Of the three Daniel Craig Bond films, two have been received with applause from audiences and critics alike. One of the two is Casino Royale, Craig’s debut as 007. Royale has changed the game as far Bond films go. No more (completely) preposterous gadgets or (literally) impossible feats are featured in this film. No more corny lines and no more maniacal, manacle-wearing, super-genius super-villains. Martin Campbell’s Casino Royale is rooted in reality. Of course, there is some stuff that might seem somewhat far-fetched, but you just don’t have yourself a Bond film without at least a splash of absurdity.
Daniel Craig is stupendous in this film. He fully embodies the perhaps overly confident, womanizing alcoholic who, at the same time, wears a badge of courage and integrity at (almost) all times. Craig portrays the smoothest Bond I have ever seen. I know what you’re thinking…probably screaming, actually. Connery will always be Bond, no one is saying otherwise. At the same time, Craig, in my most humble opinion, one ups him in the “I’m the coolest dude on planet Earth” department. It’s everything from the way he carries himself to the timing and delivery of his lines (every one of which hits perfectly). What is most notable, though, is the dark side that Craig brings to the timeless character. His orphanage is addressed in the film, the emotion behind his first kill is evident, and Bond drinks with a purpose throughout Royale. Craig makes it all work so well, from the stern look in his eyes as he races through the Miami Airport to the sarcastic smirks he makes at Le Chiffre (Mads Mikkelsen) from across the poker table.
There is one scene in particular that Craig really lets loose and shows what he’s got. And he does it while tied to a chair in the nude. Craig masterfully captures the immense, indescribable agony of testicular trauma while also convincingly masking this false show of pain. Think about that for a minute. Craig, as an actor, is pretending to be in pain and gets us to buy it. BUT then he also gets us to buy that he is trying to cover up this pain that he pretending to be in. He screams, then he chuckles, he truly seems to be amusing himself with his jokes; “I’ve got an itch…down there…would you mind.” This scene is intense, graphic, disturbing and Craig leaves you with your jaw dropped.
Eva Green outdoes herself, as well. She is undoubtedly the best Bond girl in years, bringing more emotion, complexity, and relevance to the plot than we have seen in quite some time. When’s the last time a Bond girl was responsible for a fairly surprising twist ending and an explanation for Bond’s hardened trust no one, you’re only worth what I can get out of you attitude? By the way, Green was born in Paris and grew up in France, studying in French until she was seventeen years of age, and she pulls off the English accent like a native Brit. You believe that she is smart, but you know that Bond is right, that there’s something she’s hiding.
Additional credit goes to Martin Campbell for successfully pulling off a Bond origin film. It needed to be done. Bond had become stagnant. The films had become fodder for satire and were enjoyed exclusively by old men who could watch a turd parade around a toilet bowl as long as it was named James Bond. Campbell really set the tone for Bond for the foreseeable future with his efforts on this film. Now, we can expect to see a darker, almost Nolan-esque James Bond, and that will contribute layers and layers of awesomeness to the character and the movies going forward. And I’m not quite sure that this could have been done well (presenting Bond as a dark character) without doing it as an origin story. This is because an origin story is the only way to explain why Bond has suddenly become this damaged character, with pain in his eyes and scars all over his near-broken body. Campbell shoots the opening scene in black and white, perhaps with the intent of setting the tone for what is to come. From there, Bond becomes Bond right in front of us.