Movie Reviews
9:55 am
Sun November 12, 2006

Casino Royale

Divertingly enjoyable

What was James Bond like at the beginning of his career? Casino Royale (remake from the mediocre 1967 original, which shows an aging Bond, played by David Niven) depicts a young, tensile, inchoate 007 (Daniel Craig) with darting intelligence and hard body, doing what Bond does mostly but with less success: He awkwardly pursues an arch villain, Le Chiffre (Mads Mikkelson), who bleeds in one eye with considerable Bond bashing by Chiffre's thugs, and he dangerously falls in love with a complicated babe, Vesper Lynd (Eva Green).

Except with Diana Rigg's Tracy Draco (On Her Majesty's Secret Service), Bond does not stumble like this again in his long career (Can you blame him with the wildly intelligent and attractive Rigg?), but Craig makes him a believable candidate for the 00 license to kill (which he gains after 2 relatively easy assassinations) because he's very bright and physically agile. Yet Craig shows corners of emotion and vulnerability foreign to the more elegant and remote Sean Connery.

The cell phones and lap tops top even the vintage Astin Martin as signs of the times that update Bond and compromise the old-fashioned self reliance a sleek gun and sleeker talk got him through the toughest villains and tougher women. The locations, from the casinos of Montenegro to the waters of Venice, are as sumptuous as ever; Judi Dench is a powerful M; and although I miss Moneypenny's sexual innuendos and the older Q's fussy precision technology, this Bond version is divertingly enjoyable, albeit at 144 minutes too long even for such a seductive franchise.

How does a second-tier director such as Martin Campbell command an amount of time that serves only to inflate cost and reduce the number of showings per day? I don't understand, but like the high-stakes poker game at the center of the film, this business of filmmaking is a gamble. Casino Royale risks losing the affection of an attention-deficited younger generation that won't sit long, much less for a story of a flawed hero in a gorgeously superficial world.