Um, Is That You, Bond?
Time Magazine
Sunday, Nov. 12, 2006
Um, Is That You, Bond?

The new model of the British secret agent is neither
suave nor funny. But he has his charms


The perfect figure rises from the sea--lubricated and
lubricious, like Ursula Andress in the first James Bond
movie, Dr. No--and the audience lets out a little gasp of
sexual admiration, the voyeur's version of applause. But
this body belongs to Daniel Craig, the new 007, and with
his Sisyphus shoulders and pecs so well defined they
could be in Webster's, it's no surprise that the camera
lingers lovingly to investigate the topography of his
splendidly buff torso. If Craig spends more time with his
shirt off than all previous Bonds combined, it's to make
the point that this secret agent is his own sex object. In
any romance he has with a shady lady, he seems to be
cheating on himself.

Body talk is relevant here, because it's the most obvious
hint that Casino Royale means to be a very different
Bond movie. The 21st in the official series produced by
the Broccoli family (two others--a spoof called Casino
Royale and a freelance Sean Connery opus, Never Say
Never Again--were made outside the fold), this one tries
to rejuvenate a 44-year-old franchise that was showing
signs of tired blood and losing its appeal to the
young-male action-film demographic. The writers--Bond
veterans Neal Purvis and Robert Wade, along with the
ubiquitous Paul Haggis--and director Martin Campbell
wanted to go harder, faster, not to stir the formula but
to give it a vigorous shake.

So, in the tradition of Batman Begins and the Star Wars
pre-trilogy, they went back to square one and created a
baby Bond. Casino Royale was Ian Fleming's first 007
novel, and Bond here is an agent on his first big case, a
rough diamond who has not yet acquired his savoir faire
or taste for the double entendre. The Craig Bond might
know no French at all; he's not the suave, Oxbridgian
007 of legend but the strong, silent type, almost a thug
for hire, and no smoother with a sardonic quip than
John Kerry. Still, he fits one description Fleming gave of
his hero: "[His face was] a taciturn mask, ironical,
brutal and cold."

The brutality is on display in the first scene, which hews
to the previous films' text by providing a daring exploit
and a minor league kill before the stylized opening
credits. This time, though, the fatal confrontation is
shown in monochrome and takes place in a Saw-style
bathroom. The killing is grimly realistic, as if to suggest
that this Bond operates in the real world of real pain
and has wounds that may never heal. A later scene, with
a naked Bond getting his testicles whipped, inevitably
calls up Abu Ghraib atrocities (and should have earned
the film an R rating instead of the indulgent PG-13 it
received). Bond can take punishment and dish it out,
impersonally. When asked whether it bothers him to kill
people, he replies, "I wouldn't be good at my job if it
did." He's a killing machine--one of Q's most
sophisticated gadgets.

Along with Brutal Bond, Casino Royale offers Hyper
Bond, a character more muscular and kinetic than
before. So is the movie. It's not easy to freshen up the
elaborate action sequences that the franchise more or
less invented and that have been imitated in hundreds
of movies. But Casino Royale succeeds by taking a
modern form of physical activity--parkour, the urban
steeplechase in which participants run up stairwells,
jump across roofs and slip through transoms that was
showcased to exhilarating effect in the French film
District B13--and applying it to Bond's pursuit of a bad
guy (parkour star Sébastien Foucan) on the high beams
of a construction project. Marvelous!

Unfortunately, Casino Royale has to stick to the Fleming
plot; it must also be Basic Bond. (The movie is so
personality-split that 007 could refer to the number of
the hero's warring personalities.) In this case, that
demands not just the sneering villain (Mads Mikkelsen
as Le Chiffre, banker to the terrorist élite) and the
tempting females, one blond (Ivana Milicevic) and one
brunet (the criminally alluring Eva Green). It means that
the focus of the plot must be ... a card game! We grant
that high-stakes poker has its tension, especially if it's
your hand and your multimillion-dollar stake. But
dramatically there's something lacking in a movie
climax that needs the hero to be holding higher cards
than the villain. Luck is not fate.

But love is. And at last, toward the end of its nearly
21/2 -hr. running time, the film arrives at its final Bond:
the secret agent with a vulnerable heart. Bond has one,
which he wants to give to his ally in the Le Chiffre
charade, Green's sympathetic Vesper Lynd. It's a nice
try, throwing romance into the stew, but after all its
expert exertions, Casino Royale can't rev up the
melancholy mood. Which is appropriate, for this is a
Bond with great body but no soul.