In 2006 after the shambles that was Die Another Day the James Bond franchise got a much needed reboot. Casting Daniel Craig as the MI6 spy, Casino Royale took the character back to his origin story and in a pre-titles sequence showed him getting his first two kills while on duty. Originally linked to Quentin Tarantino, the director’s chair was eventually given to Martin Campbell, with Paul Haggis overseeing script rewrites. At time of release, having taken just shy of $600m at the box office, Casino Royale was the highest-grossing James Bond film of all time.
MI6’s James Bond (Craig) is sent by department head M (Judi Dench) to investigate banker and terrorist financier Le Chiffre (Mads Mikkelsen). Having succeeded in stopping plans to blow up a new Skyliner and accompanied by Vesper Lynd (Eva Green), Bond goes to the Montenegro-based Casino Royale in an attempt to beat Le Chiffre at a game of poker, which has been setup in an attempt to recoup some of the losses made.
Casino Royale is clearly a move away from the camp high laughs of previous installments There is no Q, no gadgets and very little in the way of out-and-out comedy. However as a break from these more classic elements of a James Bond film, Casino Royale is a thoroughly entertaining, gripping thriller more akin to The Bourne Identity. Having stripped away a lot of the franchises more comical elements, the casting of Daniel Craig was a masterstroke. His intensity, faux suaveness and raw, brutal physicality make him a unique and completely convincing spy. He is even reckless in key scenes, which needs to consequences that are unusual in a Bond film.
The poker scenes are wonderfully tense and intriguing and while there is a preposterous element (Anyone who has played poker would perhaps expect the scene after the big loss to go like this “You must have thought I was bluffing Mr. Bond?” “Well no Le Chiffre, I had a full house, Kings full of Aces and assumed, quite rightly, that it was good. Oh and don’t slow role me again, it’s rude!”) they provide one of the highlights of the film. Sadly due to the nature of story, the pacing does suffer slightly toward the end, with the main investigation sorted, a lot of time is given to the character-led finale, which does cause it to drag. This is however, a minor flaw in an otherwise top quality spy thriller.
Not since On Her Majesty’s Secret Service has the character of James Bond been given such emotional depth. His blossoming relationship with Vesper Lynd and the rather tragic conclusion mirrors the end of the George Lazenby story and allows Craig to really express his terrific range as an actor. Removing almost all elements of the camp cliche that had driven proceedings in previous years Casino Royale has a raw, rather vicious, scaled back quality that place it comfortably in the upper echelons of the franchise and help to push Daniel Craig to the top of a lot of peoples ‘favourite Bond’ lists.