Casino Royale

4 stars


20th November 2006

No stupid lasers, invisible cars, flying landboats, or improbable gadgets that defy the laws of physics. No Madonna pretending she can act. No idiotic, one-dimensional clich├ęd bad guys with impossible plans to rule the world. No smartass wisecracks from an invincible ubermensch. Just plain old espionage. At last, with Casino Royale, we get Bond as he always should have been.

After many false starts, and many ridiculous, preposterous sequels, Casino Royale is very possibly the best Bond film of all time - it's certainly the best Bond of the last decade. Everything that was wrong, stupid, patronising and shitty about the last few has been thankfully, and gloriously discarded: John Cleese? Impervious Killers Who Feel No Pain? Audiences openly laughing at the dreadful CGI and the preposterous diamond-faced baddies? All, finally, thrown away into the rubbish where they belong. Instead, what we have in Casino Royale is an intelligent thriller in the 70's mould: slick, gritty and character driven. Here, Bond is just a man. He feels, he bleeds, he makes mistakes and he fucks up. He actually feels, and acts, like a real human being, instead of some kind of bizarre Action Man cipher.

Craig's Bond is the best Bond there has been. By hiring an actor instead of a good-looking set of cheekbones, Bond becomes something other than a fucking, killing, and quipping machine. It's a shame that fellow 'JB's Jack Bauer and Jason Bourne had to come first to show us how bad shite like Die Another Day really is, but this essential reimagining destroys the established knowledge and instead casts Bond in a taut, plausible thriller. Director Martin Campbell couldn't resist a few digs at the Bonds of old, with Craig giving the barman a different order to the norm and playfully mocking the tradition of female Bond girls having ridiculously sexual names. Crucially, Casino Royale also takes us back to the beginning of Bond. In Dr. No, Sean Connery arrives on the scene fully formed and moulded, like a plastic soldier ready to go. Here, we see Bond being born; the cold, hard exterior frosting over any emotions he may once have had. We understand why he is so repressed, why he hides his feelings, why he doesn't trust. He's just like the rest of us, betrayed in a relationship and thus, wary of all mankind.

You can see it in Craig, the moments where he grapples with emotions inside his head. You can see the moments where he reverts to autopilot, a man trained to kill. And the moments after, as he rationalises his actions. He starts off dislikeable but human, and over the course of the film, he changes: he becomes cold, detached, efficient. You can see that this is the real world Bond now lives in, not some implausible hyper-stylised videogame reality. And the violence? The violence feels real. No jokey sound effects. No slow motion punches. Punches connect and feel real. Bodies need to be hidden. Bond even gets arrested. The action set-pieces are rooted in the world we inhabit - not a place of gigantic supertankers, space shuttles and nuclear submarines, but of construction sites, airports, town plazas and offices.

But Casino Royale is far from perfect. It's at least a couple of scenes too long - although it's worth it to hear that last line - and the pacing is as erratic as a fucked clock. There are moments where it feels as if the producers are subscribing to the fetish for ever-longer running times, and an extra, final act that goes further than the narrative needs. It still feels, in places, as if it needs a nip and tuck in some scenes, especially near the end of the picture. While we're cutting scenes, why not take the knife to the horribly gratuitous scenes of product placement dotted throughout, too - it seems some things never change. Having another clumsy Richard Branson cameo yank you out of the moment is like your mum appearing midway through a wank fantasy i.e. not welcome at all. If we're being absolutely pedantic, we might also argue that the opening title sequence isn't a patch on the old classics - there isn't a naked woman cavorting on a gun barrel in sight.

Despite these occasionally testing flaws, Casino Royale is still arguably the best Bond film yet - an enjoyable, intelligent and realistic modern thriller that would stand up as a superior movie even if it didn't have the Bond name plastered on it. In actually writing characters that feel like they belong in the real world rather than on the pages of a comic book, dialogue actually propels the story forward and isn't just an excuse for the odd cringe-worthy one-liner or double entrende. After 35 years of near-constant, insulting bullshit and ridiculous boy's own pulp fiction, finally there's a Bond film - and in Craig, a James Bond - that was worth waiting for.

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