|BR>Were you worried about Daniel Craig’s ability to bond with 007? If so, you can relax. True, Craig doesn’t look as if he has been to Eton, except maybe to delivery groceries. Nor does he have the suaveness of Pierce Brosnan. And those who regard Connery as the only true Bond may need to see Craig a few more times before they consider changing their minds.|
But Craig is the best and most serious actor to have been cast as 007, and this film makes full use of his range. As I wrote after attending the first preview, he’s also the toughest and most virile leading man since Russell Crowe’s Maximus in Gladiator. The numerous shots of his rippling torso and piercing blue eyes will, I suspect, make many in the female audience extremely happy.
And he develops the character very skilfully. When he starts the film, he is – as M (Judi Dench) tells him – “a blunt instrument”. By the end of it, he’s the sharpest tool in the box.
The Bond movies have been getting steadily more and more gadget-ridden, and less and less about the character of James Bond. Casino Royale reverses that trend and takes us back to basics. At one point, Bond even drives a Ford Mondeo
| (though don’t worry: he soon gets an Aston Martin.)|
As if to show us that we’re going back to fundamentals, the pre-titles sequence – traditionally a huge, stunt-driven action sequence – is in sombre black and white. And the title sequence tells us something that has not been true of the last few Bond films: that it is “based on the novel by Ian Fleming”.
Some of the ingredients are very 21st century. For a start, there is far too much crass and repetitive product placement. And will someone please stop Richard Branson from making pointless, self-aggrandising cameo appearances?
The first action sequence is all about “free running” (as seen recently in the French hit District 13), where a bomber is pursued by Daniel Craig over rooftops, along a tall crane, and into an African embassy. Craig also does a lot of his own running and jumping – indeed, he does more of this in half an hour than Roger Moore managed in all of his appearances put together.
There are problems with some of the action sequences. A deliberate policy has been made by director Martin Campbell (who also directed the first Brosnan Bond film, Goldeneye) that many of them happen before we know whom Bond is chasing and fighting, or why. It’s generally left to Judi Dench to supply the explanation, after the event.
This unusual approach makes for some minutes when we can’t concentrate on the action because we’re wondering if we’ve missed something. Well, we haven’t. We just haven’t been told what’s happening yet.
A second weakness is that the extra realism of Bond’s character makes a bizarre contrast with his obviously preposterous physical exploits and superhuman powers of recuperation. James Bond films are unashamedly escapist fantasies, and time will tell how the public responds to a new, much grittier approach.
It’s often said that Bond films are only as good as their villains, and it’s a serious defect in this one that. LeChiffre is one of Fleming’s drabber villains, and Mads Mikkelsen makes little attempt to give him much personality. Le Chiffre means “the cipher”, and it’s only too apt.
The premise behind the plot is that Le Chiffre subsidises terrorists; but he does so for financial gain, not out of any religious or ideological doctrine. This feels weak as motivation; and during the first less-than-gripping hour, which might usefully have been shortened by a half, I noticed as many people walking in and out of the movie as children do during the matinee of a panto – not a good sign.
The film really starts to hold the attention during a mammoth game of poker (in the novel, it was the less trendy Chemin de Fer), during which Bond suffers poisoning and cardiac arrest but demonstrates superhuman powers of recovery. His recuperative abilities also come in handy after the most famous scene in the book, a torture session at the hands – or rather the knotted rope – of Le Chiffre.
In no time at all, Bond is back on his feet, with his manhood miraculously intact, and enthusiastically wooing the femme fatale of the piece, Vesper Lynd
| (played, extremely attractively, by Eva Green)|
This film may be about the making of Bond into a smooth, cold-hearted killing machine, but there’s still room for humour. I especially liked the moment when he orders a vodka martini. The barman asks “Shaken, not stirred?” And the still-rough-around-the-edges Bond pierces him with a look of contempt, and remarks “Do I look like I give a damn?”
Daniel Craig is, in fact, much better at comedy than I thought he would be. But he really comes into his own when he has to choose between his job and a woman, and chooses the woman. None of the previous Bonds could have carried this scene off with the same depth or sincerity.
Will Casino Royale be a huge hit and continue the franchise? I think it will. It’s as action-packed, globe-trotting and luxurious as ever – though I could have wished for more motivation for the action, and therefore more involvement in it.
But the big strength of the film is that it takes us further inside Bond’s head than ever before. Despite showing us Bond’s sensitive side, Craig looks a far more convincing killer than any 007 since Connery. Will the public warm to him? I’m not 100% certain, but over the next couple of Bond movies, for which he’s already signed up, it should at least be fun finding out.