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CASINO ROYALE
2 Disc Special Edition

Review by Michael Jacobson

Stars:  Daniel Craig, Eva Green, Mads Mikkelson, Jeffrey Wright, Judi Dench
Director:  Martin Campbell
Audio:  Dolby Digital 5.1
Video:  Anamorphic Widescreen 2.40:1
Studio:  Sony
Features:  See Review
Length:  144 Minutes
Release Date:  March 13, 2007

“Over to you, kiddo.” Producer Barbara Broccoli, informing Daniel Craig he was the new James Bond

Film ****

Casino Royale was the story that started it all, yet owing to various legal issues, it never became a proper film.  Until now.

When Ian Fleming penned the novel, he gave the world the ultimate super-spy:  James Bond.  And the late producer Albert R. Broccoli in turn gave him to movie fans everywhere, spawning one of the longest running and most lucrative franchises in film history.

I read the books as a youngster; I didn’t start seeing the movies until much later.  And though I liked many of the pictures, for me, none of them ever quite matched the version of James Bond I had in my head.  I never quite picture him as this suave, dashing, debonair playboy.  He had charm, but it was a roguish charm.  He had flair, but also humanity.  He could play cool, but underneath was a simmering cauldron of emotion always ready to boil over.

It took four decades, but the wait was well worth it.  Daniel Craig is the new James Bond, and Casino Royale is the movie that should have been made a long time ago.  It arrives in time to resurrect a franchise that, like many others before, had gone on for so long it became almost a parody of itself.  Many may still argue over Sean Connery, Roger Moore and Pierce Brosnan, but for me, the matter is firmly settled.  Daniel Craig is the best Bond.  Ever.  And Casino Royale is the best Bond FILM.  EVER.

In fact, it’s so good, you can remove ‘Bond’ as an adjective.  Casino Royale is simply a great movie; no qualifiers are needed.  It has action.  It has lovely ladies.  But more important, it has a very real and human hero.  Craig’s Bond is not some cartoon character just waiting to feed the next Austin Powers flick.  He’s complex and layered, rough around the edges, gritty and determined, yet rarely sailing through with flying colors and a wink.  This Bond gets hurt, both physically and emotionally.

In fact, this movie feels more like a reboot than a prequel.  Like Batman Begins, it’s part of a larger picture, but also a redefining chapter, inviting you to casually forget what came before and look toward the future with greater anticipation than ever.  It revitalizes and recharges the aging franchise, and proves that Fleming’s classic character can be more relevant than ever as we proceed through the new millennium.

The movie starts with a pre-007 James Bond, and takes him on a worldwide chase to identify a financier of terrorists.  He has skills, but not necessarily the focus, much to the dismay of M (Dench).  His careless mistakes cause embarrassment and frustration.  But he’s not ready to give up.

Before the first half hour is up, you’ll witness an exhilarating chase sequence on foot.  I know, you’re thinking, I’ve seen Bad Boys II, so what chase sequence involving human legs could possibly impress you?  Well, the answer is just one of the films many juicy and satisfying surprises.

The trail leads to Le Chiffre (Mikkelsen), a mathematical genius with a penchant for using terrorist monies to play the stock market.  However, thanks to Bond (in another jaw dropping action spectacle), he’s left scrambling to recover his losses by entering a high stakes Texas Hold 'Em poker game at the Casino Royale.

He’s a master card player, but so is James, whose agency sets him up in the game via a treasury agent Vesper Lynd (Green).  And the game itself, which is much of the heart of the film, generates such delightful suspense in and of itself that even Hitchcock would applaud.

The joy of the movie is that you tend to think you know what’s going to happen, but it constantly startles and amazes you.  We are not seeing Connery’s polished agent or Moore’s casually flippant one.  We are seeing in Craig the man who would become Bond, and why.  And how.

Martin Campbell, the director who first introduced Pierce Brosnan to the franchise, helms this production from a script co-written by Oscar winner Paul Haggis.  Despite being a Bond veteran, Campbell brings a refreshingly new approach to the material.  Neither he, the writers, the producers nor Craig himself were afraid to shake (not stir) things up a bit.  You expect sex?  You get real romance.  You expect a laser pointed at the groin?  You get real torture.  You expect a coy kiss-off line?  You get the crudest thing ever heard uttered by Bond on the screen.

The film ventures into some brutal territory…not too much, mind you, but maybe more than you’re used to.  This Bond would get a hefty salute from Jack Bauer…not only for what he dishes out, but what he can take as well.

Some Bonds had humor, some had style, some had charm, some had flair.  Daniel Craig has all of these traits in just the right amounts, and a lot of heart to go with it.  I’ll gladly repeat, lest you think my martini got the best of me:  Casino Royale IS the best Bond film ever.

Video ****

Simply stunning…2007 is off to a great start with incredible looking DVDs, and Sony has jumped into the mix with a breathtaking anamorphic transfer.  The clarity, detail, and tones are just amazing throughout.  Everything is rendered crisply and cleanly, with nothing interfering or marring.  Making this a 2 disc set was the right choice, because the film had all the room in the world to shine forth without compression artifacts.

Audio ****

Likewise, Sony has offered up one of the best sounding discs of the early year.  The 5.1 mix is explosively dynamic, with plenty of crossovers and panning to keep the action lively in your home theatre.  And the new tune by Chris Cornell sounds terrific, too.

Features ***

The best extra is the special “Bond Girls Are Forever”, in which one Bond girl Maryam d’Abo interviews many other classic beauties who have made the franchise so nice to look at over the years.  There’s also one on “Becoming Bond”, showing Craig as he gets into the character and makes it his own over the course of the shoot.  “James Bond: For Real” documents the stunts, which were mostly done without tricks to accentuate the new, grittier Bond.

Lastly there are some Sony release trailers and a Chris Cornell music video.

Summary:

Bond is indeed back, and better than ever.  Kudos to Daniel Craig for defying the odds and the critics and proving what this character could be, and should have been all along.  And kudos to producer Barbara Broccoli, who did her late father very proud.  I’ve never said this before in the history of the Bond movies, but I can’t WAIT for the next installment.

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