The James Bond series was a monumental series for me growing up and, as I planned on featuring one of the 20+ films in the series as a Key Movie, I just couldn’t choose.  Since I can’t choose a single one, I am reviewing each and every Bond film continuing with today’s entry, Casino Royale.

Welcome to Key Movies Of My Life James Bond Edition.

Today’s Key Movie:

In a reboot of the franchise, Daniel Craig takes the mantle of James Bond 007.  Featuring his very first mission with MI-6, Bond must take down a malicious private banker in a high stakes poker game but soon discovers that there is more at stake than just a game.

Why this movie?

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When I first heard that a new Bond would be cast and the film would serve as a reboot to the franchise, I was skeptical.  Even though Brosnan’s last entry had been less than stellar, I still held out hope we would get another from the actor. Before long it was announced that although Dame Judi Dench would return as M, the series start from the beginning, depicting the early days of Bond but set in the modern world, essentially erasing forty years of history along with it.  The purist in me was pissed.  How could they have Bonds first mission in current times, 007 was an agent of the Cold War, he was a man from the 1960’s who served in World War II, this could not work!

Now, if you have read my blog series, you know I am a stickler for continuity and, even though this series had a loose one, I had set up a pretty complete Continuity in my head that, to me, was canon to the series.  So for this film to change that so drastically, it was like a slap in the face.  I loved the Bond Series, and these folks were going to ruin it! Sadly I missed this one in Theaters even though I had fully intended to see it, despite my reluctance for change. I regret that I did as, when it finally came to home video, I discovered that I was so very wrong. THIS was the Bond film I had always hoped for, but had yet to see.

Okay, you like this film, but is it really a ‘good film’?

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This is not the Bond you are expecting, and that is a good thing.  From the very start you find yourself face to face with a very unrefined and raw James Bond.  This is Bond before everything, he is not tempered, untested and not yet a 00 agent.  Like every Bond film before it, this has a cold open of our intrepid agent completing a mission, only this time, it is his very first depicting his earning of the double-oh status.

Upon putting the disc in, I sat, astonished at this intense re-imagining of the famous British spy.  Here was a man who was not afraid of anything, he was a blunt instrument and one that was so much more physical than any of the others before.  Even though it does start the agent from the beginning, it sets almost sets up a new standard for the films, establishing the franchise as more of a true Spy Thriller than a Spy Adventure, we finally get a hard hitting, action packed thriller devoid of goofy gadgets, pithy comebacks and silly names.  This was Bond in his purest distilled form.

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Even though this was treated as a reboot, there are a few things that a Bond film must have, including Bond Girls, Alliesa dastardly villain, and a theme song by a famous musician. Lets start with the women shall we?  There are two key women in the story of whom Bond shares some time with, Solange Dimitrios (Caterina Murino) and Vesper Lynd (Eva Green), only this time around he manages to do it with some decency.  Sure, Bond gets the girl but he never comes off as creepy in any way, only doing what he does as part of his mission.  However, as with most of his women, neither of them last long.  While Solange is only in the film for a short time, it is Vesper Lynd that is pivotal to the plot of the story.  Not only is she an important character, she becomes someone of whom Bond finds himself caring for deeply.  So, it is all the more tragic when things don’t quite work out for our intrepid agent and Mrs Lynd. Eva Green does a remarkable job in this story as Lynd and, even though she is not in the followup, Quantum of Solace, we feel her presence throughout.

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Now, Bond has always been in need of an ally and this film doesn’t shirk on this either. Between his tough relationship with M and his international friends, Bond has always had a team behind him that ensured he got the job done. Even though I found it odd that Dame Judi Dench was back as M in what was to be Bond’s first adventure, seeing that the Original M was played by Bernard Lee, but the moment she steps on screen you know she is in the right role. Gone is the bean counter as was seen in the Brosnan films, This is M the boss, the leader, the head of MI-6.  Judi Dench is incredible in this role, one that I loved see played out over the course of the next few films.  I was also delighted to find that this film not only features Bond’s first adventure but also his first meeting with CIA agent Felix Leiter.  Played by the incomparable Jeffrey Wright, Leiter proves his value to Bond and we see an early alliance begin, one that we all know will become a partnership that will span years.

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The villain of the film is portrayed by Mads Mikkelsen in the role of Le Chiffre.  At the time of the film, Mads had not been in many American films and he seemed to come out of nowhere only to depict one of the best Bond Villains in a while. This is a villain on par with Auric Goldfinger, Dr. No, Alex Trevelyan and even Blofeld himself but minus the one thing that they all seemed to have in common, crazy gadgets and a penchant for world domination.   You see, Le Chiffre is a different kind of enemy.  He is one who manipulates the stock market by causing international incidents, in turn allowing him to reap the benefits of these incidents.   Little does Bond know, but Le Chiffre isn’t acting alone…but that isn’t important in this particular film.

So, let’s talk about that theme song.  You know how much I loved the work of Chris Cornell.  So, when I discovered that he had contributed a song to the film, I have to say, I was elated.  Never before has there been such an impactful Bond theme for me.  This is one that I instantly connected with and was perfectly appropriate to the film itself.  Entitled ‘You Know My Name’ this is Cornell at his finest and remains not only one of the best Bond Themes but also one of Cornell’s finest works in his library of music.

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All in all, this is possibly the best Bond film in the franchise.  Aligning more with Ian Fleming’s book version than the previous film versions, this is a Bond who shows his military past with no lack of power and efficiency.  He is tough, skilled, blunt and gets the job done.  That being said, this is also a more realistic approach to the character.  He is a Bond who can be significantly hurt both physically and emotionally, even surviving one of the most brutal tortures a Bond film has ever depicted.  This is a Bond for whom the threats feel real and genuine throughout, one that you have moments where you question if he will survive through the film, even though you know he has to.  Director Martin Campbell manages to take Bond into a new era with incredible cinematography and pacing aligned with the finest casting in the franchise. Daniel Craig has what it takes to play the role and manages to reinvent this 40 year old character in ways that no one thought possible. It is a must see for any fan of James Bond and a great entry point for any new viewers.

OK, where do I get this movie?

You can pick this one up on Bluray fairly cheap these days running between $6 and $20 depending on when you find it.  There is also a killer set called The Daniel Craig Collection that has all four of his films so far. No matter how you get this one, you should give it a try.  You will not regret it.

Of course, the trailer.

Late To The Game 5/30/2019

If you would like to read more reviews please check out the rest of the Key Movies Of My Life that comes out every Thursday.

For more retro TV goodness check out the rest of the Retro TV Reviews here. and, If you dig Music, I have a semi regular series called Stand Out Albums that covers some of my favorite records I have come across in life.

As always, please feel free to comment below and share your experiences with these episodes as well. If you just happened by, tell me what you think! Don’t Forget To Follow me if you like the blog!

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