Casino Royale: Good action, but a
Bond Misfire.

We are proud to present what may prove to be the first unbiased and
honest review of Daniel Craig's first outing as Bond.
Facing a more discriminating audience than ever before, Sony Pictures
and EON could be facing the biggest flop in the history of the Bond
franchise. Sure to be a blow to the ego of the man with “an air of


Good action, but a Bond Misfire
20 October 2006

*** This comment may contain spoilers ***

It was called "Alcazar," which turned out to be the new Bond
film. I just read someone's review from that screening and it's
like he and I were shown two different films. I'm not as
enthusiastic. I've seen all the Bonds, but I didn't like the last
couple so I thought the filmmakers would give us the same
thing again. Well, Casino Royale is different; but it's different
in an odd, unpleasant way. First let me say that action fans
will relish the great stunt work in this film. For example, one
of the major action scenes takes place in a construction site
and it's nicely executed and filmed with gusto. The other
major set piece features a gripping sequence with a suicide
bomber, an airplane, and a tanker truck. The director, Martin
Campbell, has made his mark as an innovative action film
director. Unfortunately, his expertise doesn't extend into other
aspects of the film. The biggest problem is that the film is
stocked with a number of unappealing elements, which makes
it self-destruct on so many levels.

Let's start with Daniel Craig: although I liked his performance
in Layer Cake, he's boring to watch in Casino Royale. He can
handle the action sequences, but he's stiff and uncharismatic
for most of the film. He rarely cracks a smile or ever seems to
be in danger. (There's a gruesome torture scene, but the
dialog is so horrible, and Craig's delivery of his lines is flat and
unconvincing that all tension in that scene is lost). It's hard to
believe that women want to jump in bed with him because his
character has a hollowness to it that makes him rarely
credible or interesting. Again, Craig does have grace and
agility in how he handles action scenes; but it's in the non-
action scenes where he almost ceases to exist. Playing 007
doesn't seem to spark anything special in Craig and, as a
result, there's nothing new to discover in him. You get this
feeling that Craig plays the part as if it were an unpleasant
chore—he's somewhat awkward in dialog scenes and there are
times when he has an air of condescension in his presence, as
if somehow his serious acting background made the Bond role
beneath him. He acts as if he's slumming.

The filmmakers seem to be aware of Craig's discomfort, which
probably motivated them to use a camera work and editing
style that races by too fast to linger on anything. I don't think
the camera really stays static in this film. At times it works,
giving the film a sense of urgency. Then there are times when
it makes you feel distant from the story because everything is
moving so quickly. There were times when I wondered why
Bond was doing what he was doing and trying to discern what
was the point. The action, though spectacular, seldom
advances the story. Then again, there really isn't much story.
Those who are expecting a world domination scheme by the
villain will be disappointed. To be fair, a low-key caper is a
nice change; but, in structure, Casino Royale doesn't move
towards a dramatic conclusion. In fact, I wondered if the
villain Le Chiffre has a big revelation of a scheme that MI6 is
attempting to stop. But nothing like it occurs. The entire plot
is given away when Vesper and Bond agree that he must
bankrupt LeChiffre.

The structural problems also affect the love story. Yeah,
somewhere in all this, the filmmakers jam a love story that
lacks heat. The Bond girl, Vesper, has some witty banter with
Bond, but she doesn't appear until a third of the film is over.
There simply isn't enough screen time for the romance to
really develop and make us care about Bond and Vesper.

The rest of the cast is bland. Has there ever been a weaker
Bond villain than Le Chiffre? A less endearing Bond girl than
Eva Greene's Vesper? Even Judi Dench, who reprises her role
as M, seems to have lost her magic. If anything, her
involvement contributes to the structural problems. Is she the
same M from the last couple of Bond films? The implication is
"yes." Yet Casino Royale attempts to be an origin story for
Bond, so what is she doing in this film? She seems to exist
because, well, the strained relationship between Bond and M
worked in the last couple of Bond films. It's now predictable--
she can't tolerate him, yet she turns to him. She doesn't
approve of him, yet she depends on him. As for the origin
aspect, the filmmakers don't really devote a lot of time to it.
The story only has a light reference to Bond as a novice 00-
agent. We see him performing his first two kills at the start of
the film. It's about 10 minutes worth of story time, maybe
even reaching 15 minutes if you count the title credits, which
continues that theme. As a result, I basically forgot that this is
an origin story. (When I first heard about this origin story
angle to Casino Royale, I thought the filmmakers would
approach it like, say, Batman Begins, where about an hour is
devoted to the development of the character.) Which takes us
to the next question: why are the filmmakers even bothering
to tell this kind of story? Bond doesn't really come across as a
new 00-agent, so this angle of the film is meaningless.

I guess the filmmakers will never really catch the magic of
those early Bond films like Dr. No or Goldfinger. Casino
Royale, despite some imaginative action scenes, never draws
us into the story through a strong Bond actor, nor does it
establish any rhythm or build much sustained energy. The
result is a film that has us yearning for those much older Bond
films that never lost your attention. Just about everything in
Casino Royale misfires.