By Thomas Griffiths
Casino Royale is directed by Martin Campbell and stars Daniel Craig, Mads Mikkelsen, Eva Green, Judi Dench, Giancalo Giannini and Jasper Christensen. It is the debut of Daniel Craig’s portrayal of James Bond and it is set just after James Bond became a 00 agent and he is pitted in a battle of wits with the malevolent Le Chiffre. I decided to write a review for this movie because I recently did a personal observation of every Daniel Craig Bond film so far, and I came to the inevitable conclusion that Casino Royale is my number one favourite installment out of the four films – in the following order, Casino Royale, Spectre, Skyfall and (almost undeniably last) Quantum of Solace. This film, which I will go into detail about throughout this review, just did every single thing right.
Firstly, there’s the casting decision of Daniel Craig as the character of James Bond – so many people were against the idea of Craig being cast as the character, but now everyone is completely unwilling to admit that they hated on him because this man was excellent as James Bond. Even though he is in his late forties, Craig has maintained the same great interpretation of Bond’s character in each film, even in the downright disappointment Quantum of Solace – however, in Casino Royale he is most certainly in his element as James Bond. Most of that is due to the fact that Craig was utterly refreshing for audiences after Die Another Day (While I loved Pierce Brosnan was brilliant in GoldenEye, each of the Bond films he starred in afterwards just didn’t live up to the standard). Craig’s performance was of a person who is all too great at his job, and this causes more problems than it solves.
This film opens with this really well-directed, almost neo-noir scene where Bond shoots down this traitor of MI6, which moves right on to Chris Cornell’s hopelessly underrated kick-ass Bond song ‘You Know My Name’, and the incredible title sequence. This moves on to the truly incredible, mind-blowing parkour chase – I cannot put down in writing just how unbelievably brilliant that parkour chase scene was, only to say that, to this day, I still view that scene as one of the greatest action sequences in film history. It is visceral, it’s captivating to anyone who watches it, and it is backed up magnificently by David Arnold’s exhilarating score. What I also love about this scene is how it impacts on the image of James Bond in this movie – this man doesn’t have the same look and attitude as previous Bonds, he’s a reckless, arrogant, confident superspy who is all too good at his job. This point is brought hopelessly brutally to light by the ever-watchable Judi Dench.
What we also get in the early stages of this film is an introduction to one of the greatest James Bond villains of all time – Le Chiffre. Dear God, this guy is such a great character, and Mads Mikkelsen is amazing playing him – he just has this incredible gravity to him, and that opening few shots where he steps out of that jeep and you see his face for the first time, you know he’s bad news. What sets him apart from previous Bond films (With the exception of Sean Bean in GoldenEye) is that he isn’t just some power-crazed megalomaniac who wants to control the world. This man is a real human being, and what I loved about his role throughout the film is the fact that he is basically fighting for his life because his failures at the hands of Bond at the start of the film have caused him to owe an immense amount of money to his boss, and to his boss’s ruthless employers – and, if he doesn’t pay up, then these people will do terrible things to him.
This film’s best assets surround how new and original it looks – this film is shot and framed to absolute perfection, and the sheer colour and scope of the story is captured in every single establishing shot. The plot is also refreshing, because it is packed to the point of overflowing with literally mind-blowing action sequences and scenarios, each of which rapidly builds up on the other. The stakes of this movie are established perfectly, and they are ever-present in every single scene where they are relevant. Also, and this is probably the most important and impactful aspect of the movie, the vulnerability of all the characters is firmly presented: Bond himself takes one great hell of a pounding throughout the movie, and he is seen bloody and exhausted (There’s even a scene, after a nerve-wracking stairway fight scene, where he is seen cleaning himself up and stitching his wounds – something that has never once been seen in a Bond movie).
The poker game sequence is where so many people are a little conflicted as to whether it is as exciting as the other scenes in the film, but I personally think it is unfair if, say, one compares it with the parkour chase at the start of the film, or the building gunfight at the end of the film. It’s not supposed to be exciting, but it succeeds at what it is supposed to be, and that is to be tense. The stakes are all out in the poker sequence and you can just tell that it’s all between Bond and Le Chiffre, who throw some amazing banter with one another throughout the game. The stakes are made even clearer when Le Chiffre tries to poison Bond, and when he is finally revived he goes straight back to the game and says one of my favourite lines in film history – ‘Oh, I’m sorry. That last hand nearly killed me’. And, when he finally clears out Le Chiffre, you can just feel the rage boiling in the man as he storms off and you don’t yet know that he will strike back very soon.
Again, on the casting – Eva Green as Vesper Lynd. I mean, could they have cast a better actress to play this character? She is honestly one of the best Bond girls of all time – and that’s because she IS a character, not a sex object, and she throws some truly incredible banter with Bond at so many points in the film. Their chemistry is one of the most beneficial aspects of this movie. When they fall in love, it feels like it’s supposed to happen – it doesn’t feel forced or derivative, because the writing and direction for this film is so well done. Also, Giancalo Giannini is brilliant as Rene Mathis, especially in his raucously entertaining opening scene where he meets Bond.
Probably the scene that is forever scalded into the memories of moviegoers who love this movie is the interrogation scene – after a terrifying car-crash scene, Le Chiffre captures Bond and Vesper and…smashes Bond in the nut-sack. Daniel Craig is brilliant in this scene – almost Oscar-worthy – as he literally asks Le Chiffre to hit him, and Mads Mikkelsen is incredible in the way he reacts, and you can tell that both these men are on the edge of their tolerance, with Le Chiffre desperate for the password to Bond’s winnings so that he can pay back his boss. And then we get this really unexpected, suspenseful scene where Mr. White kills the guards and storms in. Le Chiffre begs for his life, but Mr. White wants none of it – Le Chiffre failed to give him the money, and damaged the reputation of his organisation. He had to die.
The final act of this film, where we get this beautifully-depicted romance between Vesper and Bond, is probably one of the most well-directed elements of the film: It seems like such a massive relief from the tense, brutal events in the first two acts. And Daniel Craig and Eva Green are fantastic together in Casino Royale, you get the idea that they are living the dream – and then we get this dark, impactful twist where Vesper betrays Bond and takes the money to Mr. White’s men. Bond follows her, and you get that he has become so mad at her for betraying him – we get this spectacular, unbelievably exciting gunfight sequence between Bond and the henchmen, during which the house they are fighting in begins to sink into the river, making the whole thing much more suspenseful. This scene ends with Eva Green beautifully-portraying Vesper’s heartbreaking apology to James, and deciding to drown herself rather than live with the fact that she’d betrayed him.
Daniel Craig showcases Bond’s grief and anguish so well, and it shows when he has this almost parent-child-like conversation with M over the phone, and he says coldly ‘The job’s done, and the bitch is dead’ (Which is directly out of Ian Fleming’s novel, by the way), and M gives one of the greatest movie deliveries of all time: ‘You don’t trust anyone, do you?’, ‘No’, ‘Then you’ve learned your lesson’. And the final scene of the film is where we see Mr. White going to his mansion in the mountains and suddenly Bond shoots him in the leg and corners him, delivering his world-famous catchphrase ‘The name’s Bond. James Bond.’
Casino Royale, as I said, did everything right. The casting was legendary, the direction is beautiful, and it’s a refreshing, exhilarating change from what we’d gotten used to so far. Daniel Craig is at his best in this film, and it is his best performance to date in my personal opinion. Martin Campbell did a breathtaking job directing this movie, and I salute him for it.