CASINO ROYALE directed by Martin Campbell, with Daniel Craig, Eva Green, Judi Dench and Mads Mikkelsen. 144 minutes. An MGM/Sony release. Opens Friday (November 17). For venues and times, see Movies, page 107. Rating: NNNN Rating: NNNN
First, a position statement. Sean Connery, then Pierce Brosnan. I'll take the least of the Brosnan Bonds, The World Is Not Enough, over the best of the Roger Moores, For Your Eyes Only. And people who snicker at Denise Richards's nucular physicist in the former have forgotten Lynn-Holly Johnson in the latter. I've always suspected that Timothy Dalton might have been the best Bond of all if the pictures hadn't been so awful.
Brosnan benefited greatly from the producers' decision to turn the Bonds into a hard action series. That move would have killed Roger Moore, who started Bond a decade older than either Brosnan or the new Bond, Daniel Craig, whose filmography you should check out - particularly Layer Cake, Munich and The Mother. He's got a great tough-guy face and looks fit enough to take on at least some of the stunt work, even if he's not actually doing it.
Like Batman Begins, this film represents a series reboot. Casino Royale was the first of the Ian Fleming novels and the one EON Productions didn't own; the 1967 movie is non-canon. Craig's Bond is a newly recruited double-0, and the only holdover from the series is Judi Dench's M. There's neither a Moneypenny nor a Q running Bond through all his new gadgets. There are no new gadgets - Bond's a guy with a gun and an interesting first-aid kit, but his tie is not an explosive device, and his watch isn't a walkie-talkie.
Here, Bond is in pursuit of a terrorist banker, Le Chiffre, who's in financial difficulty because of a big gamble in the market and needs to win a big poker game at Casino Royale so he can pay off people whose idea of making a run on the bank is to kill the banker. Bond no longer plays baccarat.
Along the way, there are jaw-dropping chases and fights that feature electrifying stunt work in the spirit of Jackie Chan. During the opening 45 minutes or so, I heard repeated gasps in the audience; there's action movie greatness here. Martin Campbell directed Brosnan's Bond debut, GoldenEye, and the Antonio Banderas Zorro movies, so he's not afraid of large-scale action sequences.
The screenwriters have brought Bond back toward the book. He's not a suave international smoothie so much as a thug in a tuxedo. Just because he cleans up nicely doesn't mean he won't get his hands dirty, and the violence in Casino Royale is up close, personal and painful. These are some of the nastiest fight scenes ever seen in a Bond film, and the movie gains from it.
Casino Royale loses points for its over-long poker scenes - and I watch poker on television. Also, Mikkelsen's Le Chiffre is rather a non-entity. With all the great actors available to play Bond villains, why this guy? The Danish box office?