Casino Royale (2006) Director: Martin Campbell
Casino Royale is the brilliant re-introduction of James Bond in the 21st Century. It is the twenty-first Eon Bond film and the first 007 film to feature Daniel Craig as the lead -a controversial decision when first announced as fans questioned whether Craig fit Ian Fleming’s description of a ‘tall, dark, and suave’ secret agent. Casino Royale represents a departure from some of the hokey, silly tropes of the Roger Moore and Pierce Brosnan eras (in fact Brosnan has expressed a certain degree of bitterness toward the way he was pushed out of the franchise). Daniel Craig remarkably transforms the role in the film despite early internet petitions against his role -calling him “James Blonde.” Casino Royale was originally the first James Bond novel published by Ian Fleming in 1953. The movie marks a new beginning for the Bond franchise as Albert “Cubby” Broccoli passed away, and his daughter Barbara Broccoli became the new Eon producer of Bond films -it was an extraordinary moment as Eon finally acquired the rights to Casino Royale extending back many decades to the beginning of the film franchise. The film also features an excellent theme song performed by Chris Cornell.
It might be said that Casino Royale is an early “prequel” to the James Bond series. We encounter a young James Bond earning his ‘License to Kill.’ He gains his 00 status by assassinating a traitorous gangster in a bathroom. Meanwhile, an international businessman named Le Chiffre, the treasurer of a French Union and member of the Russian secret service, makes a deal with the Lord’s Resistance Army in Uganda and he subsequently bets against an aerospace manufacturer, with insider knowledge of a terrorist attack. On a separate mission, Bond saves the manufacturer causing Le Chiffre to lose all of his money. Bond makes contact with Felix Leiter of the CIA, and Rene Mathis of the French Secret Service. To regain his money, Le Chiffre organizes a high stakes poker tournament at the Casino Royale in Montenegro. Bond is paired with a woman named Vesper Lynd. The poker game fluctuates between Bond and Le Chiffre, and when Bond starts to gain the upper hand, Le Chiffre has Bond’s drink poisoned so Bond, a haze, flees to his car to use his defibrillator. Vesper follows him and brings Bond back to the poker table, where Bond wins with a straight flush. Subsequently, Le Chiffre kidnaps Vesper Lynd so Bond trails them but he crashes his car in order to avoid harming Vesper who he nearly crashes into as she is tied up in the middle of the road. Bond is then captured and tortured by Le Chiffre, who is hoping to discover the bank account and login information for the poker money. At the last moment, Bond is rescued by his contact, Mr. White. Bond awakens in an MI6 hospital, and he and Vesper Lynd run away to Venice together in love. Suddenly, M reveals to Bond that the poker money was never deposited. Bond realizes he was betrayed by Vesper but she is taken away by gunmen, so Bond destroys the building which then falls into the Grand Canal. The gunmen are killed but, sadly, so is Vesper who drowns. Meanwhile, Mr. White escapes with the money. M reveals to Bond that Vesper likely made a deal for Bond’s life – she saved him by giving away the money. Still, Bond renounces her and he hunts down Mr. White at a massive estate on Lake Como. He shoots Mr. White in the leg and introduces himself, just as the film ends.
Daniel Craig makes an excellent James Bond – grittier, more vulnerable, less silly, and more honest and human. Casino Royale is a brilliant new beginning for the 21st James Bond saga. There are no ridiculous gadgets, nor scenes of overt sexuality (instead Bond uncharacteristically falls in love). In fact, the entirety of the plot rests on Bond’s ability to win at the poker table. One of the wonderful additions to the new Bond saga is a noticeable lack of CGI -the movie returns Bond to the “old fashioned way” without flashy gadgets or effects. It is easily one of the best James Bond movies of all time.