For more on Casino Royale, watch this week’s That Bond Show.
Rebooting the longest-running film series in history is no easy task. Even more so when the preceding four films were each the highest grossing in the series’ history. Yet, director Martin Campbell and star Daniel Craig crafted a phenomenal piece of film in 2006’s Casino Royale.
A stunning debut performance by Craig anchors the film. While a somewhat divisive choice for the next James Bond at the time, Craig instantly silenced all his critics with his brutal, anguished, and deeply emotional turn as 007. In a nearly perfect film Craig is in so many ways the standout.
From his electric and palpable chemistry with co-star Eva Green, to the more maternal and fleshed out bond between James and Judi Dench’s M, to the gallows humor he seems to constantly be offering up when faced against Le Chiffre, Craig is a force of nature in this film.
While he would go on to do five films as James Bond, here in Casino Royale is Craig’s Bond at his most liberated and free and the performance has a level of joy and fun to it that arguably wouldn’t be seen again by him. In a series-defining film, Craig gives what is easily one of the three or four best performances in the series’ history and one that rightfully saw award season buzz. Just a brilliantly devastating and transformative portrayal of one of cinema’s most famous figures.
Everywhere you look there are outstanding moments. One element of how good Craig is in Casino Royale is just the sheer physical nature of his performance. The parkour sequence early in the film is perhaps the most jaw-dropping and visually-arresting stunt sequence in the entire series’ history: a genuine mastercraft of direction, choreography, stunt work, and a source of insight and storytelling with no dialogue.
We get so much about who Craig’s Bond is, the relentless nature of him, his devil may care attitude about rules, the idea of him being a brute instrument of a man, smashing through walls and all in a sequence that could have simply been delivered in a staid exposition dump but instead is shown to us in wonderful fashion.
The car chase sequence at the airport similarly is excellent and is aided by the tense cat and mouse game between James and the bombmaker in Miami’s airport beforehand. The final gunfight in Venice is also a show stopping set piece and a frenzied, rage-fuelled sequence by James that gives you a glimpse of the direction they would take things in Quantum of Solace.
But that’s all extra stuff outside the heart of the movie which is of course the poker scenes between Bond and the other players. While the film may over explain Texas Hold ‘Em I think the poker scenes just by the nature of the various players’ tells and bluffs provides another excellent window into the various characters, specifically James and Le Chiffre.
Tense, expertly cut, and with the moments between scenes filled with genuine moments of shock, emotion, and death, they make every subsequent hand of poker feel that much more intense and life or death. The final four person all-in hand is expertly done and made even better by the realization afterwards that James had won after the first three cards and convinced everyone else to go all in and lose the game.
Mads Mikkilsen’s Le Chiffre is simultaneously one of my favorite and also weakest parts of the film. A fantastic and menacing baddie who also is absent from almost the entire 3rd act of the film. He is no Goldfinger or Sanchez, who dominate proceedings and carry through the film from start to finish. He is, after all, ultimately just an accountant. Still, it is an excellent performance and he more than holds his own in his scenes with Craig, with particular praise directed at the torture scene between Bond and Le Chiffre.
The scene is also a highlight for Craig’s Bond as well, but when is he not excellent here?
The last piece of the puzzle is of course Eva Green’s Vesper Lynd. There are a lot of lists and opinions of the various women in the Bond series, but let me put to rest the question of James’ best female co-star: it’s Vesper and Eva Green’s performance is easily the best.
Green’s Vesper pulls all the best elements of so many of the prior best Bond girls to create a singularly indelible performance. The romanticism of Tracy, the tough as nails demeanor of Pussy Galore or Pam, the razor sharp intelligence of someone like Natalya all come together in Vesper. Fitting for the one woman who pierces through and strips Craig’s Bond of all his armor.
