Action Movie Friday: 007, Casino Royale (2006)

It is time for Action Movie Friday, where I treat an action movie like an action movie and not like a drama and stuff. All movie reviews are subjective and while I may like something, you might think it’s shit, and vice versa!

Title: Casino Royale
MPAA Rating: PG-13
Release: 2006
Genre: action, spy, thriller
Starring: Daniel Craig, Eva Green, Judi Dench, Mads Mikkelsen, Giancarlo Giannini, Caterina Murino, Ivana Milicevic
Director: Martin Campbell
Writer: Neal Purvis, Robert Wade, Paul Haggis, Ian Fleming (Book)
Distributor: Columbia (Sony)
Budget: $102 Million
Box Office: $594 Million

Rotten Tomatoes Rating: 95%

Gingersnaps Rating: Five Cookies!

Summary:

A newly promoted double oh, James Bond is hot on the trail of a terrorist organization and their money maker Le Chiffre. Starting from the bottom and working his way up the chain he leaves destruction and dead bodies in his wake and thwarts Le Chiffre’s plans. Le Chiffre loses a lot of money and desperate to get it back before his customers start looking for him, he stages a high stakes card game, certain he’ll win. The Secret Service sends Bond to enter and to help him and keep an eye on the money, Vesper Lynd. A beautiful woman who isn’t about to let Bond do whatever he pleases. Together, they are thrust deeper and deeper into danger and the extreme circumstances threaten to pull them together and tear them apart. Trust is a dangerous asset to have and the stakes are high.

Review:

2006 was an interesting year for Hollywood. They tried to make audiences care about two things that audiences typically don’t care about in movies, an auto race (Pixar’s Cars) and a poker game (Casino Royale.) Cars almost made 7 times its budget with a Rotten Tomato score of 74% and Casino Royale made almost 6 times its budget and has a Rotten Tomato score or 95%. So, I’m going to say they both succeeded. (With an understanding that among Pixar and animated film aficionados that Cars is one of Pixar’s least successful films supposedly. It’s one of my favorite comfort food type films. So, I’m not on that “it’s a horrible Pixar film” bandwagon.)

James Bond is an iconic franchise. I could spend over half a year reviewing all the films through the years and probably get a lot of fans and a lot of haters. I actually can’t do this because at this point I don’t own all the Bond films. So, I’m going to do the Bond Films I do own, the rebooted Daniel Craig era.

It is rather ridiculous in my mind that after 50 years that Bond films are still reliant on whether or not they do well at the box office in order to get the next film green lighted. It’s Bond. It almost goes without saying that the movie is going to do well at the theatre. But at the time, Daniel Craig’s Bond was considered a risk. They were going for a grittier darker tone for the Bond movies, moving away from the camp of the previous versions. And, Daniel Craig was a risk as an actor. Not only was he blonde, he wasn’t really vetted as an action star. (Even after doing Bond he wasn’t considered an action star. What do you have to do in this day and age?) He wasn’t a big name. There was worry he wouldn’t be able to draw the audiences even though it was the franchise carrying the weight rather than the actor himself. Honestly, I would never blame Daniel Craig if the movie failed. I’d blame the writers. But my mindset is different than that of Hollywood.

However it was successful and there have been three more Daniel Craig Bond films. The jury is still out as of this review on whether or not Craig will be returning. Sony is offering him a lot of money to return.

What the movie makers did with Casino Royale was smart, given their film by film green lighting basis. They planned ahead for a future or several more Bond films with a larger background story. The organization behind Le Chiffre, while maintaining enough focus and giving enough of a conclusion that if the movie hadn’t done well. There would still be a satisfying sense of completeness. Casino Royale, as we know, is Ian Fleming’s story of Bond’s beginnings. Who was Bond, before he became the suave polished British Spy?

