The Sunday Times:"And you
almost feel a kind of patriotic
duty to go out and see it.
Don’t bother. James Bond is
The Sunday Times November 12, 2006

Film: All at sea
Daniel Craig may shine in shorts, but Casino Royale shows
Bond is a busted flush, laments Cosmo Landesman

The new James Bond film, Casino Royale, hasn’t gone on
general release yet — officially, that’s on Friday — but
already it has the buzz of a triumphant return. The film is
good and Daniel Craig, as Bond, is great, or so it’s said. And
you almost feel a kind of patriotic duty to go out and see it.
Don’t bother. James Bond is dead, and no new face can hide
the fact that Casino Royale is the same old tosh the
producers of the Bond franchise have been serving up since
the glory days of the 1960s.

I take that back. Actually, we have here a new and inferior
type of tosh. This new Bond, directed by Martin Campbell,
who also did 1995’s GoldenEye, is a back-to-basics Bond. It
has been stripped of exotic locations, extravagant gadgetry,
bikinied beauties and larger-than-life villains. So what’s
left? Not much. Campbell and his screenwriters have got rid
of the fantasy element and gone for something that aims to
be “gritty” and “real” — that is, we get lots more explicit
screen violence and emotional intimacy. Bond bleeds. Bond
falls in love. This is the first Bond film that is really all about
James Bond.

At least Casino Royale starts off with a promising new
approach. Instead of the usual pre-credits action, we get a
snazzy retro title sequence, based on figures from playing
cards. But alarm bells go off as soon as Chris Cornell’s
shockingly bland theme song, You Know My Name, starts to
play. We then are taken back to the beginning of Bond’s
career, and see how he loses his killing virginity by taking
out a double agent. This opening sequence, shot in black
and white, is full of offbeat angles. But it’s ruined by a
script that resorts to the oldest, corniest trick in the
spy/action genre. (Even so, I won’t spoil it for you.) The
film then moves into colour and into the present. While on a
mission in Africa, Bond chases a bombmaker (Sebastien
Foucan) through the Nambutu embassy and ends up
practically slaughtering the entire staff. Were they
terrorists too, or just unfortunate darkies who happened to
be in Bond’s way? We never know. Could you have a hero
slaughter an entire embassy of white people? I doubt it.

Naturally, M (Judi Dench) is a bit pissed off with 007.

She yells at him for being “arrogant” and “stupid”, and not
following instructions; but, despite his reckless slaughter,
she assigns him a new mission. Le Chiffre (Mads
Mikkelsen), who is a banker to terrorists, has lost a lot of
his clients’ money in a failed stock-market gamble. He has
arranged a high-stakes poker game in a casino in
Montenegro to try to win millions and pay his clients back
before they kill him. The plan is for Bond to beat Le Chiffre
at poker and thus destroy a whole terrorist network. Think
about the absurdity of that for a moment. Accompanying
Bond is a beauty from HM Treasury, Vesper Lynd (Eva
Green), whose job it is to keep an eye on the millions Bond
has been given to gamble with. Against the odds, Vesper
wins his heart.

But the only thing triumphant about Casino Royale is Craig’s
performance. He brings to the role sex appeal, sadism and
athleticism. (Though he doesn’t look to me like a man who
drinks martinis.) Craig actually looks like Gollum’s younger
brother, and he charges around like the Terminator. The
film aims to be a character-driven study of how 007 was
changed by this mission and meeting Vesper. But as far as I
can tell, it’s the story of how a sadistic psycho who hated
women became a better-dressed and more professional
sadistic psycho who hates women. Nor do we ever believe
he has fallen in love with Vesper.

The French actress Eva Green, who is this year’s Bond girl,
has said that her character isn’t the “classic iconic Bond
girl, wearing a bikini, being sexy and firing a gun” — and
she’s right. The iconic Bond girl in this film is Bond himself.
In a scene that pays homage to Ursula Andress in Dr No,
Craig emerges from the sea in a brief pair of trunks. He
reveals more of his body than any babe.

As for the bad guys, I don’t think I’ve ever seen such an
instantly forgettable bunch. Le Chiffre is just boring — he’s
a banker with a funny eye that sheds blood when stressed.
And the action sequences don’t fit into the story but are just
tedious set pieces that we’ve seen dozens of times. The
central battle over the poker table at the casino, on the
other hand, is flat. We never get the feeling that anything
significant is at stake if Bond loses — except his masculine

I suspect that when all the hype dies down, people will see
what a disappointing film Casino Royale is. Despite
updating Ian Fleming’s 1953 novel and replacing
communist agents with terrorists, the film has no relation
to the world we live in. Nor does it offer a fantasy of a
glamorous world we would like to escape to. It’s neither an
exciting thriller nor an interesting study in character. And
there is no memorable iconic moment featuring Bond, his
baddies or his beauties, the kind that you take home from
the cinema and that stays with you.

Casino Royale, Two stars
12A, 144 mins