Fresh off receiving his '00' status (license to kill), MI6 agent James Bond (Daniel Craig) is pursuing a bomb-builder in Madagascar and stumbles upon clues to an international terrorist financier, Le Chiffre (Mads Mikkelsen). The infamous financier is up to something, and Bond manages to stop his plan, but it causes another. Le Chiffre is now in the hole over $100 million to various terrorists he handles money for. Desperate and seeking his money, Le Chiffre organizes a high stakes poker game at Casino Royale in Montenegro. The biggest problem standing in his way? Bond, who with a $10 million buy-in from the government -- and treasury agent Vesper Lynd (Eva Green) -- has a seat at the table. Win? Eliminate Le Chiffre's business. Lose? Then, MI6 and England will have directly funded terrorism.
By 2002, the Pierce Brosnan James Bond movies had all been played out, closing with the atrociously bad Die Another Day. Even with the progressively bad Brosnan efforts (no fault of the actor, just the scripts), fans still objected to the casting of Craig in the iconic role of James Bond, 007 himself. It's understandable. Everyone has their favorites, even their perception of who/what Bond is. What was the end result in this 2006 reboot from director Martin Campbell (who also directed the Brosnan venture Goldeneye)? A throwback but modern effort, encapsulating all the style and action that fans have come to expect while also breathing fresh life into the franchise. Big picture? It's one of the best Bond films, and easily in my top 5 overall.
Throw aside the gorgeous locales, beautiful women, cool gadgets and ridiculous action, the success of 'Royale' is simple. It's Daniel Craig as Bond. Yes, all those other things are there, but this is James Bond as author Ian Fleming originally intended and wrote about. At the character's heart, Bond is a hired killer; a brutally effective, even obsessed killer. He's cold, sinister and has little sense of humor. Thankfully, Craig doesn't go that deep. He takes the best of the previous Bonds -- Connery's toughness, a toned down humor of Roger Moore, and the general suaveness of Brosnan -- but manages to spin it into his own character. Handling much of his own stunts, Craig is incredibly believable in the part and makes a fictional character more believable. He doesn't feel like a cliched stereotype. Instead, he's a secret agent, sometimes willing himself to survive the hellish world he's working in.
On top of the perfect 007 casting though, 'Royale' does all the little things right. The first is that style that these films always deliver on. The locations have us bouncing around from Venice to the Czech Republic, Lake Como to the Bahamas like globetrotters. The look of the film is a stunner as we follow Bond's exploits. Chris Cornell provides the theme, You Know My Name (listen HERE), and composer David Arnold's score is a gem, playing on the familiar Bond theme with a mix of action-packed music and quieter, romantic moments. From behind the camera though, Campbell most importantly gets it right. This isn't just an action movie. Yes, there are boatloads of action (more on that later), but there's also an interesting, twisting story, quieter moments between Bond and Vesper that feel authentic, and that incredibly dark humor that rides along with the story. Like I've said before, it's the little things that make a good movie a great movie.
Now to be fair, yes, all those other things are very important to a Bond movie. But let's be honest. Bond is a secret agent, and that means A-C-T-I-O-N! 'Royale' is a great movie, but it's also a great action movie on a whole other level. The opening sequence has Bond pursuing a bomb-maker (Parkour/free runner Sebastien Foucan) through a construction site; Bond's physicality vs. Foucan's effortless movements. Watch it HERE. That scene is an essential one in showing how Craig's Bond will stop at nothing to accomplish a mission. Another highlight has Bond chasing down a hired gun trying to take out the largest airliner ever built in a ridiculously cool back and forth chase on an airport tarmac. The other action sequences are on the small scale, hand-to-hand combat, more personal fights that are effective in that smaller scale. All together though, they're a gem. In a weird way, the poker scenes are like action sequences; packed with tension and adrenaline.
And how about the rest of that cast? Green is not your typical Bond girl, but in that sense, she's perfect. Her Vesper is similar in character to Bond, making them an ideal pair as they basically hate each other for much of the film. Mikkelssen too is an atypical Bond villain; not one bent on destroying the world, just staying alive and getting his money back. However you cut it, Green and Mikkelsen are ideal casting choices. Giancarlo Giannini is a scene-stealer as Mathis, Bond's ally in Montenegro. Judi Dench returns as M, Bond's veteran MI6 superior, and doesn't disappoint while Jeffrey Wright is a new and welcome addition as Felix Leiter, Bond's CIA counterpart. In the Bond eye candy department, look for Italian beauty Caterina Murino in a small but key part.
I'm a diehard James Bond fan, but I am able to judge the flicks for what they are -- some classics, other good to great, and a few just plain bad. But this 2006 film -- the 21st in the official franchise -- is about as close to a perfect Bond film as you can get. It has everything going for it, and the capper is the final line, a perfect end to the film if there ever was.
Casino Royale <----trailer (2006): ****/****