Casino Royale (2006)

I’ve heard it said that the only James Bond film that matters is the one released when you’re in high school. Certainly that’s true for me. During the era of the “gritty reboot,” 007 reintroduced himself in the form of the intense but soft-spoken Daniel Craig, clearly relishing the role with a sense of fun and wit and physicality that would be diminished in his later appearances.

Watching this movie actually made me kind of nostalgic and emotional, bringing me back to when I was 18. That, in turn, made me vulnerable and receptive to the film’s emotional final hour, which works nearly as well as all the action and espionage that is, of course, the main attraction.

We meet James Bond here as a green rookie, given his double-0 status and his “license to kill.” This newness will be a central part of his arc this film, his first real mission, as it becomes very believable that he’s emotionally invested in its every twist and character and outcome.

He has as his foe, an incredible counterpart in Vesper. Eva Green is a show-stealer in this, electric and beautiful — her sharpness bringing out something doe-eyed in Craig’s performance. She’s a perfect foil. Vesper is easily the best Bond girl, in my opinion, even if the chain of double-crosses and deceptions surrounding her convoluted by the film’s end, strangling the film’s emotional arc with twists when an uncomplicated haymaker would have worked just fine.

The set pieces are nearly all outstanding, from the opening parkour through the final sinking house in Venice. Even the oft-derided poker segments hold up pretty well: It offers good drama and a potent mix of charisma and acting styles, even as it drags on a bit long.

The poker scene is also the best moment for the villain Le Chiffe, a breakout performance for Mads Mikkelsen, who would become one of the acclaimed actors of the late 2010s. He simply oozes danger and charisma (as his eyes ooze blood).

Stylistically and tonally, this is not a flashy movie, nor is it especially gritty. It is simply muscular and attractive, the visceral action scenes blending together very well with the talky ones.

The film’s biggest problem is that it’s almost 145 minutes long, which is The Devil’s Runtime when it comes to blockbusters. Trim it down, people.

But it more or less earns that length. The plot is busy, with a few tonal and narrative reboots, but interesting for the duration. Nearly every scene has me saying “this is a good part!” But maybe that’s just my inner 18 year old speaking.

Is It Good?

Exceptionally Good (7/8)

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2 replies on “Casino Royale (2006)”

I’m not much of a fan of the Craig era of Bond, but this is a good one and pretty easily his best imo. But I’ve always thought it was lame that he wins the poker game because he gets a straight flush – right after talking about how poker isn’t about having the best cards. Also, I wish they hadn’t tried to soften Vesper’s final betrayal of Bond by saying that Le Chiffre’s people had threatened to kill her lover if she didn’t cooperate. Just have her betray Bond because that’s what she wants to do. Let him (and us) see the dangers of a spy becoming vulnerable and open with someone he doesn’t know very well. Making her be essentially forced into her ‘betrayal’ feels weak to me… like the character didn’t really make her own decision, because the movie was afraid to have Bond (and us) dislike her too much. Still, not a huge deal in the grand scheme of things.

The poisoning sequence during the poker game is awesome.

Great call on the film undercutting Vesper’s betrayal. It definitely pulls that punch where the movie would be better if it didn’t.

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