Directed by: Martin Campbell
Written by:Neal Purvis, Robert Wade, Paul Haggis
Starring: Daniel Craig, Eva Green, Mads Mikkelsen, Judi Dench, Jeffrey Wright, Giancarlo Giannini
Released: December 7, 2006
Grade: B+

I have not been a fan of the recent James Bond films.  GoldenEye, Tomorrow Never Dies, The World Is Not Enough and Die Another Day were all disappointing.  If you asked me anything about these four Pierce Brosnan flicks, I’d be looking at your blankly.  All I can remember is over-the-top, repetitive action and ridiculous storylines (two pet hates).

Casino Royale was the first Bond book ever written by Ian Fleming.  If it sounds familiar, a film of the same title was released in 1967.  Starring Peter Sellers and David Niven, the movie was a spoof of the James Bond series – it was the 60s equivalent of Austin Powers.

What’s great about the story is that we go back to the start of Bond’s career.  We see how he first earned his 007 status and we see why he treats women with such distain.  These additional elements to the story came as a great relief.  It allows more time to be spent on the story and less on the action (there are only 2 major action sequences in all).

In a similar vein to last year’s Batman Begins, the studio has successfully revived a tiring franchise by creating a prequel as opposed to a sequel.  As his first assignment, M (Dench) sends Bond (Craig) to Madagascar to keep an eye on a suspect linked to a terrorist organisation.  It doesn’t go as plan and M worries that her faith in Bond has been misplaced.  She suggests he take a vacation to regroup.       

Bond flies to the Bahamas but it’s not for any holiday.  He’s determined to redeem himself and goes to follow up on a lead.  Sure enough, Bond locates his man.  Le Chiffre (Mikkelsen) is a wealthy individual who acts as a bank for the world’s terrorists.  He holds their money, invests it wisely, and then takes a large slice of the profit.  Considering he knows when the terrorists are going to act, it’s no wonder that he’s so successful in judging the ups and downs of the stock market.

After Bond foils an act of terrorism, Le Chiffre is out of pocket.  Desperate to get his losses back, he travels to Montenegro to compete in a Texas hold ‘em poker tournament.  Each player invests $10m with the winner taking the total prize pool of $120m.  Financed by his own agency, Bond enters the tournament to ensure Le Chiffre isn’t victorious.

Twelve months ago, there was intense speculation as to who would replace Pierce Brosnan as Bond.  Many were sceptical about choosing Daniel Craig (Layer Cake) over more high profile stars such as Clive Owen and Ewan McGregor.  Others were critical simply because he was a blonde (no other Bonds have been).  Craig’s performance in Casino Royale will dispel many nay sayers.  With a steely glare, he delivers his jokes with just the right mix of seriousness and sarcasm.  He also shows his character’s vulnerability.  These characteristics make him far superior to Brosnan who was more an improbable super hero.

As the best Bond film in some time, Casino Royale is a two and a half hour adventure ride that will be enjoyed by most audiences.  Shuffle up and deal!