Casino Royale – DVD Review

Available at Amazon.com

Director:

Martin Campbell

Cast:

Daniel Craig .James Bond
Eva Green .Vesper Lynd
Mads Mikkelsen .Le Chiffre
Judi Dench .M
Jeffrey Wright .Felix Leiter
Giancarlo Giannini .Mathis
Caterina Murino .Solange
Simon Abkarian .Alex Dimitrios

Sony Pictures presents Casino Royale. Based on the novel by Ian Fleming. Written by Neal Purvis, Robert Wade and Paul Haggis. Running time: 144 minutes. Rated PG-13 (for intense sequences of violent action, a scene of torture, sexual content and nudity). Available on DVD: March 13, 2007. MSRP: $28.96.


The Movie

Who the hell is Daniel Craig? He’s an actor whose name falls on many deaf ears. Just like it did on October 14, 2005. For this is the date in which Sony Pictures confirmed that Craig would rejuvenate the James Bond franchise — at the tender age of thirty-seven — as the sixth incarnation of 007. Fair-weather Bond fans around the world opined with a resounding “Huh?”

More kindling to be added to this smoldering announcement is the fact that the British agent would have blond hair and blue eyes. Shaking their heads in disgust many fans prepared for the worst. What’s next, an announcement that states the film would take place during World War II and Bond was to be an Aryan spy? Far from it. In Casino Royale, Craig proves even a 37-year-old can play a young MI6 spy.

This is not your Mother and Father’s James Bond. Here we have a man that isn’t quite refined; he could care less if his Martini is shaken or stirred. Bond’s blue, steel-eyed demeanor and his arrogance make him a liability, and leaves M (Judi Dench), his boss at MI6, with reservations about promoting him too soon.

At the film’s outset James Bond is in Prague, sent to kill a double-dealing MI6 section chief who’s been selling British secrets. To achieve Double-0 status an agent must have two confirmed kills. Hey, might as well kill two birds with one stone. Kill the section chief and his associate. Bing, bang, boom. Soon thereafter he’s pursuing a bomb-maker in Madagascar. Such a pursuit produces one of the best chases in recent memory. From running up construction beams to jumping through tight crevices, it leaves little room for improvement. Had there been an Oscar for Best Scene/Sequence it would have surely gotten a nomination.

I remember when film critic Joel Siegel was doing his review on Good Morning America and said something to effect that the chase had no bearing on the picture. Yeah, if you don’t count the chain of events that followed. The bomb-maker was a petty pursuit, but the information in his possession was invaluable. Turns out he worked for Le Chiffre (Mads Mikkelsen), an unscrupulous banker whose clientele is a who’s-who list of terrorists and rebels from around the globe. He is an expert at numbers and percentages so an affinity towards the game of poker is to be expected. A gambling man, Le Chiffre uses his clients’ funds in order to increase his bankroll. He stages attacks against certain companies to short sell their stocks. But when one of his attacks goes kaput thanks to James Bond, some knuckle sandwiches and a misplaced explosive device, Le Chiffre finds himself between a rock and some trigger-happy investors.

To recoup the loss, Le Chiffre sets up a high-stakes, winner-takes-all game of Texas Hold em at the Casino Royale hotel in Montenegro. Fortunate for MI6, Bond is the best poker player in the service. Watching the poker tournament unfold, the action is not awe-inspiring stuff. Though, truth be told, it is near impossible to film a poker scene and have it look interesting.

Joining Bond is treasury agent Vesper Lynd (Eva Green). She’s no Moneypenny, and both Vesper and James are quick to point this out. “I’m the money,” she says. “Every penny of it,” Bond replies. The scene they have while sitting across from each other on the train to Montenegro is a great sequence. There is no action, only talking. Each tries to mentally dissect the other to better understand them.

Such a discourse is a good start in showing a Bond that doesn’t need one-liners or high-tech weaponry to impact an audience. Through characterization we get a stripped down Bond who is a human being with feelings. Oh sure, he is still the ultimate male, able to sleep with hundreds of women — preferably married, for the danger aspect — but added dimension gives the super spy depth and personality.

A reviled casting decision to play James Bond, Daniel Craig makes those with preconceived notions quickly forget. He is Bond. He is a killer who sees himself as half monk, half hitman. He is one who is incapable of letting the guilty get away scot-free. He is one to never yield, even if castration is imminent. As a new Double-0 mistakes are made. And with Vesper Lynd an emotional bond is created. When severed, he becomes vulnerable.

