By Fred Topel | Image property of Columbia Pictures.
Casino Royale is everything I want in a movie, James Bond franchise or otherwise. It’s instantly in my Bond top three (I won’t share the other two for fear of repercussions).
Movie Review: Casino Royale
This origin story crafts a kick ass epic adventure out of a fairly low key dime novel. It’s still Bond playing cards with LeChiffre to win his terrorist money out from under him, but so much more happens in this version. Just finding out the extent of the villain’s plan takes an hour of lavish action and seduction, and the whole film is peppered with priceless Bond moments.
There’s no less action in Casino Royale than there has been in any Bond movie since the ‘70s. If it feels a little different, that may be because some of the action scenes are more pointed. There are several major spectacles, but many others where excitement is derived simply from the goal.
I have no problem with the Bond movies where something big happens just to have an action sequence. Those are great fun. But Casino Royale shows they can create just as much suspense from a hand to hand combat within an oblivious crowd, or a medical emergency where the smallest live saving action is nearly impossible.
Those lavish sequences have to be among the best in any Bond movie. It’s Bond’s brutality versus a graceful native’s chase, or the complete destruction of a building, taking the usual set pieces to the next level. He still drives a big vehicle or prevents a major catastrophe, but there is even more at work in the large scale sequences than the already effective mini-fights.
I dare say I find the unrefined Bond even more engaging than the suave cat. This Bond is a trouble maker, pulling pranks just to see people’s reactions. It’s also purposeful for his spying, but it’s a way better show for the audience.
The whole art of spying carries the movie through. Following trails is much more clear in Casino Royale than in many of the other Bond plots. You can actually see the process where Bond can find clues and predict enemies’ behavior.
The double entendre banter is perfect as characters figure each other out. Everyone understands exactly what they’re talking about without ever answering a question directly.
The tone of the film feels like guys with money and power throwing their weight around. I want to hang with them, but since I can’t, getting a third person view of this world sure is fun.
The toughest scene of the book is perfectly handled in the movie. Changing baccarat to poker seemed less exotic at first, perhaps a plea to the mainstream, but when you consider the skills required for poker vs. baccarat, it’s much more cinematic. Also, the $5 million re-buy-in is set up in the beginning, so a later plot twist is far more reasonable than it played in the book.
By the time the film delves into love story territory in the third act, it’s all part of the fun. The actors play up the British drama, making sweeping sentiments at each other, and it’s still not boring. We’ve seen On Her Majesty’s Secret Service so we know it’s about to hit the fan. The romantic part is great because it’s setting up the inevitable.
Daniel Craig hardly needs me fawning all over him. I’ll just add to the litany of praises that I think he’s a much better runner than Tom Cruise.
With all this greatness going on, those little references to Bond traditions are only little gold stars on an already A+ project. The producers have finally found the right balance of calculating spy work from the books and the fun pace of the films.