Martin Campbell's telling of Ian Flemming's Casino Royale is brilliant. Casino, the first of the Bond stories, shows us how Bond becomes a double O. 007's story is revealed in layers, with the unrefined character played precisely by Daniel Craig, who is seen through most of the movie covered in cuts and scabs. Craig is infinitely more believable to me as a killer than the prettier Bonds. He's not the perfect, dapper gentleman of Bonds past. He's real and human, and that's why he comes off well. You get the sense that he's both vulnerable yet edgy -- like a crude diamond waiting to be cut and polished. By the end, you see him transformed into the ruthless spy with a sophisticated facade that is genuinely Bond.
The stunning Eva Green, who you might have seen in Bertolucci's Dreamers is easily the best Bond girl to grace a Fleming title. It's mesmerizing to watch this French actress onscreen and she delivers what many Bond girls of the past have lacked -- depth. She helps to give meaning to the spy with a license to kill -- who we are expected to follow through the series of stories to come. We understand after this film what shaped Bond's character and what makes killing in cold blood come easily to him.
There's a lot to like about this Bond. The action is delivered sparingly but executed intelligently. One thing I liked was the emphasis on the physical stunts. The opening scene is a Parkour chase that's less beautiful than we see usually in parkour videos, but works to great effect because it's crude and realistic. But, if you've seen Banlieue 13 (District B13) you'll notice that Casino pays homage to David Belle's opening Parkour sequence by having Bond's target launch himself through a high horizontal window. But if you are looking for car chases, rest assured that there is a great one in the first third that involves airports, gasoline, and a nano bomb.
But what I liked most of this film is that it is dark and gritty, and because of that it does justice to the story and characters. I've heard some people compare Casino to Batman Begins for it's place in resurrecting a story that had been left for dead. I think that's a pretty decent comparison. The realism of Casino is well-received. I don't want to see a spy story that sugar coats the action. The fight scenes here have a little more likeness to Scorsese than the Roger Moore Bonds I'd seen growing up. OK, maybe Scorsese might be a stretch, but really, it's got the texture and realism this story needs.
Let me sum it up for you: darker, edgier,with fewer gadgets, more realism, better acting, and bad-assed action. If you've ever loved watching Bond, and can go into this one with an open mind, you won't be dissatisified. Just leave your bias for Connery or Dalton behind.