A back-to-basics Bond

James Bond has been described many ways during his 44 years as Her Majesty’s most enduring cinematic export. In the eyes of both colleagues and adversaries, he is sadistic, smug and pathologically reckless. To his numerous lovers, he is brave, impeccably polished and, in the end, heartlessly detached. Never before has he been mistaken for vulnerable.

Yet here he is, in the capable hands of Daniel Craig, baring his soul and promising his undying affection to Vesper Lynd (Eva Green), the British treasury agent who bankrolls Bond during an impossibly high-stakes poker competition. Unlike the suave sophisticate played so deftly by Pierce Brosnan, Craig’s Bond is a rugged killer who loses his cool, foolishly placing himself in harm’s way by allowing ego to dictate his actions. More than ever, he seems human, emotionally exposed and physically assailable.

Chalk it upto impetuous youth. After consecutive lackluster entries in the 007 saga — “The World Is Not Enough” and “Die Another Day” — “Casino Royale” represents a homecoming of sorts for the famed secret agent. It is the third filmed adaptation of Ian Fleming’s first novel, published in 1953, and it introduces Bond just as he earns his first stripes. He is young, dumb and full of venom, and he chafes at the thought of wearing a finely pressed tuxedo. When asked if he wants his martini shaken or stirred, he responds with a flustered, “Do I look like I care?”

Gone are the clichés of recent Bond adventures — the too-clever quips, the loveless conquests, the gaudy gadgetry and the BMW-sponsored sports cars. “Casino Royale” ambitiously explores the origins of the character’s pathos, stripping him of all the decorative baggage and building him nearly from scratch.

Even so, no Bond movie would be complete without daredevil chases, acrobatic fistfights and quirky villains, and in that sense, this latest installment delivers the expected goods.

The story remains faithful to the spirit of Fleming’s novels, perhaps more so than any Bond movie since the Sean Connery era, but the plot itself is negligible. This time, 007’s target is Le Chiffre (Mads Mikkelsen), a financier who balances the checkbooks of the world’s most notorious terrorists and, on occasion, weeps blood.

Bond bludgeons his way through scores of henchmen to reach him, setting up a tense showdown in a Montenegro casino, where the stinking rich convene to play Texas hold-’em. No points for guessing who wins the big pot.

At nearly two-and-a-half hours, “Casino Royale” is also one of the longest Bond movies, thanks to an extended third act that features plenty of surprises but suffers from a lack of economical pacing.

Still, the action is fast and furious and mostly thrilling, and the insights into one of film’s most impenetrable heroes are welcome. If anything, “Casino Royale” distinguishes itself as a character study, a brooding meditation on a man who, over the decades, had morphed into a stylized cartoon. It’s about time.

Movie review

Casino Royale ???

Starring Daniel Craig, Eva Green, Mads Mikkelsen and Judi Dench

Written by Neal Purvis, Robert Wade and Paul Haggis

Based on the novel by Ian Fleming

Directed by Martin Campbell

Rated PG-13.

Running time 2 hours, 24 minutes.

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