Pretty much the same person he was after he became a suave polished British spy, a bit cold, arrogant, reckless and tenacious. If Bond was ever supposed to be an innocent trusting young man, this movie certainly never showed it. Yes, he trusted Vesper to a degree, but he never did quite turn the spy part of him off. He knew something is wrong. He just didn’t have proof. Somewhere, this is supposed to be a story about Bond’s great love. The woman who was just as good as he was. I’m not sure it succeeded in pulling that off. It did succeed in telling an enthralling story that kept audience’s attention even in the card game, at least the first time. If anything on a second or third watch through, the card game is a very slowest and perhaps weakest part of the story, so much they had to interrupt it with a fight and a poisoning to keep up the tension. Overall, the story is good, the dialogue is funny with what passes for British wit for a worldwide audience. One cookie.

There was an explosion at the embassy that wasn’t necessary, at least, not to that extent. So, a cookie.

The movie starts off with cut scenes of Bond in a hand to hand fight against a nameless mook and doesn’t really slow down in the fight department from there. While so many other spy movies rely on a lot of gun play to get the conflict across, this Bond film doesn’t shy away from the fact that spying can be up close, dirty and dangerous work. There are enough gun sequence to make anyone who likes gun sequences happy, but there are also plenty of fisticuffs and knives coming out and even a machete to keep things brutal and entertaining. A cookie.

James Bond is the fantasy male role. Bond has women, toys, and the ability to kill anyone he pleases. He has power. It’s funny because in Bond films there shows the huge hypocrisy of Hollywood. Everyone wants to be Bond. The role is coveted and fought over. But no one wants to be a Bond girl, being a Bond girl is a career killer. Actresses know this but there is still the allure of being a “Bond girl” and they take the parts anyways. This hasn’t seem to hurt Eva Green’s or Halle Berry’s career, so hopefully some of the stigma is fading. There are four women in this film, M, Vesper Lynd, Solange and Valenka. Two of them are actually important and can’t be replaced with a sexy lamp. Face it, Solange didn’t really know anything and was basically there to show how irresistible Daniel Craig was and Valenka just walked around looking pretty most the time. When she wasn’t being used to show the difference between Le Chiffre and Bond. If we were going strictly on this, I’d eat half the cookie. M and Vesper are interesting and good characters, so, I’m holding off. And not because M is Judi Dench.

As much as the story is about Bond, I’d argue Vesper is the more interesting and rounded character. As much as either of them are rounded characters. Bond isn’t conflicted about what he is doing. Vesper is. Vesper has more loyalties than to just Britain. In fact, when push comes to shove it is Vesper that saves Bond’s life by using her brains. Vesper is put into a situations where there are no good outcomes. In the end, she chooses her fate. As much as Bond loves her, as much as part of her wants him to save her. She makes a choice. She keeps her agency throughout the film. I really wish more female characters were like this.

M is passionate about her job as head of the Secret Service. She knows her job. She does it well and she has to live with the fact she sends out these agents to possibly die. M gives the orders and others obey. And while we know that Bond will only play lip service to them. M is smart enough to give Bond the excuse to do exactly what he wants to do anyways. She knows what Bond is and uses it to her advantage. M can be ruthless. She has to be. But she is also sympathetic towards her agents. And at times, tired of what she is asked to do. Complexity is nice. And I enjoy Judi Dench. So, this movie will keep this cookie.

Honestly, this is a spy world where the technology has to be plausible to be effective. I’m not going to get into the whole “Craig didn’t drive stick shift” argument. In the film, men being able to run through construction sites with ease and use I beams to climb higher is considered plausible. (Oh the glories of parkour.) This sets the tone. After that, small implants in the arm, detonators on key chains and a defibrillator in the glove compartment really don’t seem like that big of a deal. The universe stays within a certain set of rules and some of the car stunts are eerily similar. One cookie.

Casino Royale more than succeeds as an action movie. It’s fun, interesting and have some complex female characters to top it off. Thoroughly enjoyed it, will enjoy it again another time. Five Gingersnaps!

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