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New Bond deftly bluffs way through bungled ‘Casino Royale’
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Daniel Craig as James Bond and Caterina Murino as Solange in MGM/Columbia Pictures' Casino Royale - 2006
In this instance, it’s not as much about the movie’s merit as it is about the worthiness of a new performer stepping into the shoes of a well-established character.

Daniel Craig, the most recent actor to portray British Secret Service Agent James Bond, has admittedly been dealt an imperfect hand in “Casino Royale.” However, despite the exceedingly complicated and sometimes tiresome storyline, Craig manages to reinvent Bond and re-energize the entire franchise.

Gone is Roger Moore’s blithe, playboy interpretation of Bond. Gone also is Pierce Brosnan’s self-effacing, occasionally brooding caricature. Craig instills in Bond an edginess and brutal potency not seen since Sean Connery’s day. The trademark Bond arrogance is there, but there is also a degree of vulnerability that grounds the character, making him more believable and less larger-than-life.

“Casino Royale” effectively strips away many mainstays of Bond lore: There is less emphasis on gadgetry and gizmos, less inclination toward burlesque characters with bawdy names, and less dependence upon super villains bent on world domination. Whether intentional or not, Craig’s debut in the role seems to mark a rebirth of novelist Ian Fleming’s protagonist.

If the renaissance was intentional, “Casino Royale” was a logical place to begin. It was, in fact, the first novel Fleming wrote about 007, published back in 1953. It was adapted for the big screen once before – but only as a surreal spoof starring Peter Sellers and David Niven. Originally set during the Cold War, many details of the story had to be revised to make the movie timely. Soviet assassins, for instance, are replaced by faceless terrorists.

From the opening sequence in which Bond earns his license to kill, the film’s action is spectacular, vivid and unflinchingly visceral. Early on, audiences

follow a foot-chase through a crowded African city as Bond pursues a terrorist bomber through a construction site in a scene that features death-defying stunts at dizzying heights. The unsettling and unexpected conclusion of this episode results in political embarrassment for M16 and causes M, once again portrayed splendidly by Judi Dench, to question Bond’s effectiveness.

Dismissing M’s censure, Bond continues to track suspected terrorists, eliminating extraneous henchmen and underlings as he seeks the mastermind behind the plot. Enter Le Chiffre (Mads Mikkelsen), a wealthy European with a penchant for high stakes poker and a history of playing chief financial advisor to international terrorists.

When Le Chiffre loses $150 million dollars owed to an unnamed terrorist organization, he sets up a tournament at Casino Royale to win back the money. Bond is dispatched to keep Le Chiffre from winning the pot.

“Casino Royale” stumbles during the third act. At 2 hours 24 minutes, the movie would have benefited from some meticulous editing. The exploration of the relationship between Bond and Vesper Lynd (Eva Green), while enlightening as to the evolution of Bond’s personality, seems to drag on relentlessly. At one point, the audience is wondering why the credits haven’t begun to roll.

Another flaw is the relative obscurity of a principal antagonist. While it may be refreshing to escape the Super Villain cliché that has plagued the franchise, the viewer should be able to identify the primary adversary fairly early on. There are so many bad guys in “Casino Royale” it is difficult to determine which one ultimately pulls the strings.

Though the screenplay and direction fail to live up to expectations, Craig excels as Bond. “Casino Royale” successfully reintroduces the character and establishes the actor in the role. The producers clearly put their money on Craig to revitalize Bond. It’s clear their gamble will pay off.
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