Recently promoted to 00 status, James Bond takes over his first mission, in which he faces a mysterious private banker to world terrorism and poker player, Le Chiffre. Along with a beautiful Treasury agent and the MI6 man in Montenegro, Bond takes part in a high stakes poker game set up by Le Chiffre in order to recover a huge sum of his clients’ money he lost in a failed plot that the British spy took down. 007 will not only discover the threatening organization behind his enemy, but the worst of all truths: to not trust on anyone.
First off, I don’t normally do this sort of thing, but I thought since Spectre releases this week that I’d review every one of the 007 films starring Daniel Craig. Now a majority of this review may be things you’ve previously read, while some of it may be things you haven’t. Regardless, thanks for reading.
Casino Royale released in 2005, and at that time spy/thrillers were being reinvented with The Bourne films. The year prior to Casino Royale’s release, Paulgreen Grass and Matt Damon gave us The Bourne Supremacy, which took what the first film established to newer heights. In response to this new era in the spy genre, the Bond films wanted to start fresh and give us something similar, yet something we’ve yet to really see from a Bond film.
Enter Daniel Craig, who at the beginning of the film earns his 00 status with Mi6. There are so many good things about this opening scene and it starts with how its shot. Director Martin Campbell choose to shoot the scene in black and white, and I think it was very fitting in both establishing a tone and for where we meet Bond in his professional career. The back and forth cuts between Bond beating a man with his bare hands, and having total control of a situation while seated just says how dangerous of an agent this guy is. The scene ends with Bond gunning down an Mi6 traitor, and earning his 00 status. And like that, we have an short origin story.
Next up we have the magnificent parkour sequence where Bond chases after a goon with important information. This sequence is one that gets more and more insane. Now I watched the Robert Zemeckis directed biopic The Walk in 3-D, but strangely enough I got more nervous seeing Bond go higher and higher, sprinting on a crane. That is a testament to how this action sequence was shot, with angles high and angles far showing how crazy the action and these characters are. When Bond finally catches the goon after destroying a couple work buildings and a neighborhood, the sequence ends with showing off just how fast this Bond is with the trigger. At this point he’s surrounded by soldiers and the goon’s accomplice, and what does Bond do? He shoots the accomplice, shoots an explosive barrel, retrieves a phone from the goon’s bag, and escapes in a matter of seconds.
Now I’m sure every 007 agent before Craig was difficult to their superiors, but not in the way Craig is to M (Judi Dench) in this movie. He breaks into her house, goes through her computer, and takes information. Nearly after granting him 007 status M begins to wonder if she made a mistake. Although Bond gets the job done, he’s inconsiderate of the collateral damage and doesn’t follow orders well. That being said, he’s so fun to watch and part of that is the grittiness of Bond.
Lets go to the other side and meet Le Chiffre played by Mads Mikkelsen. For this review, I’ll just call him Mad because this is a mad businessman, but one you understand as the film progresses. So Mad strikes a deal with a high ranking member of the Lord’s Resistance Army in Uganda to bank their money, so they can use it anywhere in the world. Instead, Mad takes money that isn’t his, and invests it into a corporation deal that is sure to favor him. That is until Bond decides to do something about it.
After a series of events taking place in the Bahamas, which show off Bond’s charm and humor and non-interest in married women, Bond ruins Mad’s plan of destroying a new and expensive air line commercial. The action sequence once again pushes Bond’s limit, as he barely saves the day. Now with Mad in debt and with limited time till his business partners catch on, he turns to doing the one thing the film has established him being great at. This leads to one of the more exciting parts of the movie, a poker tournament.
Before we get to Poker scenes, how about that train scene featuring Bond and Vesper (played by Eva Green). Up this point, we know that Bond, however small, has a particular taste in women. However, Vesper is not just any woman. Where others have fallen into Bond’s charm and ability to read others, Vesper presents a sort of fun challenge. During the train ride, the two go back and forth digging into each other’s backgrounds just by the way they dress, speak, and present themselves. Has Bond finally met his match? The dialogue and performance between the two characters establish more onscreen chemistry just in one scene, than so many other movies entirely. Off to Montenegro and the Poker tournament.
When Bond and Mad are finally sitting across each other, its Mad who has more pressure than ever while Bond is confident. This is due to Bond’s fellow Mi6 contact Rene Mathis (played by Giancarlo Giannini). Mathis makes one helluva introduction by arresting a crooked Chief of Police and Mad’s lieutenant. During the Poker scenes I really appreciated how Mathis described what was happening to both Vesper and the audience members who don’t understand Poker. These shots are intense, showing Bond and Mad reading each other. After all, its really a game between the two of them.
Earlier, Bond presented Vesper with a dress he requested her to wear in attempt to distract the other players. However, it was Bond who got distracted, which gave Mad the upper hand. Little moments like this present subtle humor that pays off well. Bond ends up losing his hand and the money Vesper’s government loaned him prior to the game’s break, and decides to do what he does best, kill Mad.
One thing I noticed about the following scene is that both the protagonist and the antagonist find themselves in life threatening situations. Mad is being threatened by the soldiers he doubled crossed, nearly losing his hand. If he doesn’t win the poker game, he dies. Bond is given a second chance to win the match, but is suddenly poisoned by Mad and nearly dies before being saved by Vesper. Soon afterwards, both men return to the Poker table as if nothing has happened, however the stakes have raised drastically, and both men know it. After Mad is cleaned out by Bond, he abducts Vesper and this lead to one of the worst torture scenes I have ever seen.
I’ve got a little itch, down there. Would you mind?
Mad has truly gone mad at this point. Any real man can punch, kick, cut, or even a drown a man as a method of torture for information. Instead, Mad cuts a hole in the chair, sits Bond naked, and whips his testicles. This cringe worthy sequence doesn’t work without brilliant acting from Daniel Craig. I’m curious to know if he actually got hit once or twice in that area, because Craig really sold it. Anyways, Bond is rescued by Mr. White, who earlier aided Mad in the business deal with the soldiers. White kills Mad, which presents a bit of deus ex-machina for our hero, which isn’t a problem because of what happens later.
As if Casino Royale didn’t have enough action, tension, and thrills, we cannot forget the twist that made James Bond, James Bond. Once Mad is killed, Bond goes on a brief hiatus from being 007. He’s fallen for Vesper and is ready to give up his career with the Mi6. He literally emails M his resignation, as he’s found a new reason to live life.
However, Vesper has been hiding secrets of her own, including making a deal with Mr. White, the man who saved her and Bond. The final action sequence sees Bond attempting to rescue Vesper after a deal that’s gone wrong. However, Vesper decides to take her life, after being caught in the act of betrayal. This sends Bond down a path of no return, after losing the one he loved, who ended up doing good by making a deal with the devil. Bond is back to being the cold hearted killer we met in the beginning. This entire sequence represents tragedy for 007, who gave a part of himself to this woman. Its a part he’ll never get back, thus he’ll never be that man again.
Casino Royale ends with Bond re-embracing his 00 side, and sets up a sequel. This film has it all. Daniel Craig has reached a full circle as James Bond. All the action and drama served as a new beginning of 007 films. They even managed to give our hero a romantic tale that ends in tragedy. The villain is truly Mad, but with purpose. This is my favorite James Bond film.
Casino Royale gets a 9.5 out of 10.