Her chemistry and connection with Craig’s James is pitch perfect. The slow-burn of their relationship is utterly natural and real and the ways they slowly but surely get under each other’s armor plating to leave an imprint on the other is flawless. The final 30 minutes of this film, when it shifts to a much slower, quieter relationship drama of Vesper and James in love, could easily have fallen flat or been too cheesy or overwrought. Yet here in Green and Craig’s hands and under Martin Campbell’s wonderful direction, it has this almost ethereal and, at the same time, tragic hue to it.
Beauty and pain constantly play off each other wonderfully before the final gut-wrenching twist and Vesper’s sacrifice. Yet, even in that moment as James screams out his grief, the film still has one final emotional dagger left. With James and M’s phone conversation right afterwards serving as a check on James. With M’s brutal but needed reminder that despite James’ statement that “the bitch is dead, I’m fine,” Vesper was the reason that James was still breathing. That she had clearly made a deal to save his life knowing that it would almost certainly cost her own. Daniel Craig’s facial expression says it all. Exquisite.
James Bond is among the most famous characters of the last 100 years. The face of the longest running film series now entering its 7th decade. A man of many faces and personalities. Yet, here in Casino Royale, Daniel Craig is tasked with telling us how this instantly iconic character became the man he is, how the image and character of Bond known to millions of people across multiple generations became 007. Craig delivers a tour de force piece of acting to reveal a real, breathing, deeply-flawed, and tragic human at the heart of James Bond.
Sixteen years after Casino Royale, perhaps the greatest legacy of both the film itself and Craig’s performance is its reminder that James Bond isn’t a superhero. That he isn’t invincible, but instead that he is simply an orphaned boy with no family, save his boss, who at the end of the day is awfully, painfully, tragically human. Simply a man who every day, despite the pain and loss and constant grief biting at the edges, gets up and aims to use his time for good.
God where to begin with Casino Royale? It’s got a brilliant and right to the point pre-title sequence. The truly spectacular and series’ highlight of an action scene in the parkour chase. You could virtually draw any poker scene out of a hat and it would deliver. The torture scene between James and Le Chiffre is unnerving and brutal. The final frantic ending scene in Venice is excellent. And James finally confronting Mr. White is a pitch perfect ending, with the Bond theme slowly kicking in as he finally introduces himself as “Bond, James Bond,” for the first time.
For me though, the best individual moment of the whole movie is James’ and Vesper’s first meeting aboard the train. A perfect bit of acting and storytelling that gives you everything you need to know about Eva Green’s Vesper, who Daniel Craig’s Bond is, what both sticks in the craw for each, and also what almost magically brings them closer to each other.
A truly excellent and well-crafted piece of filmmaking.
Honestly maybe the weakest part of the movie. Le Chiffre is great and an iconic villain who infuses and informs so much of what Bond will come to expect out of bad guys. He is also really only a factor in the second act of the film. Indeed the movie is largely missing a big bad after Le Chiffres death, which might occur the earliest of any Bond villain in the series’ history.
Still fantastic, just almost wishing I had more of him. Easily a 9/10 though.
We apparently hate gadgets right now so nothing here. Shoutout to the Aston Martin having a defibrillator in it I guess?
Casino Royale is a brilliant film. A masterclass in character work, acting, direction, and framing that served as a cannon blast to so many of the series’ more tired and dated elements. Daniel Craig introduced himself to audiences and Bond fans alike in utterly brilliant fashion, easily delivering one of the series’ single finest performances and crafting an indelible take on the classic Bond character.
Eva Green is utterly charming, tragic, and joyful as Vesper Lynd, the woman who stole James’ heart, giving a wonderful performance and easily becoming the best co-star in any Bond film to date. Le Chiffre is a classic throwback Bond baddie updated to the 21st century with style and panache and the film has this wonderful marriage of high intensity action set pieces, shocking moments of cold brutality, and sweeping emotional romance all spun together.
A defining film both within the canon of the Bond series and also post 9/11 cinema, Casino Royale is a truly great film and easily one of James Bond’s best.