This is the film which sparked my love for Bond, James Bond. I had very little interest in the cheesier Bonds of years gone by, but when I watched ‘Casino Royale’ in the cinema, back in 2006, I was drawn in by the raw brutality, hard-hitting intensity and just the right amount of charm and wit from our leading man. Not to mention, I was massively into poker at the time, so everything about this film really struck a chord with 15 year old me. This was Bond as we had never seen him, and I was immediately a fan. Now, with ‘Spectre’ fresh in my mind, I have decided to go back through the Daniel Craig collection and assess his previous outings under more scrutiny.
This was a fresh start for the character of Bond, in more ways than one, with Daniel Craig’s debut here acting as somewhat of an introduction to a man that everybody already knew. Having just acquired 00 status, Bond is hunting down a terrorist organisation and his newfound license to kill is being put to good use. But it is imperative that his next target, Le Chiffre (Mads Mikkelsen), is brought in alive. So, Bond faces off against this villain in a high-stakes game of poker, with Le Chiffre targeting the prize fund to replace the money of his malevolent investors after losing it in the stock market. Bond must very quickly learn to read his enemies, and his friends, or face the prospect of directly funding the terrorists.
What an introduction for Daniel Craig. For me, with minimal experience of past Bond actors, he is the best there’s been. Only Daniel Craig has managed to peak my interest, and he got it almost instantly, with this film alone getting me hooked for his future missions. He brings a dark and very dangerous edge to the classic character which is exactly what I feel had been lacking in previous representations; he’s certainly the only Bond that I would be genuinely afraid of. There’s a perfect balance of vulnerability and cold-hearted passivity which allows for great character development too, not just in this film but across the whole Craig era. As his adversary, Mads Mikkelson is brilliant. I always stress how crucial it is to get the villain right, if you want the movie as a whole to be a success, and Mikkelsen delivers perfectly here. His character is a desperate, cowardly and ultimately rather weak man, but just as he does at the poker table, he manages to hide this behind a mask of intelligence, arrogance and malice. The last performance I will mention is that of Eva green, who is far and away the best Bond girl ever in my opinion. Again, this may be helped by my general increased attention to this particular Bond era and the way it resonates more with my taste in films, but Green is absolutely fantastic as Bond’s money-minder turned lover. She matches 007 every step of the way – in wit, intelligence, charm and coldness – but just like Bond, she shows glimpses of weakness which make her character more intriguing, and more alluring in the process.
Bond movies are, of course, famous for their action scenes, explosions and general masculine bravado. Again though, there’s something different about these Bond movies and the way that action scenes are handled; it feels more like action with a intent rather than action for action’s sake. Sure, it’s extravagant, indulgent and theatrical in places, but if you can’t go all out with a Bond movie, when can you? However, from the opening parkour chase sequence, to the powerful fight-to-the-death on the hotel staircase, down to the climactic car chase and ensuing torture scenes – everything is meticulously and beautifully captured. It’s as energetic, thrilling and intense as you would expect, with a certain level of artistic poise and cinematic skill added into the mix.
The tone of ‘Casino Royale’ may not be “classic” Bond as such, but this is exactly how it should be done. Bond doesn’t have to be on the charm offensive from start to finish, or be a part of camp, unconvincing fight scenes. Daniel Craig proves here that bond is far more effective when given a chance to scope out his man and silently and subtly make the kill. Then, and only then, does he concentrate on getting the girl and cracking a joke or two. Which, I must say, is another area where Craig excels, with this film delivering some of the absolute best one-liners of 007’s illustrious back-catalogue.
After rewatching ‘Casino Royale’, I am now more certain than ever that Daniel Craig is the best bond we’ve had. Of his four films, this is certainly the most fun, but ultimately falls into second place, just short of ‘Skyfall’ for me. If you want to get into James Bond, but you’re (understandably) reluctant to watch all 24 installments, there is no better place to start than with ‘Casino Royale’. In truth, you could watch this with no idea at all as to who James Bond even was, and it would still hold up as a brilliant film. Although I would have to question anyone who isn’t aware of 007.
Director: Martin Campbell
Starring: Daniel Craig, Eva Green, Mads Mikkelsen