Friday, 13 November 2015

Review: James Bond - Casino Royale

Now that Spectre has wrapped up the Daniel Craig era of James Bond (even if he does come back, I don't know how the next film could be more of a finale), it seemed like the perfect time to go back to the beginning and review Craig's first - and still best - film as... oh come on, you know his name.

In popular culture, Casino Royale is often described as simply the gritty reboot of the Bond series  - a label which is entirely unfair. It does strip away the sillier tropes of the Bond film but only to get at the drama and character hidden underneath (something that Spectre could have learned from). We see Bond in tougher, rougher fights so that we may see that he is an actual person who can get hurt and isn't invincible. Likewise, there may be far fewer quips but there is humour in the film, generally of a kind that will raise a smile than a belly laugh like the jokes of Skyfall and Spectre, but it suits the tone of the film.

Due to the scaled back nature of the plot, Le Chiffre may be a rather tepid villain on paper - his big plan is to win a poker game to pay back his terrorist buddies - but Mads Mikkelsen imbues him with a reptillian repelence (not too dissimilar to his brother as Sherlock's Charles Augustus Magnussen) that makes him sinister, even before he starts weeping blood. Just in case we don't think him evil enough, he is also unrepentingly sadistic, such as the excruciating scene of his stripped-down - literally - torturing of Bond.

But then, perhaps unusually, the villain plays third fiddle here to the female lead and Bond himself. I can't go any further without saying how brilliant Daniel Craig is here, his best turn in the role. Throughout the film, he runs the whole gamut - going from cold-hearted to broken hearted and everything else in between - and is never less than electric.

Yet his character-defining romance with Vesper would fall down if he wasn't matched by Eva Green. Thankfully, she is also terrific with the pair having amazing chemistry. Due to some uncommonly nuanced character work in the script and Green's performance, Vesper feels like that rare thing in a Bond film; a real person. The scene in which she attempts to wash away the guilt of helping James kill someone is both romantic and refreshingly realistic in a series where death is usually met with a quip.

Because you have seen and felt these two enigmatic, troubled orphans fall in love, despite the relatively short amount of screen time given to them, Vesper's eventual betrayal and suicide pack a real punch. But then, as much as you feel for the character having to put his armour back on, you find yourself punching the air when Craig says the iconic line ("the name's Bond. James Bond.") and the Bond theme plays for the first time as the credits roll.

On the whole, Casino is a classy, well-crafted film. Due to its revolutionary take on the franchise, it isn't as big a crowd-pleaser as Skyfall but it probably stands up a little better to repeated viewings. It's a shade too long and the plot is somewhat segmented but these minor critcisms don't detract from the whole. A memorable villain, the greatest, most believable, love story in fifty years and a fantastic Bond help to form a film which comes up all aces.

A Bond is formed... a younger 007 falls in love with Vesper in Casino Royale

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