Casino Royale

The James Bond franchise receives a new Bond and welcome change of pace with Casino Royale, the twenty-first movie about the Ian Fleming character.  There was a prior version of Casino Royale, but it was a spoof, not a "real" Bond movie.  But people can make the same argument about recent Bond films.  They all followed (over relied on) the same formula - a shaky story with a beautiful co-star built around three or four over-the-top stunt sequences and gadgets.  Bond wasn't a spy, he was a quipping action star.  Frankly, it got boring.  Casino Royale takes Bond character back to his first outing as a "00" spy for MI6.  This time around, James Bond is Daniel Craig (Infamous, Munich).

Craig brings a certain grittiness to the character.  This Bond is rougher, meaner, and has a damn fine chest (as evidenced by the amount of time he spends shirtless).  Craig's Bond has feelings, but is still a fierce killing machine.  He brings the franchise into the present, given Bond a modern appeal.  Craig is by far the buffest Bond, and the gives him plenty of opportunity to fight with his hands.  There are stunt sequences here, but the focus is more on stunt work than on big sequences with hovercraft, jets, or whatever.  Everything feels more visceral, like a mixture of The Bourne Identity and District B13.

Casino Royale finds Bond on the trail of Le Chiffre (Mads Mikkelsen, King Arthur, The Green Butchers), the financier to terrorists.  He tried to making a fortune by shorting airline stocks, but was foiled by Bond.  As a result, he lost a considerable amount of money that did not belong to him.  In order to make it up, he is participating in a high stakes poker game.  M (Judi Dench, Doogal, Pride & Prejudice) gets Bond into the game, where the goal is to win the pot and capture Chiffre.  Tagging along is Vesper Lynd (Eva Green, Kingdom of Heaven, The Dreamers), who is in charge of Bond's funds.  And she happens to be drop-dead gorgeous.

The biggest weakness from director Martin Campbell (The Legend of Zorro, Beyond Borders) and adapters Neal Purvis and Roger Wade (Stoned, Die Another Day) is that Casino Royale is far too long.  In trying to be all things to all people, the story feels padded, and as a result, too unwieldy.  The pacing is uneven, and the center of the movie is a game of Texas Hold'Em that does not have much in terms of dramatic chops.  To keep the viewer's attention, the filmmakers begin adding in all sorts of twists and double-crosses near the end, but again, this feels like padding.  Bookending the film are two impressive stunt sequences, again, both last a little long.  Moreover, the first one doesn't tie in too well with the story.  But Craig's presence grounds Casino Royale, which is filled with a good international cast.  It's not a great movie, but definitely a step in the right direction.

Haro Rates It: Not Bad.
2 hours, 24 minutes, Rated PG-13 for intense sequences of violent action, a scene of torture, sexual content, and nudity.

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