Director Martin Campbell‘s 2006 James Bond film “Casino Royale” is not your father’s Bond. British actor Daniel Craig here embodies a no-nonsense, self-aware psychopath of a spy, a man who is always in touch with his animal ferocity and often a slave to it.
Dame Judi Dench returns as “M” but she isn’t sipping Wild Turkey with our new 007, although this Bond’s “cheek” must surely send her character to the liquor cabinet off screen.
“Casino Royale” is a stylish film with the high production values one associates with a Bond feature, but significantly, there is also plenty of grit here. That grit reminds viewers of the reality of spy vs. spy violence in a way earlier Bond films had tended to forget. Those gritty scenes also help counterbalance the more unbelievable chases, a poisoning and fights no human could sustain.
There is also a chewy romantic center to this crunchy action film. After Bond has been broken completely by sadistic torture and a series of betrayals, he is seemingly reborn as a lover not a fighter, wisely choosing the lady and repudiating the tiger in himself. The audience cannot blame their action hero for falling for the beautiful and vulnerable Vesper (Eva Green), and while Bond, who has emailed M with his resignation from Her Majesty’s Secret Service, de-stresses at the lido in Venice with Vesper, we are teased by a glimpse of what a domesticated 007 might look like.
Of course, the next plot twist spoils Bond’s early retirement and romantic idyll. The chase and fight scene in Venice is another example of heart-pounding cinematography that bursts with symbolism even as it helps resolve the plot. Bond’s ferocity is compared to the elemental fury of rushing water, with the result that when unleashed upon civilization itself, as embodied by a historic structure in Venice, everything comes crashing down.
When Bond is confronted with a drowned love, he administers CPR perfunctorily, failing to demonstrate the tenacity that characterized his fighting and clawing when his own life was at stake.
Finally, M is glad her protégé learns the hard way not to trust anyone outside the organization. She even tells him she needs him and is glad to have him back. Fans of action movies will share in this sentiment.
The 64-year-old character actor Giancarlo Giannini, with his mellow voice and lined visage, adds inimitable charm and immediately recognizable professionalism to the project in his ambiguous role of Mathis.
Finally, the original Bond theme by Monty Norman has rarely been used so effectively as here, where the arrangements combine nostalgic resonance with a hip sound. And the song “You Know My Name,” written and performed by Chris Cornell for this film, is arguably the best Bond song since “Live and Let Die.”