Friday, November 17, 2006

Chuck Koplinski Reviews "Casino Royale"

The following review was written by Chuck Koplinski for the latest film from director Martin Campbell, "Casino Royale."

Casino Royale - 3 1/2 Stars
Rated PG-13 - Running Time - 2:24
by Chuck Koplinski

Shaken and stirred -- that’s how the 21st installment in the James Bond franchise Casino Royale leaves you. Taking a page from Batman Begins, director Martin Campbell and writers Neal Purvis and Robert Wade take the unenviable task of making everything that’s old about the world’s most famous super-spy new again and they succeed handsomely. While the film does contain many of the familiar troupes we’ve come to expect from a Bond movie, there’s a degree of urgency and humanity to this exercise that gives the character and all that we’ve come to associate with him a well-needed shot in the arm. Perhaps the biggest fault of the film is its bloated running time, a factor that tripped up many of the later Bond adventures. While the movie delivers the good, in the end it does overstay its welcome.

The title of many of Ian Fleming’s novel was all that remained on many of the Roger Moore entries, as most of the plots he’d fashioned were thrown out, as they were far too dated to be deemed worthy of sophisticated audiences of the ‘70s and ‘80s. With Royale, the makers have gone back to Fleming’s 1953 story, the only one that had not yet been filmed in a serious manner, kept the core premise and updated many of its elements for today. As such, Bond (Daniel Craig) is sent on his first mission to bring down Le Chiffre (the Cipher), a backer of the world’s most dangerous terrorist organization. To do this, Bond sets out to clean out his vast coffers at a high-stakes poker tournament at the Casino Royale in Montenegro. What appears to be a simple mission becomes quite complicated when Le Chiffre uncovers Bond’s role, sending out his cronies to kill him and the secret agent is forced to deal with an unexpected ally, Vesper Lynd (Eva Green) who’s been sent to watch over the government funds that Bond is wagering.

The pace of the film is much slower than you might expect and initially, this is a welcome change. This is a character-driven film and much time is spent on showing us what makes Bond tick and planting the seeds for what we know will happen to the character in the future. Obviously, these scenes will be great fun for fans of the franchise, such as witnessing Bond get behind the wheel of an Aston Martin for the first time and his response when asking whether he wants his martini shaken or stirred. While Campbell is in charge of tweaking the spy movie formula, the weight of the picture is on Craig’s shoulders and he does a remarkable job. He displays a combination of crudity, naivite and growing confidence throughout that’s wholly convincing. Equally impressive is the physicality he brings to the role. Buff and lean, he leaves no doubt that he’s able to pull off the many bone-crushing moment that are required of him which lends a grittiness to the film that it desperately needs.

The supporting cast is also top-notch with Mads Mikkelsen coming off as less of a madman with a turn that’s as cool as Craig’s as Le Chiffre. Green is also very good, giving us not a Bond girl but a woman who is every bit his equal. You don’t have to wonder for a minute as to why he’d fall for her. Meanwhile, Judi Dench gives her usual droll performance as M while it’s good to see Jeffrey Wright in the role of American CIA agent Felix Leiter.

While Craig’s turn won’t make anyone forget about Sean Connery and Casino Royale is not the best of the Bond films (Goldfinger still holds that honor), it is as daring as anything you might expect from a franchise that’s over 40 years old. In taking one step back, Campbell and company have taken the character and all that’s associated with him two steps forward, a cinematic feat that no one could have done better.


At 2:11 PM, November 17, 2006, Blogger Marty McKee said...

James Bond plays poker and drives a Ford??

I suspect that, while CASINO ROYALE may be a good film, it (like the underrated LICENCE TO KILL [sic]) won't be a very good James Bond film. The 007 series used to set trends, but by ripping off THE BOURNE IDENTITY and dumbing down the exoticness of past Bond vehicles by replacing chemin de fer with Texas Hold 'Em, it doesn't bode well for Bond fans. Does the world really need/want a "realistic" James Bond? Does that miss the point of a James Bond movie?

What's next? Bond attending NASCAR events instead of polo matches?

At 12:11 PM, November 20, 2006, Blogger Don Gerard said...

...and this from a guy who has never even seen "The Fish That Saved Pittsburgh"...Pffffttt...


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