As critics of Hollywood are fond of saying, the best way to identify a Hollywood movie is to check if it has all the usual accoutrements — among them, at least one car chase and a few cataclysmic explosions. True to tradition, the latest James Bond film, Casino Royale recently released by Columbia Pictures, fulfills expectations as a classic Hollywood-style film and the latest addition to the series of movies inspired by Ian Fleming’s novels. Determined not to disappoint, the film begins with a high-speed foot chase packed with impossible feats of derring-do, and within the first few minutes, Bond has managed to kill three individuals in cold blood and destroy several structures — all this, mind you, just after he achieves 007 status at the very beginning of what is to be his long and memorable career.
Casino Royale is the kind of escapist fantasy that audiences look forward to at the beginning of the holiday season, and in that regard, director Martin Campbell’s vision of Bond delivers in spades. The much-touted new Bond (played by the very fine actor Daniel Craig of, among other films, Steven Spielberg’s Munich) is so charismatic and compelling that he manages to make driving a Ford rental car — in what is in itself a quick and daring feat of product placement — look nothing short of sexy. This James Bond is a rugged, steely-eyed blond who seems to personify the part in ways that previous Bonds never could. It is not so difficult to believe that Craig’s Bond really was an orphan who, lacking the human connections usually forged in one’s formative years, is truly not adverse to killing. There is no self-satisfied smirk here reminiscent of the earlier Bonds, who seemed to emerge squeaky clean from any near-death situation. When this Bond kills, he means it, and when he’s tortured, he feels it — all the more reason for us to feel utterly disarmed when, in the course of the film, the new Bond shows his surprisingly kinder, gentler (if nonetheless dark) side. Indeed, Daniel Craig seems to be the perfect vehicle for this more complex figure that effectively erases the simplistic machismo of the former Bond characters.
As noted, the film is, however, still true to genre. From the start, Bond is in hot water with the head of British Intelligence, known simply as “M” ( played by Dame Judi Dench), a rather predictable and perennially perturbed authority figure who spends most of her time chastising Bond for his brash behavior that threatens to cause international incidents. Bond is, of course, always the baddest of bad boys, subverting the rules of espionage in order to get the job done. Quite expectedly, the tension between them is resolved when Bond delivers the goods for Her Majesty’s Secret Service while ensuring that the British government’s moral standing in the world remains beyond reproach.
His magnetic sex appeal also has not changed. He is as irresistible as ever to the ladies, and as always, a few of the beauties he attracts inevitably end up dead in some horrifically tragic way. But at least it may be said that, in this film, it is not only the women who are objectified, as the camera seems to enjoy lingering often on Mr. Craig’s extremely buff body. And it must also be noted that French actress/model Eva Green, as the female lead Vesper Lynd, at times steals a bit of the limelight with her own charisma.
Campbell gives the film a contemporary theme by having his villain “Le Chiffre” — a fiend whose sanguinary nature is evident by the blood that drips uncontrollably from his injured eye — scheme to make money from plummeting airline stocks after 9/11 through acts of terrorism. When Bond foils his initial plot, the asthmatic Chiffre is forced to recover his lost investment by facing off with Bond in a high stakes poker game. In spite of her misgivings, M sends Bond to a typically exotic locale (having already gone from Africa to the Bahamas) in Montenegro to the famous Casino Royale where Le Chiffre has set up the game.
The plot thickens, and in a humorous twist, the CIA ends up secretly financing the decisive battle between good and evil. While the American agent lacks both the skill and the sangfroid to defeat Le Chiffre at the gaming table, the Americans seem nonetheless to have the resources, just as long as Bond does the work and the US takes the credit. After all, says the CIA agent to Bond, “Does it look like we need the money?” In the end, the film speaks, as do all Bond movies, to the British sense of pride that this superhero represents: You may have the money, but we have the goods.
The review by M. C. Saavedra came to MRZine via Michael Yates.