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STEPHEN'S MOVIE GUIDE

Casino Royale  

Review: written 2006

Fantastic, gripping, gritty thriller - but is it Bond?

Based loosely on the storyline of the original novel, but strongly on the tone of that novel, this thriller is taut, gritty and exciting. Daniel Craig puts in a superb performance of a man who has just been given a license to kill for his government, and how he deals with that and how he grows into the double-0 status.

But let’s pause for a moment.. this is not just a movie, it's part of the Bond Franchise! And as such, it could be argued to be somewhat of a let down. Fleming fans are going to be excited that the tone of the novel is there, but those expecting the flavour of Bond as we have come to know him, will find him conspicuously absent. The gadgets, gone (well, except for the obligatory brand name plugs - the plug for a well known watch was shameless). The music - absent until the final moments, the idea being that Bond as we know him does not exist until the events of the movie have played out. However, David Arnold is back to do the music and puts in a good score to match the tone of the movie. The characters - no Q, no Moneypenny.. though oddly, M is played by Judi Dench, who surely does not come along until later in Bond's career according to previous Bond movies? Well, no matter, she fits the part so well. No grand stunt in the opening scene - instead we get a gritty up close and personal fight in a toilet more in keeping with the Bourne Identity than Bond.

And although the movie was universally acclaimed by the critics, I have found it to be somewhat lacking in soul.. Bond has always had an element of the fantastic. As far back as `Dr. No' when we say the weird shaped meeting room of the title character designed by Ken Adam, we have expected the serious business of surviving and cold blooded killing, to be tempered with an element of the fantastic. And while the makers are to be applauded for toning that element down, taking it away altogether takes away a quintessential ingredient of a Bond movie.

There are beautiful girls, not one but two Aston Martins of different vintages, and exotic locations - but the ingredients have been mixed to a different recipe in this outing.

The big question hangs out there - the wait is over, does Daniel Craig make a good Bond? The answer is - we don't know for sure yet - because while he plays this part perfectly, it is not yet Bond. In short, this is a superb thriller well worth watching, with fine performances and gritty well executed action sequences - Just drop expectation of a full blooded Bond movie, which is where this review drops a star from the rating. In my view, this plays as an accompaniment to the Bond franchise, not part of it.





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