Casino Royale

Directed By: Martin Campbell

Starring: Daniel Craig, Eva Green, Mads Mikkelsen, Judi Dench, and Jeffrey Wright

This year marks the 50th anniversary of the on-screen debut of beloved British spy James Bond.  If you didn't know that by now, I'd be genuinely surprised.  Current Bond Daniel Craig opened up the 2012 Olympics with Queen Elizabeth several months ago.  There's been a blitz of advertising themed around 007 this year.  Ultimately, all this exposure and fanfare will culminate in the release of the 23rd James Bond film later this month, Skyfall.  It would be hard not to notice this.  Before we get to Skyfall and see whether it surpasses our expectations, let's talk about Bond 21.  Let's talk about the great Casino Royale.

For killing a mole in MI6 and his contact, James Bond (Craig) earns his double-0 status.  Now branded 007, Bond takes on the task of monitoring and capturing Mollaka (S├ębastien Foucan), a bomb maker with ties to a secret terrorist organization.  One of his colleagues leaves a clue on his person that indicates he's an MI6 agent, and the bomb maker picks up on it.  When the bomb maker flees, Bond chases him down and kills him in a nearby embassy.  By storming an embassy, Bond has just violated the only absolutely inviolable law.

While M (Judi Dench), the head of MI6, views this as an international catastrophe for which she will take the heat, Bond does manage to capture some intelligence that leads him to the Bahamas and Miami.  Based on Bond's investigation, MI6 discovers a money laundering operation led by a nefarious criminal known as LeChiffre (Mads Mikkelsen).  They also learn that LeChiffre is hosting a high-stakes poker game for millions of dollars in Montenegro to make up for some recent unexpected losses.  Given that he's the best poker player in the service, MI6 sends Bond to compete in the poker game.  They send Treasury agent Vesper Lynd (Eva Green) along with Bond to keep him on his best behavior and to ensure that the British government doesn't end up directly sponsoring terrorism.  

As the 21st entry in the long-running James Bond franchise, Casino Royale stands as arguably the best entry in the franchise to date.  Martin Campbell and MGM made a smart decision to retool the franchise and develop a modern origin story for 007.  While Casino Royale certainly has plenty of big, elaborate action sequences, what makes this film great is the grand, thrilling storytelling.  When the franchise went legal so to speak with its 21st film, they also decided to unleash a brand new badass Bond in Daniel Craig.

The fact that Casino Royale is a reboot opens up a world of possibilities.  Director Martin Campbell is not confined to what's been done in the past and can really explore new territory to create a modern Bond for the 21st century.  A lot of the cheese of previous Bond films is gone, and we're left with a taut action movie that follows in the tradition of modern spy films such as The Bourne Identity and Mission: Impossible.  It's a modern action thriller with a 007 flare.

There are certainly some incredible action sequences in Casino Royale, and I absolutely respect what Campbell has done with them.  However, this Bond film is great because of its rich storytelling and unrelenting theatricality.  There's a great story that unfolds in Casino Royale with lots of twists and turns.  As Campbell weaves this great story, we're treated to countless thrills and surprises that really make this entry into the Bond franchise something special.  I also have to say that Campbell brings a certain theatricality to the film.  His choice of LeChiffre, a man who weeps blood, as the villain and his bombastic score from composer David Arnold are really indicative of this.  This theatricality raises the stakes and helps make this film incredibly intense, especially at the poker table in Montenegro.

The choice of Daniel Craig as the new face of 007 was a bold one but the right one.  After Pierce Brosnan's final Bond outing in Die Another Day, we all knew that it was time for the franchise to move in a new direction.  It was time for a younger, tougher Bond.  Well, Daniel Craig fits that mold.  He's more rugged than refined, and he's more badass than debonair.  While there will always be some detractors who long for the days of the Bond of old, Craig is the perfect choice for the 21st century James Bond.  He's a smooth but tough Bond to whom modern moviegoers can relate.

The supporting cast does a great job as well.  As Bond's romantic interest Vesper Lynd, Eva Green brings a refined sensuality to the film.  Trading quips back and forth with Craig, she quickly establishes her own unique presence on screen.  As the film's villain LeChiffre, Mads Mikkelsen gives arguably his greatest performance in mainstream cinema to date.  He brings a mysterious yet arrogant aura to the character and ultimately proves to be one of the most intriguing Bond villains ever.  Finally, it's great to have Dame Judi Dench back as M.  The veteran actress is always enjoyable on screen and seeing her lecture Bond time and time again like a mom is no different.

Casino Royale may just be the best James Bond film ever.  With a great plot, impressive action sequences, a brand new badass Bond, and one tense game of poker, the film hits all the right notes.  Martin Campbell and Daniel Craig don't disappoint.  Casino Royale gets a sober rating.