Craig succeeds as Bond
By Lady Liberty
*** out of ****
Let me tell you up front that I'm not much of a James Bond aficionado. I've seen — and liked — a couple of the old James Bond movies, but that's more because I'm a Sean Connery fan than anything else. With the exception of Mr. Connery's efforts, I've found the Bond persona to be far too arrogant and elegant — even, in some instances, too effete — to be remotely effective or believable as a ruthless government agent. And with no exception at all, I haven't cared for the way that women were portrayed (sexy is one thing, but is that all? and those names!) and have looked at all of the far-fetched gadgetry as too jarringly fantastic (I've always been completely disgusted by stories that opt for the deus ex machina when all else apparently fails).
So how is it that I ended up seeing the latest installment of the Bond franchise this weekend? Well, to tell you the truth, it's because there was quite literally nothing else I wanted to see. Besides, so many Bond fans were putting up such a fuss over the actor selected to take over the Bond identity that I thought it might be worth the price of a ticket to point and laugh. Now, in another moment of truthfulness, I'm forced to confess that the laugh is on me: I liked Casino Royale, and I liked Daniel Craig even more.
Despite being the umpteenth Bond film, Casino Royale is the first: It begins with the promotion of James Bond (Daniel Craig) to "double-oh" status thanks to a "wet work" assignment in Prague. Shortly thereafter, M (Judi Dench) assigns the newly minted 007 to capture and bring in for questioning a terrorist known to be in Madagascar. Millaka (Sebastien Foucan) doesn't make his capture easy, however, and the resulting — and unfortunately very public — brouhaha sees Bond severely reprimanded.
Bond isn't inclined to give up so easily. Entirely on his own, he continues to pursue the matter. In short order, he begins to trail the money behind Millaka which leads him to the Bahamas and a local "businessman," Alex Dimitrios (Simon Abkarian). True to the ladies' man persona we all know well, Bond proceeds to get more information courtesy of Demitrios' beautiful wife, Solange (Caterina Murino). Following that lead takes him to Miami where he realizes matters are too big for one man to handle.
Bond gets back in touch with his handlers at M16, and together the agents narrow their suspicions down to notorious money-man Le Chiffre (Mads Mikkelsen). M16 would literally do almost anything to get their hands on Le Chiffre and his knowledge of terror networks. As a result, the agency assigns Bond to buy in to a high stakes poker game in Montenegro where Le Chiffre will also be playing. Still not entirely trusting of Bond, however, M sends Vesper Lynd (Eva Green) along with the agent to "keep an eye on" the money.
Working together with Mathis (Giancarlo Giannini), M16's local agent on the scene, Bond and Lynd begin to execute their plans to bring Le Chiffre in. But Le Chiffre's enemies complicate matters, and others who would just as soon see Bond taken out as well also enter into play. Bond has already noted that "double-oh's" tend to have short life expectancies, but the rapid escalation of events in Montenegro could mean the body count will include more than "just" an undercover British spy. With only minimal back-up, information comprised in part of mere guesses, and the ever present possibility of betrayal, Bond's work is cut out for him!
Many longtime Bond fans weren't happy with the choice of Daniel Craig. I wasn't sure about it myself (though being less vested in the franchise meant I likely had a more open mind than some). But Craig is perfect. He's handsome enough that you can buy beautiful women falling for him, and he's rough enough that you have no problem at all believing he can kill. His tongue-in-cheek humor is relayed with beautiful subtlety, and his physical abilities are fantastic. As far as I'm concerned, forget everybody else between then and now: Daniel Craig is the rightful heir to Sean Connery in this role.
The supporting cast in Casino Royale, though largely unknown in this country (with the exception, of course, of the always formidable Dame Judi Dench), is wonderfully well cast. Eva Green is lovely, but also plays smart very well. Giancarlo Ginannini is just fine as are the other actors you'll meet at the poker tournament. Mads Mikkelsen is, I understand, perhaps the best known actor in Denmark. He's about to become well known around the world. His portrayal of Le Chiffre is nothing less than utterly chilling. I hated and feared Le Chiffre, but I loved Mikkelsen's performance.
The direction and edits are sure; the scenery is gorgeous; and the sets and costumes are perfect. The stunt work in particular is spectacular. The chase scene in Madagascar is nothing short of brilliant; Bond going after the bad guys through an old building is also thrilling. What I most enjoyed, though, were the weapons and the gadgetry. Everything was entirely realistic because it was entirely real, and that's something I very much appreciated. It allowed me to enjoy a story that was on the fantastic side at times, and still fall for it hook, line, and sinker.
Early word is that Daniel Craig is already signed on to play Bond in another film which is tentatively scheduled for release in 2008. I said at the beginning of this review that I'm not really a Bond fan. Well, let me tell you this: I'm not sure I'm qualified as a fan quite yet, but Casino Royale and Daniel Craig have convinced me that I'll be buying a ticket for that new movie, and that I'll likely be doing so on opening weekend. If that's not a good recommendation for this film, I don't know what is.
POLITICAL NOTES: I mentioned that the gadgetry depicted in Casino Royale is realistic because it's real, and I wasn't kidding. It's pretty fantastic stuff, but it's all off-the-shelf, or about to be. And that, in turn, is pretty scary. From embedded GPS-enabled RFID chips to massive searchable computer databases in the hands of the government, Casino Royale does a fine job of showing just what these technologies can do — or will be doing very, very soon. It's tempting to cheer given that the good guys (mostly) use the technology for good (mostly). But that's in Hollywood. In the real world, you had better bet the bad guys will have comparable access — and that the government itself won't be comprised solely of good guys tomorrow any more than it is today. If that doesn't scare you, you're not paying attention. Minority Report it ain't, but we're too close for comfort. In fact, given government secrecy in such matters, my guess is that we're far closer to it than we know.
FAMILY SUITABILITY: Casino Royale is rated PG-13 for "intense sequences of violent action, a scene of torture, sexual content, and nudity." This is effectively an adult movie both in its plot and in its nature. I suspect teen-aged boys will enjoy it quite a bit more than the average girl of the same age (Casino Royale continues the Bond tradition of pretty girls), but younger children aren't going to find much here they can either understand or particularly enjoy. While I don't believe either the sexuality or nudity are much of a problem for most (they're minimal), the scene of torture is somewhat uncomfortable as are a couple of deaths. As a result, I'd say the PG-13 rating is just about right.
Lady Liberty, a senior writer for ESR, is a graphic designer and pro-freedom activist currently residing in the Midwest. More of her writings and other political and educational information is available on her web site, Lady Liberty's Constitution Clearing House, at http://www.ladylibrty.com. E-mail Lady Liberty at firstname.lastname@example.org.