James Bond has been revived several times over the past six-plus decades, but never has a debut film felt as electric as when Daniel Craig achieved his double-0 status with a brutal bathroom assault and classic espionage hit shrouded in black and white.
Director Martin Campbell’s 2006 film “Casino Royale,” a vivid modern reimagining of Ian Fleming’s first novel, completely resets the debonair British secret agent languishing after the laughable “Die Another Day” and shows him as a raw, vulnerable man relying on talent and training to overcome the odds.
To many, the film was a true introduction to the character as Craig became the Bond for the 21st century in much the same way that Sean Connery was the character for Generation X or Pierce Brosnan the 007 of millennials.
“Casino Royale” marks Bond’s first mission after having earned his license to kill and set out on the trail of the world’s premier financier to terrorists, Le Chiffre, which sets him on a jet-setting adventure across the planet and into a high-stakes poker game.
From the opening moments, it’s clear that Craig will be a different sort of spy than audiences are used to as James Bond. His performance is ruthless and methodical, with a callousness that evokes both a blind service to king and country as well as a hardened exterior that masks years of deep internal pain.
Much of the film is centered around Bond’s judgement and reading of people, something that plays out well in the poker hands he squares off in against terrorists and in his assessment of friend versus foe. There’s a cerebral quality to Craig’s line delivery in almost every situation that borders upon being a suave robotic monotone and it colors nearly every relationship his Bond forms in the film with one major exception.
It’s rare to see a Bond girl truly challenge James both in written dialogue and in magnetic performance quite like what Eva Green brings to the role of Vesper Lynd.
While it’s clear that she’s the ultimate sexual conquest and will eventually subdue herself to Bond’s charms, the cat-and-mouse game Green and Craig play with witty verbal repartee that begins with genuine loathing, molds into mutual respect and then a searing love built from the flames of near-death experiences is palpable and exhilarating to watch unfold.
It’s clear that what Bond achieves with his hands and a gun, Lynd is capable of with her words and a pen and it is incumbent on Green to maintain unwavering confidence that matches Craig beat for beat until the pair bring down each other’s walls towards the film’s climatic ending.
Mads Mikkelsen is among the best, most cunning villains in the history of the franchise as Le Chiffre with a stoic and chilling stare that accentuates the character’s trademark eye scare and weeping blood. It’s as calculating and exact a performance as Craig, almost as if Le Chiffre was an evil mirror of this new Bond and one that helps to put Craig over as a super spy by showcasing just how strong of a villain 007 overcomes.
One of the hallmarks of “Casino Royale” that sets the tone for the entire vision of Craig’s five-film tenure as James Bond is how the franchise goes back to its more subdued, natural roots. Mostly excised are the outlandish and implausible plans for world domination and this Bond becomes driven like a bullet relentlessly moving forward at a cold, steady pace towards his target, whatever that may be.
This is especially true of the film’s many action sequences, which have a dynamic and kinetic energy firmly rooted in reality. Bond chasing a bombmaker through a construction site and into an embassy in Madagascar leaps off the screen with a frantic pace, jaw-dropping parkour artistry and highlights the contrasts in style between the 007s of old and this youthful agent freshly minted with a license to kill.
Craig is the most physical of the Bonds, participating in the most stunt work and ramping up the aggression as this James would rather run straight through an obstacle than stealthily find a way around it.
Chris Cornell’s blasting rock anthem “You Know My Name” helps set the aggressive tone for a new era of James Bond, while the film’s wonderful score by composer David Arnold melds older melodies from 007 days gone by with the cadences and rhythms of the Cornell song to help accentuate scenes.
Campbell is sometimes too on the nose with his directorial style and editing, being excessively forward with where things are headed within scenes like hard cutting to a security camera to overemphasize Bond being recorded in action or making product placement for Sony brands comically noticeable.
But when he’s on his game, Campbell and cinematographer Phil Meheux do a terrific job of paying homage to the origins of both the character and the film franchise, visually linking Craig with Connery in a way that leaves the distinct impression that both men could have been doing the same job in different eras under the same code name.
Gender-bending the iconic shot of Ursula Andress emerging from the water onto a sandy beach in “Dr. No” with Craig doing the same on the shores of the Bahamas is an exceptionally inspired choice that canonizes the new Bond with links to the past.
The debut film for any actor taking on the mantle of James Bond is critical to his success in future films and “Casino Royale” is on par with “Dr. No” in terms of best establishing its lead as THE James Bond rather than just A James Bond.
Cold, menacing and yet one of the most dramatic entries in the entire canon, “Casino Royale” is a top tier 007 film that cements Daniel Craig as a generational action star and rebuilds an iconic character from the ground up for years to come.
This is the first in a series of retrospective reviews of the James Bond film franchise as made by EON Productions in anticipation of the release of the 25th entry in the series, “No Time To Die,” which arrives in American theaters on October 8th.