From the moment the gritty, violent and black and white pre-title sequence begins, the audience can sense that they are in for something new and exciting. The wisecracking portrayals of Roger Moore and Pierce Brosnan have been replaced by a ruthless killer; a man capable of brutally murdering an informant in a bathroom before coldly dispatching an MI6 employee turncoat. Essentially, after a mere five minutes the audience knows that this is not their father's Bond.
Of course, this movie is about James Bond's adventures: not Le chiffre's. As such, the next chunk of the film is devoted to redefining the character of James Bond. This is where the movie succeeds best of all. After 20 films and 43 years, the movie-going public has a predefined image of 007. Casino Royale manages to hold true to that while showing that Bond is much rougher around the edges than in previous incarnations.
Early on there is a pivotal scene in M's flat that truly shows how different Bond is from when we last saw him in Die Another Day. In addition to the now-famous “blunt instrument” line, she spends most of the scene criticizing and berating Bond and essentially telling him if he doesn't change his ways he is not far from the cold hands of death. It felt a bit like the scene between Bond and M in GoldenEye, but with far more disdain in M's voice.
After some more plot and character development scenes as well as a brilliantly staged Bondian action sequence in the Miami Airport, the film really enters classic-Bond mode. Up until this point the audience has been treated to hints of it, but when Martin Campbell slowly follows a wide angle shot of Bond's train to Montenegro traveling through the countryside nostalgia really kicks in and the audience knows they are in for a treat.
Some of the sweeping and classic-Bond shots as 007's train heads to Casino Royale
When criticizing the older Bond movies people often negatively say, “they sure did take their time.” What people don't always realize is that taking their time and developing the characters is exactly what made the early movies so great. When you rush pivotal scenes to get more explosions and chases, you often lose the heart and soul of a film. The real key is finding a satisfying mix between the two, which is where Casino Royale succeeds. Some feared that using a poker game as the movie's centerpiece was a sure-fire formula for a boring film. However, both the screenwriters and Martin Campbell rose to the task and created one of the best extended segments in Bond's long and storied history.
Martin Campbell's beautiful work continues in Montenegro as the camera follows Bond walking through Casino Royale to the private table for the poker game.
With Le Chiffre bankrupted and Bond victorious, we come to the most intense scene of the movie, if not the entire series: the torture sequence. Having read the novel numerous times I knew what was coming, but I was still shocked at the brutality of the scene. Parts were truly cringe-worthy, but the film did a good job of giving a few moderately humorous lines to balance out the horror of what was being done to him. Craig and Mikkelsen's deliveries are the keys to this scene and truly make it stand out.
Before getting to the finale of the film, let's take a moment to dissect Mads Mikkelsen's portrayal of Le Chiffre. While he was not a classic over-the-top megalomaniac villain a'la Blofeld or Hugo Drax, he succeeded in a way that few before him have. He was sinister – both in appearance and actions – and his line delivery was top-notch. His facial reactions of sheer shock every time Bond returned to the poker table after being seemingly “knocked out” as well as his reactions during the torture sequence quickly escalate Mikkelsen to the upper echelon of Bond baddies.
James Bond and Vesper Lynd
Another problem I have with the movie was the need to throw in one final action sequence: the Venice scene. It starts out brilliantly with another From Russia With Love (my favorite Bond film, BTW) homage as Bond and Vesper float into the city. However, it all goes wrong when the main baddie of the final action sequence is someone we have never met before. The glasses/eye patch guy (AKA Gettler) is introduced moments before and all of a sudden we are supposed to care about him? In Bond films the henchman often dies after the villain in the final battle, but we are usually introduced to said henchman far earlier. It would have been more effective to battle Dimitrios (were he alive) or someone we already knew rather than this unknown. Oh well, you can't have it all I guess.
Fortunately for the film, it ends on a high note. After Bond utters the best line in the novel, “the bitch is dead,” he heads out to find
Bond stands above Mr. White in the film's finale
My stub and program from the theater in Nuremberg, Germany, where I first saw the film
Perhaps it was only fitting that I would not be America once again when Casino Royale debuted. All my friends couldn't believe it. “Who are you and what did you do with Greg,” they all wondered. That I would not be there on opening night was inconceivable. However, I wasn't about to let a little thing like a European vacation stop me from seeing it on opening night…it just happened to be Germany's opening night. While in Nuremberg the night before the German opening day I found a little theatre with “movies in original version.” Naturally I put my sightseeing on hold and went there. Surrounded by a German audience who all spoke English, I reveled in the fact that everyone around me loved the movie and left buzzing about it.
My Amsterdam ticket stub
Upon my return to my hostel I immediately hopped onto the MI6 Debriefing Room and started posting in every thread I could find about the film until all of a sudden it was 2am. Oops! As the days passed and my vacation continued I couldn't stop thinking about how great the movie was. I had to see it again. Finally, my last night in Europe after a flight mixup stranded me in Amsterdam for an extra day I decided to use that time to see it again with a Dutch audience. The reaction was the same; everyone loved it and left talking about how great it was...much the same way it's been ever since.
Review written on November 30, 2006. Revised on October 26, 2008
First time a Bond movie has parts in black and white
First appearance of Daniel Craig as James Bond
First time Casino Royale was made as an "official" Bond film
First time Bond's birth year changes (it's now 1968, the same as Craig's)
First (official) time Felix Leiter is played by a black man
Casino Royale is also the name of the casino where Bond and Largo face-off in a video game battle in Never Say Never Again.
The bond girl character name of Solange has previously appeared in two Ian Fleming stories. She was the name of the girl in OO7 In New York and a girl named Solange was referenced in From A View To A Kill.
The movie's high-stakes game of Texas Holdem poker, was actually a Bacarrat game in the novel.