by   Ajay Chowdhury,

Q: How many Bond fans does it take to change a light bulb?

A: One. But ten to complain how much better the original was…!

There has been outcry, there have been protests, there have been websites and calls to BOYCOTT BOND! When Daniel Craig was announced on October 14, 2005 as the 6th official James Bond actor, a tiny but vocal minority of alleged Bond fans (and we know they were not fans) created their own little storm in their own little Martini. He was too short, too blonde, couldn’t drive, too soft, too…phew, whatever! When the film opens worldwide on November 17, 2006, this tiny minority will be proved wrong . Dead wrong.

Albert R Broccoli’s Eon Productions, navigated by producers Michael G Wilson and Barbara Broccoli, have taken a gamble at the Casino Royale and with Daniel Craig. However, their risk has paid off spectacularly well as the reaction of the real Bond fans around the world will prove when the 21st Bond film is released worldwide on November 17, 2006. Sony Pictures have done a splendid debut 007 job.

Casino Royale is an instant classic with a clean, clear linear plot that moves confidently ahead, capturing the spirit and essence and, in surprising places, the details of the 1953 book. The credit “based on a novel by Ian Fleming” in the title sequence is miraculously both present and true in a Bond film made in 2006.

Daniel Craig is immediately James Bond as we have all known him and as we have never known him before. This is Fleming’s Bond brought to life but the jewel of this performance is set magnificently in writers, Neil Purvis, Robert Wade and Oscar-winner, Paul “Crash” Haggis’ exquisite script. The part is framed in Martin Campbell’s bold and satisfying direction. This is good film -making first and an extraordinary Bond film second. Craig is intense, naturalistic and fierce but also tender, vulnerable and haunted. A man emboldened and burdened by his licence to kill.

Eva Green is stunning as Vesper Lynd. Edgy, elegant, intelligent yet guarded and mysterious. Her romance with Bond is the core of the movie which takes us back to the tarnished knight of novels.

Mad Mikkelson is sinister, original and malevolent as Le Chiffre, a silouhetted cypher. He is interestingly and dynamically rendered in a performance that shades Fleming’s creation with added complexity.

Caterina Murino’s Fleming-named Solange is sexy and sultry and could have been a character from Quantum of Solace or The Hilderbrand Rarity. She really does hold the eye and her scenes with Bond sizzle. She is also integral to the function and spirit of the story and is played with arch aplomb by the Sardinian beauty.

Judi Dench’s M is teasingly developed both in her relationship with Bond and her placement in the British Government. Continuity aside, her inclusion is exactly right for this story and her admonishing of Bond crackles with good writing and topical knowingness. M contextualizes 007’s character and sets up the story and the stakes in an expositionally creative way. Jeffrey Wright’s Felix Leiter is a subtle but pivotal presence while Giancarlo Giannini’s Rene Mathis is a more prominent, ebullient performance. Richard Branson’s “blink-and-you’ll-miss-it” cameo is fun and Michael G Wilson’s appearance is notable for the character bling he sports.

The theme song and titles are similarly different from the past and a development. Saul Bass-esque graphic artistry combines with Binder-esque motion poetry in Daniel Kleinman’s CG animated titles. Playing card and gambling imagery also incorporates a live action Daniel Craig. The instrumental version of the song provides a driving, energetic action theme. Denied of the full James Bond theme until the end (although we are given delicious truffle-shavings of it), You Know My Name binds the film like John Barry’s alternate “007” theme. David Arnold’s score both simmers and soars and is an achievement of reinvention. Both the song and the score encapsulate the performance of Daniel Craig: an updated classic. Rather like the silver beast that is the brand new, purring Aston Martin DBS.

Martin Campbell’s style is different from GoldenEye in all but the pure energy and exuberance of his direction. Visually intriguing (a cobra-mongoose fight, a trail through the bizarre Bodyworld exhibit) and atmospherically sinister, the film touches on elements of classic but recently unused filmBond. The script is a clever adaptation and modernization of the source story of how Bond begins. The travelogue is non-specific but visually stunning especially the recreation of Montenegro. Phil Meheux’s sweeping photography is glorious and colourful and rich and romantic. Oscar-winning Bond veterans, production designer Peter Lamont and costume designer Lindy Hemming break the film into two halves starting with a tough, gritty, New World Order edge and then taking Bond to the heart of Europe and dressing the film in classic, realistic European sophistication. Structurally different from any previous Bond film, the 21st Eon film flies through the series’ longest ever running time. Stuart Baird’s editing is uncompromising in the action sequences yet paces the film carefully through the poker duel and romantic subplot. Time is given to characters to talk, to love and to live. Gary Powell has made the combat very brutal and realistic and original. The visceral action setpieces are extremely exciting and, above all, original: the Madgascan freerunning sequence is breathtaking.

The toying with the Bond film formula is playful yet respectful from the placement of the gunbarrel, the name-reveal, the use of the James Bond theme, outrageous femme fatale names (“Stephanie Broadchest”!), the use of gadgetry and the symbolic invocation of the vodka martini (the Medal), Aston Martin (the chariot), MI6 hierarchy (the Order) and M (the Monarch). The reboot really is tangential to the story.

Casino Royale is like the fourth James Bond film, after Dr No, From Russia With Love and Goldfinger. Before the lava of creativity cooled to the crust of formula, Bond films sat as individual pieces, extracting and refining the ore of Fleming. Daniel Craig is laced with a soupçon of Dalton (richer though with the stronger charm and wit of a superior script). However, Daniel Craig is very much his own, believable, instantly winning incarnation of James Bond 007.

Casino Royale needs to percolate, mature, air in the mind, explored by the senses. Casino Royale is mature, pure, sure fire cinematic entertainment. It should be savoured as a gourmet Bond film. It is the Bond film that the real Bond fans have all hungered for and Daniel Craig is a gourmet Bond.

(c) Ajay Chowdhury, 2006. All rights reserved.

 editor Kiss Kiss Bang Bang magazine
The publication of the James Bond International Fan Club