Casino Royale review

You will leave Casino Royale thinking many things. You will wonder how they ever got a 12A certificate. You will wonder why it took them so long to get it this right. And you will wonder whether it’s logistically possible to remake every other Bond film in order over the next few years with Daniel Craig in the lead role. There is heated debate whether Craig is the best Bond since Sean Connery. Irrelevant. Craig is the best Bond, full stop. Yes, yes, so he’s not quite what Ian Fleming had in mind but then neither was bleeding Moonraker or Die Another Day, and I didn’t see you complaining then so shut up.

Casino Royale is, far and away, the best Bond movie of all time and Craig blows every other 00-wannabe out of the water. It is as simple as that. Director Martin Campbell has stripped everything back to basics, restoring the Fleming ideal and making Bond a bit of a bastard. He’s a steely-eyed killer sent to do the country’s dirty work rather than a wise-cracking master of the double entendre weighed down with a sodding invisible car, a pen that contains a nuclear warhead and a watch that’s really an airship. He’s got his wits and a gun, and that’s about it. And that’s how it should be.

The film starts with Bond earning his Double-0 status by taking out a traitor. He’s then rapidly dispatched – thanks to M’s canny political manoeuvrings – to track down the man funding the world’s terrorists. That man is Le Chiffre (Mads Mikkelsen), banker to regimes and crackpots everywhere. With Le Chiffre already reeling from a venture that went sorely wrong – thanks to you-know-who – he must win a high stakes poker tournament. Bond – funded by Vesper Lynd (Eva Green), a Treasury official who just happens to be gorgeous – is the player who can stop him.

While the poker tournament gives Campbell and Craig the chance to play around with the established Bond conventions – the suit, the suave air, the vodka martini – this high stakes battle of wills is ultimately only a small part of this thrilling film. Everything you expect to see is here – as long as you’re not expecting Q, the sexual innuendo and the overbearing silliness. If you want excitement, brutality (a certificate-defying torture scene in particular), one of the greatest Bond chase sequences ever (on foot rather than in cars, perhaps another deliberate twist) and crackling sexual chemistry, then you really won’t be disappointed.

This is a flawed Bond beginning his transition from human to cold-hearted killer. Craig adds nuances you won’t have seen in this role and a sense of fragility behind the rapidly toughening façade. This is a Bond that makes mistakes and pays the price and you’ll be left breathless and demanding more. Casino Royale is the kick up the backside this franchise so badly needed, and so much more than that as well. James Bond will return? He already has, mate. He already has.

Stuart O'Connor is the Managing Editor of Screenjabber, the movie review website he co-founded with Neil Davey far too many years ago. He likes all genres, as long as the film is good (although he does enjoy the occasional bad "guilty pleasure"), and drinks way too much coffee.

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