casino_royale_ver5Casino Royale

  • Year:  2006
  • Director:  Martin Campbell
  • Series Rank:  #2
  • Year Rank:  #8
  • Nighthawk Nominations:  Editing, Sound, Visual Effects, Sound Editing, Original Song
  • Bond Girl:  Eva Green (Vesper Lynd), Caterina Moreno (Solange Dimitrios)
  • Bond Villain:  Mads Mikkelson (Le Chiffre), Simon Abkarian (Alex Dimitrios), Jesper Christensen (Mr. White)
  • Bond Support:  Judi Dench (M), Jeffrey Wright (Felix Leiter), Giancarlo Giannini (René Mathis), Tobias Menzies (Villiers)

When I first saw this film in the theater in 2006, I couldn’t decide if it was the best Bond film since Goldfinger or simply the best Bond film.  This time, coming to it after going through all the previous ones, there was no question.  This was, at this point, by far the best Bond film ever made.

It was clear from the opening shots that this was a different kind of Bond film.  It’s not just that the pre-credits sequence was in black-and-white.  The dialogue makes it instantly clear that they have “rebooted” the Bond series.  Gone are the continuing stories of the spy that we have had.  This is the Bond just being promoted to double O status, complete with showing us his first two kills that establish him as a double O.  This is a harder and colder Bond.  He kills without hesitation.  He’s also a bit of a wrecking ball.  In the course of his first kill he manages to destroy a bathroom, slamming the man through several toilet stalls before drowning him in the sink.  When he turns and fires at the camera, we have entered an entirely different kind of world.  This is the world of Ian Fleming’s James Bond.

Given that popular reaction to Timothy Dalton’s Bond had not been all the positive and that fans were already complaining about “James Blonde”, this might have been a disaster.  But, having the original Fleming novel finally available to Eon Productions, the filmmakers were allowed to restart at the beginning.  Most of the trappings of the character were dropped.  There is no Q, there is no Moneypenny, the gadgets are hardly outlandish (but they are extremely handy, as the defibrillator in his car saves his life) and he is only now inventing his trademark drink.  If you need a sign that this is a different Bond, when he is asked if he wants his martini shaken or stirred, he responds “Do I look like I give a damn?”

casinomThis Bond is far from perfect.  He can take us through one of the most amazing chase scenes, not just in a Bond film, but ever put on film, running up a construction project, climbing cranes, destroying buildings.  And yet, he’s not all that graceful – his quarry leaps through a window while Bond simply runs through the drywall.  He’s not as good as he thinks, losing the key round of cards and nearly blowing the whole plan and then ready to go forward with a more desperate plan until stopped by an ally he doesn’t know about.  He messes things up and causes enough p.r. problems for M that she comments “In the old days if an agent did something that embarrassing he’d have a good sense to defect. Christ, I miss the Cold War.”  He can’t always save the day – the defibrillator wouldn’t have mattered if the girl hadn’t come along to connect the leads and save his life.

Casino-Royale-0733Ah, let’s talk about the girl for a minute.  She is Vesper Lynd.  She is easily one of the most beautiful Bond girls to ever grace the screen (I rank her just behind Halle Berry).  And, played by Eva Green, she is the only Bond girl that ever makes my list for Best Actress for the Nighthawk Awards, though not high enough to earn a nomination.  When Bond points out that the dinner jacket she has gotten him is tailored she replies “I sized you up the minute we met.”  She’s overwhelmed by the attempts to kill them both, but jumps in and helps when she is needed to, even though she is way out of her element.  She is vulnerable enough to sit in the shower, fully clothed, scarred by what has just happened.  Just as in the novel, she is the first woman that Bond really falls in love with, and what happens at the end of the film leaves the scar that covers him through the rest of the books, until he meets his wife.  And their interchanges actually allow for some of the few moments of humor that do come in (“I’m Mr. Arlington Beech, professional gambler, and you’re Miss Stephanie Broadchest.” Bond tells her, which would be a typical Fleming name).  She, is without hesitation, the #1 Bond girl on my ranked list.  She’s beautiful, she’s intelligent, she’s witty, she’s the girl Bond falls in love with, and it will take the whole following movie for that scar to heal over.

006CSR_Jeffrey_Wright_002All of this is not to say that this film completely deviates from the Bond series.  Bond has a kick-ass car.  He jets around the world, chasing bombmakers in Africa, bedding the wife of one of the villains (only for her to end up dead) in the Bahamas, stopping a bombing in Miami and having a final shoot-out in Venice.  There are even the moments that make both Veronica and I cringe (the fight up on top of the crane for me, the scene in the Body Worlds for Veronica).  There is a new Felix Leiter, played this time by Jeffrey Wright, and he is so much better than all of the previous Leiters it’s not even funny.  There is some really great interplay with M.  In the Brosnan films, we had the idea that M cared about Bond.  But their relationship becomes much closer beginning in this film, starting with the moment that M comes home to find Bond in her apartment (“How the hell did you find out where I live?”  “The same way I found out your real name.  I always thought M was a randomly assigned initial, I had no idea it stood for…”  “Utter one more syllable and I’ll have you killed.”).  And there are a whole host of villains, all of whom are solid, but one of whom is the star.

Mads-Mikkelsen-casino-royaleI considered at one point writing a piece about international actors who should be better known.  But two of the actors I considered writing about have actually been recent Bond villains, which shows that the Bond filmmakers are making good choices and that these actors are getting more recognition.  The second, Mathieu Amalric, will show up in the next film, but this film gives us Mads Mikkelson.  If you know him, it’s probably from this film or from Hannibal, but you really need to watch him in films like Adam’s Apples, After the Wedding and The Hunt, to get a real appreciation for him.  Here he’s weeping blood, beating Bond at poker and then beating him with a carpet-duster in a scene where Bond, being horribly tortured, manages to get the last laugh.

James Bond fans were hesitant when Daniel Craig was cast and they had reason to be, not because he was blonde, but because he was still kind of an unknown quantity.  Brosnan had been rumored for the Bond role for years before he played it (and actually even cast in it before Dalton and then had to drop out).  Craig was still in his 30’s and had played a lot of villains in The Power of One, Elizabeth and Road to Perdition.  Martin Campbell had directed GoldenEye, but his most recent film was the crappy Zorro sequel.  Eva Green had been in The Dreamers, which few people had seen thanks to the NC-17 rating and Kingdom of Heaven, which was incredible, but had been a box office flop.  But, as it turned out, fans had nothing to be worried about.  The filmmakers went back to the basics, the same way Batman Begins had, and their Bond was harder and colder for the world that had developed.  It was the right move.  This turned out, not only to be the best of the Bond films (until 2012), but also, ranking only behind The Dark Knight, The French Connection and Batman Begins (and maybe either of the Kill Bill films), one of the best action films ever made.