Combustible Celluloid
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With: Daniel Craig, Eva Green, Mads Mikkelsen, Judi Dench, Jeffrey Wright, Giancarlo Giannini, Caterina Murino, Simon Abkarian, Isaach De Bankolé, Jesper Christensen, Ivana Milicevic, Tobias Menzies, Claudio Santamaria, Sebastien Foucan, Malcolm Sinclair
Written by: Neal Purvis, Robert Wade, Paul Haggis, based on the novel by Ian Fleming
Directed by: Martin Campbell
MPAA Rating: PG-13 for intense sequences of violent action, a scene of torture, sexual content and nudity
Running Time: 144
Date: 14/11/2006

Casino Royale (2006)

3 1/2 Stars (out of 4)

Poker Face

By Jeffrey M. Anderson

Buy Casino Royale on DVD

Here's the biggest surprise of the year: the new Casino Royale is the best James Bond film since Goldfinger (1964). Even more surprising is that, in 2006 when teenage boys rule the marketplace, the filmmakers opted for an intelligent, adult thriller without any of the juvenilia that has hampered most of the films in this aged series.

Most of the hype up to now has been about whether or not new star Daniel Craig, the sixth actor to play Bond, is up to par. Frankly, with material this strong, any capable actor can shine, and Craig has enough skills to mesh perfectly with the movie (as witness his recent, varied performances in Layer Cake, Munich and Infamous). His intense blue eyes more than make up for the lack of a cocky grin.

For the new film, the producers have returned to the very first of Ian Fleming's novels, which has never been officially adapted into a movie. (A 1967 comedy of the same title was pasted together with string and bailing wire -- boasting five directors and a dozen screenwriters -- but it bears little resemblance to any real Bond film.) Two Bond veterans, Neal Purvis and Robert Wade worked on the script, joined by Oscar magnet Paul Haggis (Crash, Million Dollar Baby, etc.). And director Martin Campbell, who once revitalized the series with Goldeneye (1995), does so again.

The new film takes place in the present day, post-Cold War, but Bond is now a young, fresh and reckless agent. The opening teaser, shot in black-and-white to demonstrate the new grittiness, shows him making his first kill. From there, he attempts to capture a potential terrorist and winds up on a truly astonishing foot-chase; his quarry is a master of parkour (or "free running"), and can bound over obstacles or scramble over walls in the space of a heartbeat.

Bond bungles the mission and M (Judi Dench) scolds and banishes him, but he rushes off on his own -- without permission -- hot on the trail of more potential terrorists. He beds the exotic, married Solange (Caterina Murino) and tracks down terrorist bankroller Le Chiffre (Mads Mikkelsen) before M asks him to use his skills in a high stakes, international poker game to trap the financially distressed villain. At his side is Vesper Lynd (Eva Green), in charge of the government funds with which Bond is gambling. Finally, a chap named Felix Leiter (Jeffrey Wright) turns up to lend a hand.

As with the other Bond films, the plot doesn't matter so much as individual moments (and scrutinizing any of the plots will probably turn up holes anyway). But in the earlier films, those moments consisted of winks, jokes and gadgets. Here, the three are noticeably absent. (John Cleese's Q never turns up.) This Bond is intense, tormented and flawed; he's all too mortal and his confidence does not always pay off. He clashes well with the other characters; he actually builds a relationship with Vesper rather than merely seducing her. And no character is forced to cackle their way through comic book dialogue, or explain their evil plot. Best of all, Dench gets to shine in her few commanding moments, rather than suffering the humiliation of getting kidnapped (as she did in The World Is Not Enough, 1999).

It's almost as if the Bond series went to rehab and purged its system of all ridiculous toxins, but Casino Royale is more than just that; it's lean and hungry once again, as if it were totally reborn.

Of course, old time Bond fans shouldn't bee too disappointed. There's a great car, lots of amazing clothing, gourmet food and drinks (the birth of the famous martini) and beautiful girls (Brazilian model Alessandra Ambrosio makes a quick appearance in the film's opening moments). It's the ultimate fantasy series for people who want to escape into an exotic, exciting world, but this time that world meets us halfway. Casino Royale

DVD Details: The new 2007 DVD from Columbia/TriStar and MGM is a two-disc set with surprisingly few extras. Disc one comes only with the movie, and disc two has two fairly typical featurettes, a Chris Cornell music video and a very enjoyable television special about the Bond Girls, hosted by The Living Daylights star Maryam D'Abo.

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