informs the man Craig would be for the following films. Even Le Chiffre is humanized to the point that I found myself worried to a certain extent when his employers confront him in the hotel. This balance in the script elevates the action since you are fully invested in the characters and the outcome.
Quick note: this film also managed to make poker tense and compelling - featuring multiple card games that have elevated stakes through outside circumstances, such as poisoning, to inside situations, such as going all in on a hunch.
While this film is a departure from what the Bond franchise had been in the past, it still follows many of the Bond tropes fans have come to expect and love. It has a fantastic opening title sequence, set to a great Chris Cornell song (You Know My Name). We get the Bond starring directly into the camera and shooting it, this time around set up wonderfully in the premise of it being his first kill, giving meaning to this visual trope. Great callbacks to his car, drink of choice, and affinity for tuxes - with drink being my favorite as he snaps at the bartender for asking him "shaking or stirred," further placing Craig's Bond apart from the rest.
Casino Royale is the shift the franchise needed to stay relevant in a cinematic landscape filled with gritty, hard hitting, and character-driven spy-thrillers. While Craig may not be the actor people point to as their quintessential Bond, he is by far the portrayal of the broken man that would take to do everything that is needed from an agent with the "00" moniker. Supporting cast is stellar from Dench as M to Mikkelsen as Le Chiffre, there is not a single weak link in the entire runtime. Campbell steady vision behind the camera and the scripts determination to add humanity to our bombastic British-spy is the reason that this film is a modern classic, and the perfect jumping off point for the Craig era.
Casino Royale is Why I Love Movies.
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