Robert Fossil reviews Casino Royale

Casino Royale can justifiably be billed as Bond 2.1. The film eschews the history of the (cinematic) character and introduces Daniel Craig as a very different Bond-one that asks you to take a leap of faith and pretend he is the first. Fresh into the 00 section, this Bond is businesslike and as likely to put your head through a bog urinal as dispense a bon mot. A gym-bulked sourpuss with a crewcut, he is an anonymous face in the crowd-never more so than in a scene where he is mistaken for a valet and asked to park a car. One of the frequent stock criticisms of the James Bond series goes something like this: What sort of secret agent is recognised in every part of the world he visits? The twist on this is nicely done and adds a hollow veneer of realism to a film that has already been undercut by action sequences as ludicrously implausible as anything Pierce Brosnan was put through.

What can I say about the PTS and song/credits that hasn't already been said? The former was too short and the song doesn't improve. Kleinman's credits were fine. The opening scenes have some of the flavour and exoticism of the under-rated The Man With The Golden Gun although the crane sequence wandered into the realms of fantasy. Ordinarily I would have no complaints; but if you are going to cast Daniel Craig and declare that he is the only person who can handle the film because it is so different and serious I am bound to point at sections of the film that are very much business as usual.

Very early it becomes apparent that the reboot has been stripped down from what I had expected. I don't know if Craig's casting played a role in this but I would have to join that predictable naysayer chorus who feel that the actor looks a tad mature to be a wild young agent prone to mistakes and yet to discover his favourite alcoholic tipple.

I was surprised when Eon announced that Casino Royale would be the next film. Michael G Wilson seemed lukewarm to the idea in a late nineties interview and I was under the impression that Purvis and Wade had lifted chunks of the novel in their screenplay for The World Is Not Enough. The title itself sounded old-fashioned and the idea of a poker set-piece sounded very twee in a world of Jason Bourne and Jack Bauer. The solution was to come up with half a new film and then segue it into Fleming's novel. The first half is very generic and the 'only Craig could have done this film' doesn't really hold up. He brings a physicality that harks back to Lazenby but I missed the precise economy of Bond. It's all a bit Jason Statham for me. Even if one remembers that Craig is supposed to be rough around the edges I'm not sure I can ever accept him as the precise, cool as a cucumber, suave 007 that I have imprinted in my head. If that suggests a lack of imagination on my part then so be it. I missed the balletic simplicity. Brains over brawn.

Le Chiffre is a missed opportunity. Thoughts turned to everyone from Phillip Seymour Hoffman to Jean Reno when the casting process began. The final choice turns in a performance that is either wonderfully understated or as dull as a bag of bones. The body-works and Miami Airport scenes were equally uninspiring. Two more scenes that sound fantastic on paper but delivered rather flatly onscreen.

Once we kick into the book Eva Green enters the fray and is immediately exposed as someone who is going to forge a career on her looks as much as any acting ability she may have. She's ok but Fleming's original Bond girl proves no more memorable on the big screen than Izabella Scorupco's computer programmer from GoldenEye, let alone Tracey from On Her Majesty's Secret Service. I felt much more emotionally invested in Lazenby and Rigg than I did Craig and Green. Did the love story work? Not really, although the intent was brave.

Paul Haggis was lauded as the trump card and the script, shorn of the double-entrendres that poor Pierce Brosnan was frequently saddled with, is ambitious for a Bond film. There is however some awfully overcooked and pretentious twaddle. "I have no armour left" and "If only your little finger was left..." or whatever that line was.

The poker match was not the most gripping experience I have ever had in a cinema. Craig seemed to look his absolute worst in these scenes. Blotchy, dead-eyed and slightly sinister. I came to the conclusion that he was miscast as Bond but would have made a terrific Le Chiffre eye-balling 007 across the table. I tried to picture one of the young Bond candidates in the scene. At no other time did I miss the old dark handsome Bond type more than during this sequence.

The film looks good but rarely feels like a James Bond film with its unconventional leading man and the absence of Monty Norman's theme. David Arnold must have felt like a boxer with one arm tied behind his back scoring this film. A mention too for the scene where Bond is drugged and turns out to have a hospital ward in the dashboard of his car. The mobile-phone malarkey is also as rife as recent Bonds. A knife fight is well staged but you'll see better in a Jet Li flick. When Craig looks in the mirror with blood smeared around him you expect a box to pop up  reading: Look everyone he's ACTING! In a James Bond film!

Craig really goes to town in the torture scene. It all seems rather out of place to me but perhaps I watched too many Roger Moore films growing up. On the subject of Sir Roger, Craig is never given anything especially funny to say. He also lacks a lightness of touch. One thinks of Brosnan's incredulous look at Wai-Lin walking up the wall in Tomorrow Never Dies. Craig can't do that. He tries once and wades out of his depth.

They contrive to get one painting by numbers action piece out of the end although the denouement is bold (for a James Bond film). Memories of Craig's infamous Empire magazine cover flooded back in the final scene. Someone stood up and said "Was that a James Bond film?" Really?" Oh, I made that up.

I've always found it impossible to place Never Say Never Again in my list of favourite Bond films because it seems so strange. Casino Royale is much the same. I can say that I watched a bit of The Living Daylights a few days later and it seemed a million times more like a Bond film than Casino Royale did. I feel like Eon have cherry-picked a few elements of Fleming and what might be broadly termed 'realism' and put them into a film which is all over the shop in its overall deference to these qualities. Bond come perilously close to being nothing more than a classless nutcase in this 'entry'. Fleming's Bond is a lean, handsome Eton drop-out. Craig picks up some of the attitude but then I daresay Sir Ben Kingsley would deliver a technically brilliant performance as Bond. Neither would ever play 007 if I had anything to do with it.

The characters are very different and shouldn't strictly be compared but the last Jason Bourne film was sleeker, cooler and packed more of a kinetic punch than Casino Royale. Yes, Bourne is a (deliberate) blank and largely plotless but he was given a better director, better all-round cast (Stiles, Cox, Urban), a hipper music score and quite simply, a film with more flair, verve and freshness. There is a tension in Casino Royale between the attempt to make a 'straight' film and still give audiences the high-octane nonsense they expect. Bourne sort of does both with the indie spirit.

Did I accept Daniel Craig as James Bond? The answer (you'll be amazed to know) was no. He's a good actor but he isn't a James Bond. I don't even think he's really a leading man. An unquantifiable number of 007 fans, now out in the cold, will always feel that way.

And they used to be such an agreeable bunch.

 - Robert Fossil

c 2006 Alternative 007