Casino Royale is a breath of fresh air. By 2002, James Bond films were becoming stale. They still made money at the box office, but the movies became more about the special effects than the story. Certain aspects from earlier Bond adventures are gone, like Q and Ms. Moneypenny, and only a few mainstays remain. The biggest constant is Judi Dench as M. I guess if a good thing isn’t broke. But why must Dench remain when everything else around her is new? Nevertheless, the relationship she has with James is maternal in nature and provides some of the best laughs. Her discipline to his recklessness is akin to a mother catching her son trying to take a cookie from the cookie jar.

Martin Campbell makes his return to directing James Bond, having previously directed Pierce Brosnan in Goldeneye. Only Campbell could find pleasure in putting Daniel Craig through stuntwork hell and juxtaposing the miraculous feats with exotic locales. Hopefully, if Campbell does not return to the director’s chair, the next in line is able to make a picture that continues to have great depth, scintillating eye candy, and a cool sensibility.


The DVD

THE VIDEO
(Presented in 2.40:1 anamorphic widescreen)

With an aspect ratio of 2:40:1, we get an image that is a wee bit smaller than the typical 2:35:1 widescreen. Still, the video image is spot on. Clear and concise, the picture is bright without any artifacts on the print. And the blacks. Never has a penguin suit looked so good. Much better than I remembered it last fall.

THE AUDIO
(English — Dolby Digital 5.1; French — Dolby Surround; Spanish — Dolby Digital 5.1)

If ever there was a time to upgrade your home theater system. The audio for Casino Royale is just that good. The Dolby Digital 5.1 track is pumping with explosions, shoot-outs, and an Aston Martin car crash. The opening credits with Chris Cornell’s “You Know My Name” gets you in the mood from the start; the beat of the music pulsating through your sound set-up. The mix is excellent throughout, explosions and music cues never overpowering the actors’ voices. Also available are subtitles in English, French and Spanish.

SPECIAL FEATURES

For a two-disc release normally one would expect elaborate extras spread across both discs. Nuh uh. All the extras are on the second disc. The only thing special you’ll find on the first disc are trailers before the main title screen. Not even a commentary track is included.

On disc two we are treated to three featurettes, some trailers and a music video for Chris Cornell’s theme, “You Know My Name.” Becoming Bond is a 25-minute look at the process involved in selecting Daniel Craig. The featurette also gives us snippets of information on a number of aspects to the film, including: the special effects, shooting locations, and the sport of Parkour (as seen in last year’s District B13).

James Bond: For Real is an informative, 23-minute look at the stunts that were designed for the movie. The stunts involved are “near to real as possible,” so says Daniel Craig. He also believes the fights depicted should make you [the viewer] wince a bit. Surprisingly, the scene of torture is not discussed. But we get plenty of behind-the-scenes footage of the opening chase, the action on the airport tarmac, and the Aston Martin car crash — a crash that would earn it a spot in the Guinness Book of World Records.

The final featurette, Bond Girls are Forever, is a 49-minute mini-doc that you may have seen on AMC when James Bond marathons seemed like a monthly occurrence in 2006. Some may feel cheated getting this vintage featurette, but the content is entertaining. Personally, my introduction to James Bond was with Timothy Dalton and his two adventures. Which is funny, because the Bond Girls in those films (namely Carey Lowell and Maryam d’Abo) are but a few of the dames who did not have sex with the Martini drinker. Thankfully, Denise Richards, who is perhaps the worst Bond Girl in history, does not grace us with a sound bite.

THE INSIDE PULSE

It has been four years since the last Bond adventure. In the years since, movie goers have had to get their action spy flick fix from the likes of Jason Bourne. In the two Bourne films, Matt Damon and co. have proven that you don’t need elaborate gadgets or technical wizardry to impress those who shill out ten bucks a ticket. All you need is an interesting character with a story to tell. Oh, and some awesome car chases to get the blood pumping. And that’s what you get with Casino Royale. The action is rough, the leading man is tough, and there’s plenty of bluffs. But enough with the rhyming. For the DVD, the film and technical presentation alone make this worth a buy. The extras could use some work, but knowing Sony, I’m sure we’ll get a more robust version when Bond’s next adventure graces theaters around the globe in 2008.

The DVD Lounge’s Ratings for Casino Royale
CATEGORY
RATING
(OUT OF 10)
THE MOVIE

9.5
THE VIDEO

9
THE AUDIO

10
THE EXTRAS

7
REPLAY VALUE

10
OVERALL
9
(NOT AN AVERAGE)