What’s this? Could it actually be?! I am finally ending my run of Bond reviews because the next one is actually, for real, coming out in a month or so?! Why yes, that’s exactly what’s happening… after all these YEARS.
Casino Royale saw the debut of both Daniel Craig and his more “gritty” direction for the franchise, and while his run has seen its ups and downs I can honestly say that Casino Royale is among my favourites of the whole franchise, with its opening 10 minutes being one my favourite openings ever. … Let’s take a look!
After receiving a license to kill, British Secret Service agent James Bond heads to Madagascar, where he uncovers a link to Le Chiffre, a man who finances terrorist organizations. Learning that Le Chiffre plans to raise money in a high-stakes poker game, MI6 sends Bond to play against him, gambling that their newest “00” operative will topple the man’s organization…
*spoilers appear from here on out!*
The first gun barrel sequence! … Of Daniel Craig’s run.
As I mentioned in the opening paragraph, the first part of this film is still amongst my favourite… things to watch ever. Bond is waiting in the office of a traitor, all silhouetted and in black and white, and the two have a chat about how Bond isn’t a double 0 yet because you have to have killed two people. He soon figures out that Bond must of killed his contact, which we then see happen in a rather brutal bathroom brawl, and then says “don’t worry, it gets-” and then Bond shoots him, quips “yes, exceptionally” then we go back to the bathroom where the contact pick up and gun and then gets shot via the classic gun barrel sequence then we jump into the extremely catching opening theme, which includes a computer readout that says “James Bond – 00 Status Confirmed”. I remember just being blown away at the time, the violence of the brawl and the still suave quippyness of the framing scene made me very excited for this new direction, especially as Die Another Day made me… less enthusiastic about the franchise.
Before we get to the casino part of the film we see some backstory as to how it all comes about: Bond tracks a bomb maker to Madagascar and has a frankly still-stunning foot chase with him that ends with an explosion at a local embassy, but does give 007 some ideas as to where to follow some leads, meanwhile we’re introduced to Le Chiffre (the always excellent Mads Mikkelsen) who takes a large payment from the Ugandan Resistance army and promises to invest it an airplane company that he’s set up to have a terrorist attack ruin. Sadly for Le Chiffre Bond catches on to the plan and manages to track down the terrorist and stop the attack on the plane, meaning the terrorist broker now owes some nasty resistance fighters a large sum of money. This is why he organises a stupidly high-stakes poker game in Montenegro with some super-rich underground contacts, allowing MI6 to pick Bond to enter the game as he’s the service’s best poker player, hoping he’ll bankrupt Le Chiffre and send him running to the British embassy for sanctuary. Bond is joined by attractive treasury agent Vesper Lynd (Evan Green) and René Mathis (Giancarlo Giannini), a local contact.
Bond with a beautiful woman, in a tuxedo while holding a gun. That about ticks all of the boxes!
We then get the poker game, which is full of hotel room brawls with resistance fighters, Bond nearly dying of deadly poison but reviving due to a defibrillator and antidote in his car (the only real “gadget” in the film) and a clear romantic relationship forming between Bond and Vespter, despite Bond normally only being into married women because it “makes things less complicated”. Bond actually loses due to Le Chiffre faking a tell and Vesper refuses to buy him back in with any more of the government’s money but US agent Felix Leiter (Jeffrey Wright) stakes Bond the money if the US government gets Le Chiffre instead of them. Bond agrees and ends up winning the game with a straight flush but soon Vesper is kidnapped and Bond along with her a few moments later. Le Chiffre tortures Bond for the account number to get his funds back but is killed by Mr. White (Jesper Christensen), his second who as it turns out is actually a member of a mysterious organisation that has been helping Chiffre and now have no more use of him.
Bond wakes up in a hospital and believe Mathis must have betrayed them to Le Chiffre and has him arrested, then transfers the money to the correct account and decides to head off to Venice with Vesper, contemplating leaving MI6 to be with her… until a week or two later when M (Judi Dench still, for the record!) phones him and asks where the money is. Bond chases Vesper to a hand-off, causing her to be captured by some gunmen and leading to a shoot-out in a sinking building on the Grand Canal. Bond kills the attackers but Vesper is locked in a lift as the room fills with water, eventually fighting Bond’s help and drowning herself while Mr. White walks off with the money. Turns out Vesper was a double agent as her lover’s life was being threatened and the final money handover was to save Bond’s life and while this news is brushed off by Bond it’s clear the experience has been a hard one for the agent. The film ends a short while later with Bond shooting Mr. White in the leg at his villa and introducing himself as “Bond, James Bond.”, directly leading into the next film…
Le Chiffre isn’t impressed… although to be fair I don’t think he really smiles in his line of work…
Very little to dislike about this film, honestly. It’s well directed, the action scenes are great, the plot is fun to follow (for a Bond film and therefore not worrying about realism so much…) and the actors / actresses all well cast. About the only thing to dislike is that it sets the bar too high, the rest of Craig’s era has yet to reach these heights again, in my opinion anyway…
Bond has a fist fight on the top of a crane, as all spies do at some point in their careers.
In case you can’t tell by now I love Casino Royale, it’s right up there with my favourite films, let alone Bond films. Well paced, well shot, well acted and lots of nods to past Bond-isms but done in a fun and often clever “this is the start of his career” way. One of the best of the Bonds, and definitely Craig’s best… well, with one film left to come, anyway!