The Red Right Hand
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CASINO ROYALE
James Bond, Double-0 Licence: Approved

Director
Martin Campbell
Starring
Daniel Craig
Eva Green
Mads Mikkelsen
Judi Dench

It wouldn't be Christmas without Bond. Alright, it's barely mid-November and I'm already implying it's Christmas, usually that would boil my blood – due to shops capitalising early on said event- but as I'm spending all of December with my girlfriend, I'm looking forward to it with eager anticipation. In the run-up to Christmas, one thing you could bank on being shown on TV was either The Great Escape or a Bond flick. It's one of my favourite childhood memories; I was young, British and impressionable, how could I not want to be James Bond when I grew up? Turns out I'm not, some nonsense about looking too striking and not nearly plain enough to be in the secret service. I suppose that's a good thing as I would have been stationed far from the cold recesses of Soviet Russia and deep in the heart of the swarming desert that is the Middle East – no, thank you. After Connery gave birth to the series, (followed briefly by Lazenby) Moore took the whole thing to a new level and the Bond franchise became a well-honed brand. In 1989 Timothy Dalton took things a little too far from the routine. Having successfully pulled off The Living Daylights, Dalton wanted to go back to the books and give an accurate depiction of Fleming's original creation. This didn't go down well with the public, who said that he was too violent and out of character. In retrospect, Licence To Kill has become a very accessible Bond film, with a very gritty and real element that Dalton’s predecessors were lacking. After a short hiatus, Pierce Brosnan brought Bond back to the cinemas, six years later, with the fantastic Goldeneye. Unfortunately, his efforts became progressively worse and cheesier until the awful Die Another Day; which should have been so much but ended up ridiculously over-the-top. Another break and it was finally announced that Bond would indeed return in 2006, in the form of Daniel Craig. I like Craig, he's been very good in everything I've seen him in. I had perfect faith and confidence in him; all the online nay-saying and rants about how he couldn't swim or drive a manual-shift were completely unprecedented and nonsensical. Casino Royale is the perfect plot choice for Craig, depicting a fresh-faced Bond at the start of his career. It also allows for everything to be thrown completely out the window. That's right, no Q, M's back to being a grumpy old fart and the martinis are just alcoholic beverages (as opposed to how they're served) and that's all Bond cares about. There would, however, be rioting in the streets if everything was new, so the audience should be delighted to see the return of the opening pre-credits gun barrel, John Barry's theme and the classic line, "Bond, James Bond." The rest is down to Craig and Bond veteran (Goldeneye's director), Martin Campbell.

Bond has just been promoted to a double-0 agent, with a licence to kill. His first assignment has left him disgraced but still he pursues the leads in front of him; all of which lead him to Le Chiffre [Mikkelsen], an international money launderer, known for his work with terrorists. After the ruckus Bond stirs up, a lot of illegal money is lost; Le Chiffre must now bank on his unnatural mathematical abilities to swing a high-stakes poker game at the Casino Royale in Montenegro. Bond is sent with the treasury's accountant, Vesper Lynd [Green] to take part in the game and bunk Le Chiffre's chances; leaving him without choice but to seek refuge in the UK – for which they will charge a high price: information. Although the first hour is a little off and probably not what Fleming would have imagined, the rest of the film is a faithful re-telling of the novel, brought neatly to contemporary terms. The action and intensity is not dissimilar from that of The Bourne series, with the intelligence and wit of the first Bond [Connery] saga. One of the things that has been overlooked is the humour, it's not completely gone but you can tell it's been set on a back burner for the time being.

The acting is superb and Bond is so beautifully reborn as the suave, sophisticated, killing machine that Fleming invented decades ago. His surrounding characters are no longer set-ups for one-liners but actual elements that influence and greatly affect our lead – think back to the days of Pedro Armendáriz in From Russia With Love. One of the inclusions that I absolutely adored was something that always appeared in the books that never quite made it to the films – as if to say the actor's ego (or even the Broccoli/Saltzman-created Bond's ego) couldn't permit it – the fact that he's an absolute git and the torture. Bond would always get captured, tortured and frustrate his enemies with his steely-eyed glares, gritting of his teeth and blood curdling shrieks of pain, all whilst remaining an unyielding patriot of the highest calibre.

Of course, there are faults; the length, for one. This is something the majority of the audience and Bond fans may not notice but it's clear that the first hour was probably a little unnecessarily excessive and had a drag on the overall running time (a whopping 144 minutes). Some of the action is so impressive – namely the Parkour stuff at the start – that it seems so completely unbelievable but justifies Bond’s hugeness; the man is immense and a little far from the black haired, scar brandishing, wiry gent from the books. A lot of people won't get along with Chris Cornell's opening track 'You Know My Name' – I only know this because I heard people talking about it after the screening. As a Soundgarden & Audioslave fan, I rather enjoyed the track but there's a certain down-toned element that displays certain Bond Theme characteristics but still sounds unique and somewhat unattached. It's all a question of tastes and the times but I can't say everyone loves every Bond track – Personally, I can't stand Rita Coolidge's 'All Time High' but Octopussy was naff, so I don't have to endure it much – so it's a minor quibble (that I don't even share) but needs a mention. Everything has been resurrected and audiences are finally getting what they deserve: a Bond film that beautifully uses drama, romance, action and intrigue to draw the crowds in, rather than assuming they'll show up just because it's a Bond film. 21 has always been my lucky number; looks like my own superstitions with the mathematical unit has worked wonders world over.

Release Date:
17th November 2006

The Scene To Look Out For:
A betrayed Bond runs frantically around St. Marks Square, Venice. Craig uses every ounce of his talent to portray a man, fuelled by his dramatically changing emotions; rage, concern, heart-ache, frustration, fear and sorrow. Truly, engrossing.

Notable Characters:
Craig, he brings everything we could hope and dream for in a Bond interpretation, a man who brings a serious element to a ridiculous character, yet still pulls off the schoolboy humour and antics effortlessly – don't worry I'll spare you the lines "Nobody Does It Better" which I can only imagine is littering its ways across many articles at present. Instead, I will offer a word or two about the performance given to us by Mr. Mikkelsen. Some may say it's a bland, 2 dimensional character, that serves little to the story – clearly they weren't watching him closely enough in the interrogation scene with the rope. Top notch.

Highlighted Quote:
"Even if all you had left was your smile and little finger, you would still be more of a man than anyone I have ever met"

In A Few Words:
"One of the best Bond films, one of the best Bonds, one of the best action films of the year... need I continue?"

Total Score:
8/10


Matthew Stogdon