"Shadows present, foreshadowing deeper shadows to come." -- Herman Melville

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November 17, 2006

Casino Royale
US/UK/Czech Republic 2006, Directed by Martin Campbell
Written by Neal Purvis, Robert Wade, and Paul Haggis
Based on the novel by Ian Fleming
(****) of four

An exhilarating return to form for a long-stagnant franchise, Casino is not only one of the best movies of the year, but the best Bond film in well over twenty years. Unlike the ponderous Batman Begins, Casino refrains from labored back-story exposition, allowing Daniel Craig's masterful performance to take over. We've become accustomed to Bond over the years: invulnerable, endlessly slick and suave while bedding every supermodel in his path, able to pass through even the most outlandish action setups with barely a scuff on his tuxedo. He's become a predictably perfect superspy, all action and martinis, no suspense or intrigue. Freed of the character constraints that hamstrung earlier actors, Craig is given free reign to delve into Bond's darker side. His Bond is brash, arrogant, and, ultimately, revealingly vulnerable. It's hard to imagine another actor being more successful in the role ("prettier" actors like Jude Law and Christian Bale would have fallen into another Pierce Brosnan interpretation--Clive Owen might have had a chance, though). It's a thrill watching Bond evolve in front of our eyes, never quite sure where he's going to take us next. Matching him is the gorgeous Eva Green, the rare Bond Girl who's actually given intelligence and depth. Nice to have someone for Bond to match wits with, not just a T&A vessel ripe for the plucking. The action is wisely distilled down to a handful of scenes, including a ripping opening chase (bonus points to any movie that features the credit "Free running by Sebastien Foucan"). It's hard to see how they're going to top this one, but the Daniel Craig Era is off to a hell of a start and I can't wait to see them try.