****1/2 out of *****
Bond films have always been formulaic. With their supervillians, Bond’s numerous sexual conquests and the action set pieces from which the double agent always emerges unscathed.
In a way, “Casino Royale,” the 21st Bond film, does not break with these conventions. There’s still a maniacal villain to defeat, Bond is still laying beautiful and dangerous women and there are still action set pieces where Bond is the only one left standing.
But in another way, “Casino Royale” is an entirely new kind of Bond film, and Daniel Craig is an entirely new kind of Bond.
Instead of going the obvious route, the creators of “Casino Royale” decided to tell a story about James Bond before he was the suave, daring, expertly-skilled double agent who was just as comfortable making double entendres with beautiful women over martinis as he was with a Walther PPK.
As “Casino Royale” begins (in gritty black and white, no less), James Bond is not even a double agent because in order to be a double agent one must have two kills.
Bond has already killed one man, but he did not die well, a line that Craig delivers with acerbic wit. Bond’s second kill, a very classic shot to the head, goes much better, and with that M (Judi Dench) warily promotes the inexperienced agent to double-0 status.
The remainder of the film is concerned with Bond’s entering a high-stakes game of Texas Hold ‘Em with a man named Le Chiffre (Mads Mikkelsen), a financier for the world’s terrorists, whom Bond must defeat.
Along the way Bond is aided by the beautiful-but-not-in-a-typical-Bond-girl-way agent called Vesper (Eva Green) and MI6 agent Mathis (Giancarlo Giannini).
Daniel Craig, initially dubbed James Bland by the British media, is engaging and riveting as Bond. In fact, at his best, Craig is able suggest a kinship between his character and the tough-talking private eye Sam Spade, played by Humphrey Bogart in the film noir masterpiece “The Maltese Falcon.”
Like Spade before him, Craig’s Bond is can be brutal and callous, but we seem to understand that Bond has demons in his past, though these demons, wisely, remain ambiguous.
What “Casino Royale” does incredibly well are the scenes of intrigue as Bond begins to learn his trade, along with the scenes between Bond and Vesper, who share moments of psychoanalytical verbal jousting that are as well-written and clever as any of the dialogue that’s ever been spoken in a Bond film.
The film’s first action scene goes on a bit too long, but aside from this, “Casino Royale” is everything and more that one could expect. It’s riveting, well-acted, darkly humorous and reinvents the old Bond formulas without completely disregarding them.
A ‘royale’ flush of a film.
Staff writer Jeff Schwartz can be reached at email@example.com. The opinions expressed in this column reflect the views of the individual author and not necessarily those of the Collegian.