Casino Royale ain’t your father’s James Bond flick. In fact, in many ways it is nearly entirely antithetical to the Bond formula: it is a brooding and visceral film and is, primarily, a drama. Of course, the action does rack up its requisite air miles, rapidly moving the plot from the Czech Republic to Barbados to Miami for a stint before making its way to Madagascar for an extraordinary chase sequence on foot.
Here Pierce Brosnan’s replacemen t, Daniel Craig, seems more hulk than stealth and the scene is stolen by the stock villain that displays extraordinary athleticism, nearly outrunning 007. At the onset, James Bond is neither smooth nor sly; instead he is anxious, awkward and vicious.
What much of this film attempts to do very earnestly is to purposefully cast James as a man with untapped potential. Mr. Craig, best known to American audiences as a secondary character in Spielberg’s Munich , is fitting in this role because with all of the hype and expectation leading up to each Bond installment he seemed poised to disappoint. And indeed at first glance Mr. Craig could be considered a puzzling choice. But we must not forget this film is meant to be a departure to the traditional Bond formula.
Perhaps the most spectacular aspect of Casino Royale is that the film’s greatest strength is in its character development and well-structured dramatis. Now, you may be tempted to re-read that last sentence in order to make certain you read the words ‘character’ and ‘dramatis’ in a review of a James Bond movie. Casino Royale isn’t cut from the same cloth ofits predecessors. Although there are two fairly well-constructed action sequences, the bulk of the film’s allure is in the meandering moments between major plot points. Eating caviar and sipping champagne, Mr. Craig and Eva Green, the latest bona fide “Bond Girl”, exchange heartfelt and loaded bits of dialogue that far outshine the somewhat disappointing car chase that will probably retire Bond’s love for his Aston Martin. With the changing of the guard, the character seems poised for a complete mythological overhaul.
Casino Royale seems as much a deconstruction of the Bond mythos as it is a fresh start. With some fine-tuning from writer Paul Haggis (Crash, Million Dollar Baby ), who applies what may be his best writing in years (this reviewer was not a fan of his recent ‘triumphs’) Casino Royale somehow makes its plot centrepiece – a high-stakes poker game – exciting.
Interwoven throughout is a healthy physiological analysis of this James Bond character we always assumed we knew so well. Apparently, even Mr. Bond’s legendary promiscuity can be explained. Turns out he was an orphan with a gift for cold-blooded killing who fell in love, only to be irreparably scorned.
At 2 hours and 20 minutes, the film feels long. The tacked on section in Venice at the end, however, is worth the wait. This final action sequence manages to tightly provide all the strengths of the film in one cohesive whole. We are provided with some harrowing action, a touch of intrig ue and even a flourish of moving tragedy – illustrating that Bond may be forever changed, but perhaps it’s for the better.