Casino Royale review by Mike Long

Movie series are nothing new, as they've been around almost as long as the cinema. But, series vary in the number of entries and you'd be hard pressed to find one with more than ten which doesn't feature a deranged killer in a mask. One exception is the James Bond 007 series, which has produced over 20 movies. And this series has a legion of loyal followers who relish every movie. I went through a brief Bond phase in adolescence, but I haven’t seen a 007 movie since the mid-80s. Thus, the latest entry Casino Royale is aimed squarely at people like me, as it aims to jump-start the Bond franchise.

Casino Royale is based on the first James Bond novel by author Ian Fleming, and thus it features Bond in his first adventure, just after he’s gained his 007 status. A French businessman named Le Chiffre (Mads Mikkelsen) takes money from dictators (and other international low-lifes) and invests the money. He then uses terrorists to in destructive schemes to manipulate the stock market. James Bond (Daniel Craig) tracks one of the terrorists to Madagascar and he’s soon on Le Chiffre’s trail. He then follows a lead to the Bahamas, where he’s able to gather enough evidence to foil one of Le Chiffre’s plans. Knowing that Le Chiffre is now desperate for money, M (Judi Dench) is able to secure a seat for Bond at a high-stakes poker game in Montenegro, where Le Chiffre hopes to win $150 million. Paired with treasury agent Vesper Lynd (Eva Green), Bond must not only have a winning hand, he must engage in hand-to-hand combat to survive the Casino Royale.

Despite having been around since the 1960s, the James Bond films were still hugely popular and they routinely broke the $100 million mark at the U.S. box-office. But, when the rights to the Casino Royale novel, which had been tied up in a legal dispute, finally became available the producers behind the 007 films felt that they needed a new direction for Bond’s first adventure. The movie gained a great deal of publicity when it was announced that Daniel Craig (who was unknown to many Americans) would be the new Bond. This overshadowed the announcement that this new Bond would be a leaner, meaner version of the familiar spy. Both of these novelties factor into the overall quality of the film.

Again, I hadn’t seen a James Bond movie since A View to a Kill, and when I left the world of 007, things were pretty cheesy there. Well, there’s nothing cheesy about Casino Royale. I could be way off base here, but while watching the movie, I couldn’t help but think that the filmmakers had looked at other action films and had decided to drag 007 into the 21st century. The action scenes here are very intense and some of the stuntwork is simply dazzling -- although some of it borders on ridiculous. The two major action scenes are quite long and they feature Bond getting beaten up very badly. There were times when I felt that the movie was really pushing the PG-13 rating. And while Bond does have some nice cars, there are no “spy gadgets” here -- he must rely on his fists and his wits.

Along for this new “tough guy” Bond is Daniel Craig, whose blond hair and piercing blue eyes make his aesthetically quite different from the other on-screen Bonds. But, his demeanor is different as well. He’s quite cold and aloof and features an intensity which (to me at least) is new to the Bond films. When he kills, we almost get the feeling that he enjoys it. Yet, Craig takes this too far. No matter how he’s described in Fleming’s novels, we’re used to Bond being charming, debonair, and witty. Craig certainly brings intensity to the screen, but he’s never charming. Whereas Connery, Brosnan, or even Moore would have enchanted others, Craig’s Bond simply stares down people. Craig is very good in the action scenes, but he simply didn’t feel like James Bond.

While Craig’s turn on Bond takes some getting used to, the action scenes are very good. Unfortunately, the two big sequences come at the beginning of the film and then we are treated to a lot of scenes of people playing poker. This brings us to the heart of Casino Royale‘s hit-or-miss nature. When the film opened with two riveting action scenes, I had high hopes for it. It then gets bogged-down in what is supposed to be the suspenseful espionage portion of the film. But, all we get to do is watch people play poker -- and it’s not even normal poker, it’s some odd version which I couldn’t follow. And I hope that I came close with my synopsis of the film, as, at times, I was honestly unsure as to what Bond was doing. Director Martin Campbell proves himself very capable of shooting action scenes, but the story gets very lost here. The last 30 minutes of the film shifts locations and gears, and nearly feels like a different film.

As a very, very casual James Bond fan, I liked parts of Casino Royale. The action scenes are fantastic and the stunts in the airport scene were great. I liked some of what Daniel Craig brought to the screen as Bond, and I look forward to seeing his take on the character evolve. But, some of the film definitely lost me and watching people play poker is just like watching people play poker. I have no idea what hardcore 007-heads think of this movie, but if you want a passable action film, then check out Casino Royale.

Casino Royale cashes out on DVD courtesy of Sony Pictures Home Entertainment. The film has come to DVD in two separate releases, one widescreen and the other full-frame. The widescreen version is letterboxed at 2.40:1 and enhanced for widescreen TVs. Unfortunately, I was only able to view the full-frame version for this review. The image never looked overly squeezed, but there were certain scenes where it was evident (especially the conversation on the train) where another character was supposed to be on-screen. The image is surprisingly sharp and clear, and the colors looked very good. However, the big action scenes lost a lot of there scope in this 1.33:1 ratio. The DVD features a Dolby Digital 5.1 audio track which sounds very good. The dialogue is clear and audible. The action scenes sound fantastic, as the stereo effects are noticeable, the surround sound is filled with flying objects and passing cars, and the explosions tantalize the subwoofer.

The Casino Royale DVD release is a two-disc affair and all of the extras are on Disc 2. We start with “Becoming Bond”, a 26-minute making of featurette. It explores the fact that the producers got the rights to Casino Royale and their search for a new Bond. There are scenes from the press conference where Craig was introduced. We are then treated to behind-the-scenes footage of shooting in Prague and the Bahamas. “James Bond: For Real” (23 minutes) is a very in-depth look at the stunts and effects involved in the major action scenes in the film. “Bond Girls are Forever” is a hour-long special (clearly taken from TV) where Maryam d’Abo interviews former Bond girls Halle Berry, Ursula Andress, Honor Blackman, Luciana Paluzzi, Jill St. John, Jane Seymour, Maud Adams, Lois Chiles, Carey Lowell, Michelle Yeoh, Judi Dench, Samantha Bond, Rosamund Pike, and Eva Green. This featurette is filled with clips. The final extra is the video for Chris Cornell’s theme to Casino Royale.

6 out of 10 Jackasses

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