New Bond and 'Casino Royale'
don't give audience license to care.
New Bond and Casino Royale' don't give audience license to
Friday, November 17, 2006
Clint O'Connor
Plain Dealer Film Critic

This is where I'm supposed to say, "Bond is back and he's
better than ever!"

Well, he is. But he isn't.

"Casino Royale" is the 21st film in the official James Bond
series, the first in four years, and marks the debut of British
actor Daniel Craig as Her Majesty's most suave secret agent
Craig is fine. He brings a nice blue-eyed ruggedness to the
proceedings. His buffed-up bod looks good in tuxedo or
bathing suit or when wooing the very woo-worthy Eva
Green as Vesper Lynd, a treasury official sent to baby-sit
Bond's stake in a big-money poker game.

Ever since the vintage Sean Connery originals, whenever
the franchise introduces a new 007, he usually gets a good
movie to star in. Roger Moore had "Live and Let Die" in
1973; Pierce Brosnan had "GoldenEye" in 1995.

The idea this time was to go back to the beginning.
Kick-start the series by showing Bond before he acquired
his license to kill. They started with Ian Fleming's first Bond
novel, "Casino Royale" (not to be confused with the David
Niven-Peter Sellers spoof in 1967).

It was a good plan, just not the greatest execution.

If you want us to be edge-of-our-seat during the crashes
and chases you have to give us a license to care.

"Casino Royale" wants to distance itself from the old Bonds.
At one point, Craig rushes to a bar to order a vodka martini.
The bartender asks if he wants it shaken or stirred. "Do I
look like I give a damn?" snorts 21st-century Bond. (Take
that, four decades of filmdom's most famous drink order!)
OK. But don't abandon suspense and a sense of humor, too.

The pacing is very insert-action-scene-here, regardless of
whether those moments propel plot or character. The bad
guy is ill-defined (Mads Mikkelsen as Le Chiffre, who oozes
blood out of a tear duct). Judi Dench is back as M, but there
is no Q (or his gadgets-descendant R), and no real mission
of merit.

The storytelling is jumbled and the greatest failing of
"Casino Royale" is that we never get to know this new
Bond. If you're going to start at square one with a new
actor, throw us a few bones of discovery. We know 007 is a
ruthless spy who keeps people at a distance, but don't keep
the audience at a distance.

The script is by Neal Purvis and Robert Wade, with an assist
from Paul Haggis (the Oscar-winning writer-director of
"Crash"). Presumably Haggis was called in to punch things
up, and the movie does pick up at the halfway mark when
Bond and Lynd meet on a train.

After what seems like the ending, they kind of tack on
another movie. "Casino Royale" feels like three movies
trying to become one. I just wish they had picked one.