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November 15-21, 2006

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'Casino Royale'

Photograph by Jay Maidment
High Stakes: Daniel Craig, as James Bond, Her Majesty's metrosexual, hits the gaming tables in 'Casino Royale.'


'Casino Royale' shows us how Bond became Bond

By Richard von Busack

A BUDDING secret agent, newly transferred to the wetworks trade, has just earned his license to kill. He doesn't yet realize what it will mean to be a soldier without the benefit of comrades in arms, nor does he understand the ancient law that says that a killer shall have every man's hand against him. This is his first assignment as a licensed killer—a high-stakes card game with a terrorist financier, held at Casino Royale in Montenegro. James Bond, for that is his name, encounters all manners of betrayal, and he comes to realize the solitary path he now walks.

Why see yet another James Bond movie? Because Casino Royale, Martin Campbell's rewiring of the series, is a real movie, and not just a James Bond movie. It has the traditional 007 mayhem: a fistfight in a speeding jet-fuel tanker truck and a foot chase that scrambles all the way up to the top of a seven-story construction crane and down again.

The film has a diseased villain: Mads Mikkelsen as the financier Le Chiffre. The Danish actor plays a cruel and disapproving creature with a bent, liver-colored mouth. Le Chiffre carries a folded handkerchief, all the better for mopping his dead eye, a cracked blue marble that leaks neuropathic tears of blood. Among Bond villains, Le Chiffre is one of the worst because he is the most rational. It will be a shock to those not versed in the Ian Fleming books to see Bond hauled to a rusty iron dungeon reminiscent of Hostel, Saw and all; new as it may look, the scene is following the lead of a book more than 50 years old.

The movie also boasts a genuine metrosexual moment: It's Bond, rather than some new version of Ursula Andress, who is gazed at, striding out of the Caribbean in a tight bathing suit. Craig, who looked so wrong in the still photos, looks absolutely right onscreen—a muscular, pugnacious fighter whose self-doubt is more visible to the audience than to his assailants. Craig has always been a reliable, brooding actor. As of this film, he's a major movie star.

Since they are stuck in a realism jag, today's spy movies may throw in an exotic location—India's Goa, for instance, in The Bourne Supremacy. Usually, such spots are just flashed and discarded, like a dead card from a bad hand of poker. Casino Royale excels in the proper use of faraway places. The story unfolds at the Bahamas, Lake Como and the exquisite spa town of Karlovy Vara in the Czech Republic. It terminates with an emotionally thrilling, as well as traditionally explosive, finale on the Rialto in Venice.

Ultimately, what's really in it for the women is the strength of the female lead, Eva Green's Vesper Lynd. Vesper meets Bond's machismo with her own self-amusement and self-awareness. She often has the upper hand; she even has to teach Bond how to dress for a casino floor. Green is the perfect Fleming woman—as opposed to a Bond girl.

Watching the last attempt to give us a Bond film with feeling, The World Is Not Enough, I wrote that it raised a lunatic comment: the characterization was more interesting than the action sequences. That's been remedied here. The balance is fixed at last. Twenty-one years makes a man, and the 21st James Bond film makes 007 a whole man.

Movie Times Casino Royale (PG-13; 144 min.), directed by Martin Campbell, written by Neal Purvis, Robert Wade and Paul Haggis, photographed by Phil Meheux and starring Daniel Craig and Eva Green, opens Nov. 17.

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