Potentially unpopular opinion: Daniel Craig’s portrayal of the famous British 007 agent James Bond is the best. I have nothing but respect for his forebears, mostly Sean Connery. However, I was not alive when Connery’s Bond films premiered, and though I have seen bits and pieces of some, I was never inspired to sit down and watch them at any length. Between the 1960s and 1970s when Connery was active and 2006 when Casino Royale came out there were others that assumed the role. Yet most of those movies, particularly during the Roger Moore era, were either campy or plagued by the limits of computer generated images (CGI) of their times. Thus when Casino Royale debuted, the franchise received a fresh look.
Casino Royale is somewhat of an origin story for James Bond. In fact, when it starts he does not yet have his trademark 007 status. In what I suppose is a nod to the long history of the series, it begins in black and white with scenes that establish what you can expect from the film. Simply put, Bond is about to become a British spy with a license to kill (sorry, I could not resist that phrase). As with all Bond films, we next meet the villain (now in color), a French gambler and terrorism financier named Le Chiffre ( Mads Mikkelsen). He makes the money he needs to fund global acts of violence by selling off stocks of major companies that he invests in, the dip in value caused by his bombing of their assets. Bond catches wind of these plans when he finds a code word on the phone of one of these bombers. After one of Le Chiffre’s plans is presented, the Frenchman is forced to set up a high stakes poker game to make up for the money he lost. The British send Bond to play in the game, with an apparent accountant to handle the money in the form of Vesper Lynd (Eva Green). Le Chiffre is stopped, though not before Bond and Vesper are nearly killed by the organization behind Le Chiffre. Managing to get away, Bond decides to leave behind his life of being essentially a paid assassin for the British government and pursue his feelings for Vesper. After all, he had just won a small fortune in a poker game. Unfortunately, it turns out that Vesper had been working for the people pulling Le Chiffre’s strings all along because they were holding her former boyfriend hostage. Thus Bond is forced to wade back into the violence and prevent her from handing the money over to the shadowy cabal. When this intervention ends with Vesper’s drowning, Bond realizes that his life as 007 was not over. The film ends with him standing over the body of the man set up as actually responsible for his one time love’s death, smartly dressed in three-piece suit, a machine gun on his hip, and holding a cell phone. Classic.
I say “classic” because Casino Royale has enough nods to its cinematic ancestors while also taking advantage of new film techniques to give the series a fresh look. An example of this can be found in the first bomber Bond encounters. In the 1960s no one had ever heard of parkour, and yet in 2006 our hero has to chase an agile foe through a Madagascar city, only keeping up through brute force. In these kinds of scenes, Bond shows his skills with his fists as well as with guns, and it brings him squarely into the twentieth century. Further, Craig has the physicality to pull this off, while also being able to maintain the cool under fire demeanor we have come to expect from the character.
While violent, what stands out for this Catholic reviewer in Casino Royale is the relationship between Bond and Vesper. Granted, it is not what a proper Christian couple should look like. What I appreciated about it, though, is how Bond is willing to give up being 007 for her. They say that love conquers all. The history of Christianity, for better or worse, is a testament to this fact. It is nice to see the same concept conquering the heart of a killer.
Casino Royale has that strange in-between rating of PG-13. Why we maintain this rating that neither satisfies younger or older audiences, I do not know. But if you enjoy Bond movies, I submit to you that this is as good as it gets. I would wait until the kids have gone to bed. Still, Bond is a character for which it is worth rooting.