The 'Royale' treatment.

The Commercial Appeal

The 'Royale' treatment

'Casino' reboots Bond as a fledgling agent with a new
license to kill.

November 17, 2006

By John Beifuss

You know, I've watched most of the 21 "official" James
Bond films produced since 1962 (a count that excludes two
renegade features, 1967's first "Casino Royale" and 1983's
"Never Say Never Again"), but I have to admit that only the
ones I saw when I was a kid lodged themselves in my
memory -- namely, the classic adventures with Sean
Connery and, later, the silly but enjoyable Roger Moore
episodes. (I guess the line "My name is Pussy Galore" has
more impact when you're in sixth grade than even Halle
"Jinx" Berry in an orange bikini does 30 years later.)
The six Timothy Dalton-Pierce Brosnan Bonds produced
since 1987 have their enthusiasts, but about all I can recall
from them are such disappointments as dim Denise
Richards as a nuclear physicist (!) in "The World Is Not
Enough" and the ridiculous "surfing Bond" of "Die Another
Day." But if I've grown indifferent to the Bond films, I still
respect and have high hopes for the character.

Now comes a second film titled "Casino Royale," which
introduces not only a new Bond but Bond as a newborn:
Although set in the post-9/11 era, this -- like "Batman
Begins" -- is an origin story, starring a not yet fully formed
007 only recently granted his license to kill. (In fact,
viewers get to watch Bond dispatch his first two victims.)
This explains why Monty Norman's famous James Bond
theme music isn't heard until the end credits: The signature
surf-guitar riff is surer evidence of the character's birth
than would be the sound of a slap on a bottom followed by
a baby's crying.

The new Bond is played by talented Daniel Craig, who
resembles a jug-eared soccer hooligan ("I'm all ears," Bond
says during the film, lampooning his own appearance) more
than an international sophisticate; spy boss M (played for
the fifth time by Judi Dench) even calls him a "blunt
instrument." Fittingly, the movie itself is tougher than
usual; the violence is often down and dirty, although
realism quickly goes out the window when Bond
commandeers a bulldozer to barrel into a Madagascar
construction site while chasing a terrorist. When Bond is
captured by the bad guys, his torture is Abu
Ghraib-believable, unlike the laserbeam scenarios
concocted by Goldfinger; even the graphics in the typically
stylish opening credits eschew the usual half-clothed girls
for images of attack and murder.

Apparently fairly faithful to Ian Fleming's 1953 novel of the
same name (the first of the author's 15 Bond tales), "Casino
Royale" derives more suspense from a central high-stakes
poker game than from its action set-pieces as Bond matches
cardplaying wits with the evil Le Chiffre (Mads Mikkelsen), a
"private banker to the world's terrorists" who literally cries
blood due to "a derangement of the tear ducts" (a
phenomenon of Mario Bavaesque visual potential almost
totally neglected by director Martin Campbell, whose credits
include the Brosnan-Bond film "GoldenEye" and the two
Antonio Banderas Zorro movies).

Bond is aided in his mission by a beautiful treasury agent,
Vesper Lynd (Eva Green, the stunner from Bertolucci's "The
Dreamers"). Gadget-master Q and lovesick Miss
Moneypenny are absent, but the movie's reboot of the Bond
myth enables the filmmakers to have fun with such
traditional story elements as the agent's Aston Martin and
his "shaken, not stirred" martini recipe.

"Casino Royale" reportedly cost $130 million, and the
money shows on screen, with sequences set in Prague,
Montenegro and Venice. Even so, the film could have been
cut by many millions and many minutes: At 144 minutes, it
drags, especially during the development of the
Bond-Vesper romance, which may make the film more
"adult" than most of its predecessors but adds little
excitement. Other "mature" story elements also are poor
substitutes for supervillains and gadgets; who wants to see
Bond learn a lesson about ego, as if he were Greg Brady in
his "Johnny Bravo" phase?

In other words, "Casino Royale" means well but fails to
bottle the old Bond magic or to reinvent 007 as a rival for a
newer and better spy series, the "Bourne" films. "I miss the
Cold War," M muses at one point; fans of "Dr. No" and
"From Russia with Love" are likely to agree.