Tuesday, November 07, 2006
Daniel Craig IS James Bond
Confession: I haven't seen a recent James Bond film in about ten years, and I haven't seen one I've liked much in almost twice that. However, I have now seen the newest Bond film, CASINO ROYALE, and I'm here to say what I'm sure others will be saying before long:
Daniel Craig is the best Bond since Sean Connery.
I'm not really going out on a limb here. CASINO ROYALE is the toughest, most serious Bond film in years, and Craig inhabits it perfectly. He brings an amazing physicality to the role, along with a rough-hewn charm, sardonic humor and vibrant intelligence. There's a lot going on behind those ice-blue eyes, and never for a moment do you doubt him as a hard-edged - but still unseasoned - undercover operative for the British Secret Service. To say he breathes new life into a tired series would be an understatement. If the producers run out of ideas for new films, they should consider going back to remake some of the older non-Connery ones with Craig. Hell, even a couple of the later Connery Bonds would be better served by him.
The film itself has some of the same problems other Bond films have had. It's longish (two hours and 20 minutes), and the plot barely holds together as it hurtles along. It bears the multi-screenwriter mark of assorted showpiece scenes that seem to have been stitched together to make a whole, and some of the stunt sequences feel like they're from another film. But once the action moves to Montenegro and a high-stakes poker game (baccarat in the book), the film captures the dark heart of Ian Fleming's original novels perfectly. Danish actor Mads Mikkelsen (from Nicolas Refn's PUSHER trilogy) is terrific as Le Chiffre, "international banker to the world's terrorists," whose own life is riding on the game as much as Bond's. Eva Green (KINGDOM OF HEAVEN) is luminous as Bond's MI6 cohort and confidante, Vesper Lynd.
There's humor in the film, but almost all of it works, even while poking fun at the earlier Bond mythos. And amazingly - for the first time in years - large chunks of the original Fleming source novel are actually in the script. As readers of the book know, Bond takes some serious punishment along the way, and all of it - and more - is in the film.
But the real revelation here is Craig, who seems equally at home at a gambling table sporting a dinner jacket or in a narrow stairwell squeezing the life out of an opponent with his bare hands. This is Ian Fleming's James Bond.