Casino Royale - first impression

I don't know whether this is the Bond film the world has been waiting for, but it is the film that Bond fans have been waiting for: a tense, gripping thriller mercifully free of the baggage of the previous films, CASINO ROYALE takes the essentials of Ian Fleming's novel and updates them for the screen, seamlessly adding the requisite action set pieces in the process.

The lame one-liners and jokey tone have been jettisoned freeing the film to stand on its own, not as the umpteenth entry in a formula-bound franchise. Or, to put it bluntly, this time out the filmmakers really tried to make a real film, with credibilty laced throughout the characters and the storyline.

And they had the nerve to do it without falling back on the crutches that held them up before - and that compromised previous attempts at making a more mature Bond film. This is the movie they should have made when they brought Timothy Dalton on board, but Daniel Craig fills the tuxedo very nicely; in fact, he he's damn near perfect, capturing the grim, lethal quality of Fleming's literary creation. He's a younger, untried Bond, finding his way in his new 00-status, and he makes you believe in the character as a human being, not a walking icon.

The result may not be for everyone's taste. The script retains the nasty torture sequence (with Bond strapped naked to a chair with the seat cut out, so that the villain can whack his testicles repeatedly with a heavy, knotted rope). There's a fairly grim denounment, somewhat akin to ON HER MAJESTY'S SECRET SERVICE. And Bond does not delivery many of his trademark quips.

Beyond that, the film is not perfect. Some of the editing seems jumbled. At one point, Bond cleans up in his hotel room's lavatory after a nearly fatal poisoning, goes to play poker downstair, then returns to the hotel room to find his female partner slumped in the shower, fully clothed and freaked out from all the action. Has she been there for hours while he was playing? And why didn't he notice her when he was in the bathroom before?

Also, there's at least one dangling thread: several times, the camera emphasizes a breath inhaler used by the villain, Le Chiffre, and at one point Bond inserts a tiny metal device (presumably a tracking unit) inside it. But there is no payoff to this set-up, so I guess we'll have to wait for the deleted scenes on DVD to figure out what this was all about.

That said, the movie works almost from start to finish. I've seen some critical complaints about the extended coda, but to my mind the sequence was handled quite well, the too idyllic tone of the scenes perfectly inducing a sense of anticipation that something awful was going to happen.

The film ends on a clever note, with 007 finally making his trademark declaration of self, "I'm Bond - James Bond," and the famous Monty Norman theme music blaring out, in its full glory, for the first time during the closing credits. Thus the movie neatly announces itself as a rebirth that will launch a new, invigorated franchise. Now that the character has undergone his "trial by fire" and proved himself in the line of duty, it will will be hard to sustain the dramatic intensity in future installments. But we are eager to see the filmmakers try.