‘Casino Royale’ best Bond film in 40 years

Ben Raymond

In an age when Bond movies contain more explosions than espionage and more apocalyptic madness than sober villainy, the franchise and avid Bond junkies like myself are in dire need of a classic.  “Casino Royale” provides just that.  Heart-pounding, arresting and cathartically enthralling, the film unfolds more like a Shakespearian drama than your run-of-the-mill action flick.   Reinvigorated, refined and polished from top

to bottom, 007 returns to former glory in a spellbinding opera of entertainment.

Gone are the days when Bond leapt from one rocketing conveyance to the next in pursuit of every evil-eyed egomaniac with a cockamamie scheme for world domination.  “Casino Royale” possesses an austere gravity, a sense of pertinence that has been absent from the shallow, aimless manure that has recently been shoveled to audiences.  This Bond falls, loses, bleeds and even falls in love. 

“Casino Royale” depicts the advent of James Bond’s career as 007 as he embarks on his first mission for Her Majesty’s secret service.  Le Chiffre (portrayed craftily by Danish actor Mads Mikkelsen) is the financier for the world’s most dangerous rebel militias and terrorist syndicates.  After squandering away his clients’ money, he arranges a

high-stakes poker tournament to regain the lost funds.  To combat the financing of terrorism, MI6 stakes Bond in the game to prevent Le Chiffre from regaining the capital. 

Opening uncharacteristically in stark, grainy black and white, we see a further venture from typical 007 form as Bond achieves his first kill by savagely beating and drowning a target in a bathroom sink.  The water fills his lungs; the man kicks and writhes in agony as Bond grimaces with an almost barbarous satisfaction.  Is this the Bond

moviegoers have come to expect?  No.  But it is the one that creator Ian Fleming intended.

Daniel Craig (“Road to Perdition,” “Munich”) embodies Fleming’s vision of 007 with a completeness previous Bonds could only dream of.  Craig is cold, pensive and even vulnerable, both shaken and stirred.  He maintains the suaveness and cool of Bond with incomparable mastery while conveying a sense of fallibility that brings 007 out of the

clouds and makes him accessible.  Craig’s Bond owns a buoyant debonairness that contrasts powerfully with an undercurrent of rooted sadism to make his performance the single greatest in the history of the franchise.

Bond’s love interest, the ever-enigmatic Vesper Lynd, is played by the scandalously beautiful Eva Green.  The classically-trained Swedish-Algerian actress best known for, and most scantily clad in, Bernardo Bertolucci’s “The Dreamers” establishes herself as one of cinema’s flourishing tours de force in a supporting performance that is nothing

less than spectacular.  With matchless poise, Green’s uniquely sensual deportment and bitingly licentious delivery vaults her to the highest echelons of Bond-girldom.  Her disarming elegance and unparalleled command of the screen universally impresses.

Martin Campbell (“Golden Eye”) deserves more than a healthy round of applause and a pat on the back for his adroit, savvy direction.  The foot chase in Madagascar is an awe-inspiring mélange of impossible stunt work and cogent, inventive choreography.  The airport pursuit is a super-satisfying slugfest that torques the tension to the brink. 

Neal Purvis and Robert Wade weave a brilliantly-scripted tapestry of sharp dialogue, constant intrigue and stirring plot twists into a fabulous screenplay.

“Casino Royale” is a masterful achievement in every facet of filmmaking.  Bond has never been more entertaining or more complete.  Women want him; men want to be him.  I am not a woman, nor do I want him, but I can unequivocally say that I have never wanted more to be him.

Welcome back, Bond … James Bond.