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In 2008 I was ready to proclaim Casino Royale the best of the many James Bond films, and with it Daniel Craig as the best Bond actor since Sean Connery. While I still believe the latter is true, my affinity for the first of the Craig Bond films, the “reboot” in so many terms, has somewhat diminished since that last time I saw it four or so years ago. I think that Casino Royale is an exceptionally strong pulp adaptation of a movie, and that it does indeed hold up to multiple viewings, but almost just barely so in a few cases. Casino Royale is good, but it has many problems/flaws that I noticed upon repeat viewings, including my viewing this past weekend. At one time these flaws seemed more forgivable (or even less noticeable) since my initial viewing in theaters in 2006. I want to use this article to articulate the flaws I have found in the film – but please keep in mind that I love Casino Royale, and I am eagerly anticipating Skyfall, the latest Bond adaptation, due in theaters November 9.
First of all, let me say that I can’t believe it’s been six whole years since that first Craig-as-Bond adaptation. Casino Royale debuted in theaters during the 2006 holiday season, and grossed a ton of money while also bringing respectability back to the series after a few James Bond critical disasters in the late 90s and early 00s (I’m sure Nick’ll vouch for The World is Not Enough, but it is an unforgivable crap-fest to me). Craig largely works as Bond; he was already a highly respected actor before jumping into the role as well, which adds gravitas to his performance. The credibility he brings to the film is noticeable – this is a no nonsense Bond, as far from Pierce Brosnan’s gadget-happy, wise-cracking portrayal as possible. Craig is the Sean Connery to Brosnan’s Roger Moore.
As noted earlier, Casino Royale is largely a no nonsense affair. It is taken beyond seriously outside of a few dry wisecracks from Craig and a cringe-worthy line or two from Judi Dench as M (in the only role carried over from the Bosnan films) that are retroactively unfunny and about as subtle as an activated jet engine. It’s weird then that I would find this one of Casino Royale’s biggest flaws, especially considering I can’t stand three of the four Brosnan films (GoldenEye being the sole exception); Casino Royale is darker than dark itself. I think the reason I find this to be a flaw is mainly because we, as a collective film-going audience, have just seen far too many grim-dark film adaptations in the years since Casino Royale. The Nolan Batman films are a prime example of this, but other films have taken the same route. A tonally dark film just isn’t as powerful now as it was in 2006.
The second biggest flaw I found in the film was with the villain characters, who were either shrouded in mystery (Mr. White) or uninteresting despite the various character traits written in the script (Le Chiffre). Mr. White is fine as an idea for a villainous character, but he is not nearly involved enough in the plot of the film to care much about, which is what I suppose sequels are for (more on the first sequel to Casino Royale in a bit). Le Chiffre, on the other hand, just doesn’t work for me. Despite a fine portrayal from actor Mads Mikkelson (who I actually like a lot), Le Chiffre isn’t threatening enough and isn’t nearly strong enough as a villainous character to carry the plot. It’s like Bond is facing off against a slightly disfigured, vaguely menacing (but not all that menacing) accountant. There are other villainous characters in Casino Royale, including a few non-descript African guerilla warlords or something, but the film never really gives them the chance to be anything other than cannon fodder.
I think the biggest thing going against Casino Royale, however, is that its sequel, Quantum of Solace, is a terrible film. I fully admit that this is not fair whatsoever to Casino Royale, but like the Matrix sequels, Quantum of Solace has a way of diminishing the powerful effects of the film that preceded it, in a way that takes something away from that initial film. I love Casino Royale as a movie despite its problems – Daniel Craig, Eva Green, and Giancarlo Giannini’s performances, Stuart Baird’s editing (a really underrated editor and film director), and Martin Campbell’s direction all combine to form a really great pulp adaptation and the best James Bond film since 1995’s GoldenEye.
Casino Royale has a ton working in its favor. The script is solid, the action is great and still holds up entirely, and it’s not a wholly illogical/unbelievable affair the way some of the Brosnan films (particularly Die Another Day) are. The best thing it ultimately had going for it was Daniel Craig’s performance as Bond. He’s the one entity, not so coincidentally, that walks away from Quantum of Solace unscathed as well. Though its sequel sucked the air of the room, Casino Royale is still worth a watch and still relevant and entertaining in 2012. The grim-dark tone of the film may not hold un entirely, and the joylessnous is definitely a weakness because of that, the film is a stylistic success otherwise, with solid direction, editing, and acting. My recommendation: Catch up on it before Skyfall.