Casino Royale (2006)
10/10
"Millenium" series James Bond - top-of-the-line!
22 November 2006
In the original Bond series, only a handful of films really attempted to touch base with the novels of Ian Fleming. "Dr. No" showed the Fleming feeling for character and action, but introduced elements to the plot that detracted from the 'hard-boiled' spy story that Fleming thought he was writing; "Thunderball" came close, but that was because Fleming developed the story on commission for the film. "On Her Majesty's Secret Service" had the book's plot pretty down pat, and was made in a kind of 'grand adventure' style, but of course it suffered from the choice of Lazenby - a professional model, not an actor - as Bond. "The Living Daylights" showed the producers' interest in returning to the roots, but Dalton was uncomfortable playing Bond, and uncomfortable with the wisecracks which had become part of the character's schtick - and which were really badly written for the Dalton films. "Goldeneye" was admirable attempt to update the Fleming milieu for the end of the Cold War, but left the character himself as yet without an 'updated' definition.

The decision to make a 21st Century version of Fleming's first Bond novel - and, beyond the update, to remain true to the novel, sans comic patter, sans sci-fi techno-schtick, sans major rewrite of the basic plot - promised to present Bond fans of all ages with a direct challenge. Do we want the hard-boiled spy Fleming first envisioned - patterned after Chandler's Philip Marlowe and W. Somerset Maughm's Ashenden ("or: The British Agent")? Or would we really rather have the suave stand-up comedian and Playboy magazine contributor introduced by Broccoli, Maibaum, Young, and company, in the second Connery film, "From Russia With Love"?

Well, the votes are still being tallied on that.

As someone who came to Bond reading "Goldfinger" at the tender age of twelve (the phrase "round, firm, pointed breasts" has been an inspiration to me since), the closer the films came to the sense of the novels, the happier I was.

So of course, this version of Bond is a joyous surprise for me - my youthful daydreams have been vindicated and at last fully satisfied. There are indeed elements added to the plot, but they are completely congruent with it. There is the use of current technology, but no techno-schtick - i.e., no Q. and no "gadgets". There are the luscious Bond babes (2 - the minimum Bond requirement), but there is no attempt to reduce them to photogenic sex-toys.

Fleming's plot actually requires the film's addition of some heavy action sequences (all done very snappy, with a brutally realistic edge), because the novel is very claustrophobic; the original TV version of the story (1955, with Barry Nelson as 'Jimmy Bond'), only used three indoor sets, because it could - except for the car chase and an attempted bombing at an outdoor café, Fleming's novel took place almost entirely within Bond's hotel suite and the gaming room. The film's opening this novel out to the world is actually quite welcome, and does not affect the central plot or its theme.

The character of Bond presented in this film may disappoint followers of the original films, but the news is, this is FLEMING's Bond - an orphan uncertain of his own identity, a disillusioned romantic trying hard to pretend he's incapable of emotions, a middle class, middle-brow, middle-level management type who just happens to kill people for a living. But he does it extremely well.

The other problem some general viewers may have is the level of violence in the film; having determined to film the novel realistically, director Martin Campbell has decided to ditch the 'B-movie' violence of most of the earlier films, and present us the violence with a hard 'British neo-noir' edge to it. Given the romantic plot twist toward the end, this would be a perfect date movie - except that the violence left some of the female viewers in the theater I attended clearly unsettled. That's not necessarily a bad thing, it just is part of the gestalt of the film's experience.

Cambell's direction is very good; the writing is crisp; production values are very high; the photography is stunning. Some of the stunt work is truly remarkable, worthy competition for Jackie Chan. The acting is rock-solid and believable for these characters. There is plenty of muscle for the action-film fan, and some real brains for the more general viewer to ponder later.

This film is best viewed with minimal reliance on knowledge of the previous series. In fact, it functions perfectly well as a 'one-off', a film without a series.

But of course, the ending invites a sequel. In Godzilla terms, Connery and Moore having given us the 'showa' Bond, Dalton and Brosnan the "Heisei" Bond, we now have the "Millenium" series James Bond - not a prequel nor even a 'reboot', but, really, an entirely new series about the same character. It is probably too much to hope for, but maybe they can make the sequels just as good as this.

As a genre film it never quite lifts above its genre; so normally I would only give it "nine stars" as a film.

However, as a film within its genre, it is top-of-the-line - so it gets a ten.
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