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Thursday November 30, 2006 8:38 pm

Casino Royale Review: Craig Can’t Miss

Craig Bond Gun

Casino Royale, based on the first Bond novel by Ian Fleming, follows 007 in his very first mission – tracking down Le Chiffre, a notorious banker for terrorist organizations.  After halting Le Chiffre’s devious stock market swindle, James must enter a high-stakes poker tournament to prevent him from regaining his money.  With the help of the beautiful, yet mysterious Vesper Lynd, a government accountant overseeing the tournament buy-in money, James must win the game and bring in Le Chiffre, dodging obstacles from all sides along the way.  The 2 1/2 hour film is visually stunning and action-packed, without a moment of banality or sluggishness (this might seem typical of a Bond film, but truly stands out here).  Oh, and by the way, the new guy rules.  Bond is back.  His name is Daniel Craig.

Casino also stars Eva Green, Judi Dench, and Mads Mikkelsen and is directed by Martin Campbell.

I can’t think of another franchise that has made more money or garnered more continual praise from the movie-going public than that of the Bond series.  What is it about 007 that keeps us coming back for more?  I was recently considering other ongoing sagas - Indiana Jones, Superman, and Rocky, among others.  Can one imagine these characters played by other leading men?  Of course, Superman Returns attempted this and did relatively well, but weren’t we all just wishing Christopher Reeve was up there saving the day?  And isn’t the knowledge that Harrison and Sly will be heading their respective renewals what makes most of us salivate?  The Bond series has made a killing using six different leads in twenty-one films over four decades (wow, the idea sounds crazy when it’s all laid out like that), yet people still want more.  Why hasn’t this dried up?  What are people waiting for?  Enter Daniel Craig.

Whether or not we agree on the best Bond, one must admit that Connery is the original, the character all subsequent actors were forced to emulate.  Connery was the perfect man to play Bond back in the sixties; his success sparked the legendary franchise and keeps it going to this day.  And while 007 has appeared in various incarnations through the years - some good, others not so good – no one has ever nailed it with the same importance, the same indelible brilliance.  I do not claim to be a Bond expert, but there is one thing I know: Daniel Craig is the perfect man to bring him into the new millennium and rekindle that same flame that started with Dr. No in 1962.  The character has come full circle and Craig will define Bond - like it or not - for the new generation.

I don’t want to dwell on Craig too long because there is a fantastic film here that is worth discussing, but I must touch on some of his finer points: he is goofy-looking.  That’s right, I said it.  He has a big nose, big ears, and a cowlick that Alfalfa would envy; his blond hair makes him look a bit immature at times and everything he does and says calls up the image of your tuxedoed younger brother at his first junior high formal - he may look cool, but you know what he’s really like.  In this way, however, Craig brings Bond to life; the tall, dark, and handsome Bonds of the past, along with their wit and charm, have always been just out of reach, beyond the grasp of simple, nerdy guys like me.  But Craig has bridged the gap between tough and awkward and, while retaining the commanding presence and wit, has made Bond more vulnerable - consequently more accessible - than ever before.  The manner in which Craig delivers his performance parallels that vulnerable look throughout (watch out for those blue eyes), making his 007 the most human of any yet seen.  This is, of course, also due to the wonderful script that chronicles well Bond’s transformation from emotional, trustful, and bull-headed to the hardened, nearly soulless man he later becomes.

Casino itself is full of action and intensity, with just the right measure of drama and romance thrown in.  Craig does many of his own stunts - for which he deserves still more respect - adding an extra element of urgency to each nail-biting scene; the script is witty and fun, but also sharp and biting when necessary; the acting is spot on.  I couldn’t find anything wrong with this film.  Okay, I could have done without the Chris Cornell theme song, but otherwise Casino Royale is seamless.  This is one for the theater, folks.  Please, see this on the big screen, if nothing else this year.



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