March 14, 2007
Like Batman Begins (2005) and Superman Returns (2006), the James Bond franchise has reinvented itself by going back to the beginning complete with a new actor in the role of a familiar icon. Even the series’ trademark opening credit sequence has been tweaked (with an unfortunately clunky song and equally dreadful animation) as we go back to how Bond acquired his license to kill. The powers that be have decided to go back to Ian Fleming’s first Bond novel, Casino Royale, and have brought Martin Campbell back as director. He was the man responsible for resurrecting the franchise earlier with Pierce Brosnan in GoldenEye (1995).
Right from the start Casino Royale isn’t afraid to show James Bond (Craig) getting his hands dirty as he relentlessly pursues his prey through a busy construction site in Madagascar only to make a narrow escape from a heavily armed embassy. This doesn’t sit too well with his superior, M (Dench) as the super spy was photographed shooting an unarmed man causing a minor international scandal. Unperturbed, Bond heads to the Bahamas to track down an international financier of terrorists, Le Chiffre (Mikkelsen) and destroy his organization. Bond travels to Montenegro to engage Le Chiffre in a very high stakes game of cards with the sexy Vesper Lynd (Green) from the Financial Action Task Force along for the ride and to hold the purse strings as it were. They flirt with each other by psychoanalyzing one another in a charming bit of verbal sparring.
card player, quick with a quip, suave with the ladies, and on a mission that takes him to several exotic locales all over the world. Yet, he doesn’t come across an invincible killing machine either. He can be hurt and actually shows signs of wear and tear over the course of the film. We also see the consequences of his actions: a beautiful woman he romances in order to get close to her husband is killed as a result and we see a slight twinge of regret in Bond’s eyes. It’s subtle but it’s there. This movie does an excellent job providing Bond’s motivation for what he does and the credit must go the film’s screenwriters for providing this key insight into his character in such a credible and meaningful way.
A lot of movie stars were rumoured to have been considered for the role of Bond but fortunately the studio went with a relative unknown (at least to North American audiences) with Daniel Craig, probably best known for his roles in Layer Cake (2004) and Munich (2005). He brings the same kind of dangerous allure that Sean Connery first brought to the role in Dr. No (1962). Craig has the same rough-around-the-edges quality and this makes him exciting to watch.
Mads Mikkelsen plays a suitably creepy villain complete with a small scar over his left eye (that weeps blood on occasion), which also has a discolouration. In a nice touch, his character’s affectation is the occasional puff from an asthma inhaler. He’s also not the usual untouchable Bond baddie as we see him get roughed up by one of his more demanding clients (De Bankole). The always watchable Jeffrey Wright pops up as Bond’s trusted CIA liaison Felix Leiter, helping out the spy at a crucial moment but it almost feels like the talented actor is being wasted in such a minor role. Hopefully, he will get more screen time in a future installment.
Martin Campbell does a great job on this film with his no-nonsense direction. His depiction of violence is messy and visceral. He makes you feel almost every death and shows how it affects the characters (especially Bond and Lynd) – how they cope and how it brings them together. He also demonstrates a solid command of craft, paring down the often epic nature of Bond movies for a more intimate feel with an emphasis on character. There is even a moment in Casino Royale where Bond nearly dies and it’s the first time in many years where it actually seems possible that he could die. After being rendered nearly irrelevant and bested by the likes of Mission: Impossible (1996) and Alias over the years, Bond is back and the best he’s been since Connery called it quits.
“Becoming Bond” examines all of the legal hurdles the filmmakers had to overcome in order to get the rights back to Ian Fleming’s first Bond novel. Then, they had to find a new Bond because they felt that Pierce Brosnan was too old to play him at the beginning of his career. Daniel Craig had been considered early on but they had to audition others as well. The actor gives his impressions of how he got the role and what it was like to take on such an icon. We also see him training hard for the film in this well-made extra.
“James Bond: For Real” takes a look at the exciting stunts from the film and how they did them for real and with very little CGI involved. We see how some of the elaborate action sequences were planned and then carefully executed.
“Bond Girls Are Forever” is a retrospective documentary that looks at the history of the Bond girls with Maryam d’Abo from The Living Daylights (1987) interviewing many of the surviving lovely ladies. She asks them how they feel about being part of the Bond legacy and starts things off with the first one, Ursula Andress who created the template. She talks about how she got the role in an amusing anecdote. This is an excellent doc with everyone telling all kinds of entertaining stories.
Finally, there is a “Chris Cornell Music Video” for “You Know My Name,” a lackluster song with an average video featuring Cornell playing the song and acting in some Bond-esque story with clips from the movie.