Movie Review: CASINO ROYALE
I remember vividly that Saturday in May 1965. I was ten. Decelerating from a Friday-night sleepover at my house, two pals and I were making my dear mother nuts. So she shoved a few bucks into our pockets, threw us into the station wagon, then dumped us curbside in front of the La Reina theater on
Three months later, United Artists re-released a doublebill of the first two James Bond movies, Dr. No and From
There have been a few attempts to bring Bond “back to basics”: 1969’s On Her Majesty’s Secret Service (the first non-Connery 007 movie, with George Lazenby), 1981’s For Your Eyes Only (with Roger Moore), and 1989’s License to Kill (with the underappreciated Timothy Dalton). I admire all three of those films, and still think that had it starred Connery, Majesty’s would even now be widely considered the best of the original 20 in the series.
But now here’s Casino Royale, not only a “back to basics” 007 movie with a new Bond but a total reboot of the franchise (akin to last year’s Batman Begins relaunch of the Batman series). Does it work? You bet your sweet Aston Martin, it does. And for the first time since that afternoon way back in 1965, I can’t wait to see Bond’s next screen adventure.
Everything works in Casino Royale. Everything. Most important, Daniel Craig works as Bond. He comes closer to Ian Fleming’s original concept of the character than most of his predecessors. He’s ruthless, like Connery. He’s charismatic without being a pretty boy, like Connery. And he’s got a witty, offhand charm, like Connery. Hell, he’s the best thing to come down the pike since Connery. But he’s still his own Bond. He’s cocky, but he can still get, well, really shaken. He’s confident but never over-confidant. And he bleeds. Craig’s Bond really gets the shit kicked out of him in this new movie. And I was scared to death for him, more so than I’ve been since Connery fought Robert Shaw in that train compartment in From Russia with Love. Craig rocks, and I can’t wait to see more of him.
Casino Royale is also the most faithful adaptation from the original source material ever. The movie is necessarily and effectively fleshed out from the 1953 novel, which was really little more than a novella. But remarkably, the film lifts many lines directly from the book. The characters are all here; it was good to see Felix Leiter again after, oh, 17 years. And Le Chiffre’s memorable (and grueling) torture of 007 remains intact. The only slightly bothersome deviation from the novel is the change from the fascinatingly obscure baccarat to the more common poker. But now I’m just being fussy.
Casino Royale will, I think, be recognized years from now as a high-water mark, a real turning point in the 007 franchise. It is James Bond genuinely reborn. But what’s most startling to me is that Casino Royale isn’t just a great 007 film. It’s a great film...period.