Movies That Everyone Should See: “Casino Royale”

In 2002, Eon Productions released the 20th Bond film in the series, “Die Another Day”.

Though it was critically panned (57% on Rotten Tomatoes) and generally reviled by hardcore fans, it was still a huge hit. The combination of Pierce Brosnan and Halle Berry provided an enormous box office draw. Without taking inflation into account, it was the highest grossing Bond film ever released. It earned $432 million worldwide, and was the sixth highest grossing film of 2002.

The producers were faced with a difficult decision. Brosnan, though still wildly popular, had fulfilled his contract and was about to turn 50. The series had also begun to lose credibility during Brosnan’s run, with the quality of the movies gradually devolving until they were cartoonish action films.

They made the difficult decision to recast the role of James Bond, replacing Brosnan with the relatively unknown Daniel Craig. They also decided to create a more grounded movie… to return 007 to more believable territory.

The result? A movie that not only overtook “Die Another Day” as the series’ box office champion, but one that many fans list as the greatest film in the franchise’s proud history.

“Casino Royale”.

“Die Another Day” was the fourth and final film featuring Pierce Brosnan as James Bond. He was undeniably popular during his term as 007. Regardless of the quality of his films, they were consistently bankable. In order, his movies ranked 4th, 4th, 8th, and 6th in worldwide grosses in their year of their release. His first film, “Goldeneye” became the highest grossing film in franchise history, and “The World Is Not Enough” and “Die Another Day” would raise that bar twice more.

In spite of his popularity, the quality of the films during his tenure had undeniably begun to deteriorate. Not that it’s fair to blame Brosnan, but he had become associated with the tone that the series had taken on.

And that tone had become borderline comical. “Die Another Day” featured Bond parasailing away from a CGI avalanche, a melting ice hotel, a solar satellite death ray, plastic surgery via DNA rewriting, a final battle against a villain in a robotic suit aboard a burning airplane, and perhaps most egregiously, a cameo by Madonna (in order to secure her horrendous theme song contribution).

Something needed to change.

“Once and for all, as far as my connection goes, Bond is over. If you ask me how did it become over, well, it’s hard to find the truth in a town called Hollywood. In the middle of negotiations, everything stopped. I got a call and my agent said, “They’ve ceased negotiations”. I said, “Why? How?”. I never really got an answer, but the producer said they didn’t know how to continue and I said, “Fair enough. Goodbye”. It was good while it lasted. I wish them well, I wish the next man well. And that’s what really happened.” – Pierce Brosnan, Hello Magazine, Nov 2nd, 2004

Eon Productions, the company that had produced all 20 previous “Official” Bond movies, made a decision to make the 21st Bond film a more traditional Bond movie. In spite of the recent success the series had experienced, they were now looking to distance themselves from the recent chapters. They began using a word that had come into vogue with the recent “Batman Begins”… “reboot”. The internet would eventually take to nicknaming the 21st Bond “Bond Begins”.

Brosnan was out (though they halfheartedly attempted to arrive at a one picture deal with him). The role of James Bond would be recast. A sixth actor would receive his license to kill. They announced their intention to make the next movie an would also eschew the reliance on CGI and over the top characters that the series had recently developed, and instead focus on stunt work and story.

And at this particular juncture, EON pictures had a card up their sleeve in terms of stories… an original Ian Fleming novel that had never been filmed in the “Official Series”; the first Bond novel ever, “Casino Royale”.

In 1954, Ian Fleming released his first novel about super spy James Bond. It was a modest success. Convinced the property had the potential for a movie, Fleming unsuccessfully tried to sell the film rights. In the middle of the conservative 1950s, Hollywood studios were put off by the novel’s sexual and violent content. Fleming was forced to settle for a deal offered by CBS for $1,000.

CBS created a one hour-long television special based on the book for their “Climax!” series. “Climax!” was a weekly series of unrelated dramatic stories, occasionally performed live. In this particular episode, named after the novel, Barry Nelson played Bond and Peter Lorre played Le Chiffre. Bond was Americanized (he now worked for , all references to him working for British secret service were removed, and he was referred to occasionally as Jimmy. It made little difference. The episode aired live, October 21, 1954 to hardly any notice.

It was important in one regard, however. Aside from earning Barry Nelson a historical footnote as the first actor to ever play James Bond, it also meant that when Albert Broccoli and Harry Saltzman purchased the film rights to the Bond novels years later, “Casino Royale” would not be included.

This allowed for one of the two “non-canon” James Bond films that have been made: 1967′s “Casino Royale”, starring David Niven, Peter Sellers, Ursula Andress and Woody Allen (the other being 1983′s “Never Say Never Again”, due to a separate legal rights issue). With Bond mania in full swing in the mid sixties, alert producer Charles K. Feldman snapped up the rights and attempted to reconcile the property with the franchise. When he couldn’t arrive at a deal with Broccoli and Saltzman, he decided to make his own movie. A send-up. “Casino Royale” (1967) was a modest success at the box office ($23 mil, good for 13th highest in the year of its release), but wasn’t overly resonant in the pop culture. As a spoof film, the ’67 “Casino Royale” doesn’t oft get argued as a “Bond Film” the way “Never Say Never Again” does, but it did continue the curious odyssey of the rights of the Fleming novel.

With the release of ’67′s “Royale”, the rights were now were in the hands of Columbia Pictures.

Columbia was acquired by Sony in 1989. In 1996, when MGM/UA chief executive John Calley moved to Columbia Pictures, he began looking for a franchise that could provide a bankable return every few years. He purchased the rights to Spider-Man from Marvel (who had just emerged from bankruptcy). Unfortunately, a Spider-Man film had already been stuck in development hell for years (also involving James Cameron and Carolco pictures), and MGM had acquired the rights and pre-production materials involved in development. They sued Columbia over Spider-Man’s rights.

Calley countered. He was well aware of the legal issues surrounding “Never Say Never Again” (MGM and Columbia had co-released that film), and knew that Kevin McClory was eager to remake 83′s “Never Say Never Again” as “Warhead 8″. Between that, and the fact that Columbia/Sony owned the rights to “Casino Royale”, Calley began intimating that the studio was prepared to launch an “alternate Bond franchise”. MGM sued over Bond, as well.

In 1999, the two studios reached an accord. MGM would give Sony/Columbia their rights to the Spider-Man material they had, and in exchange, they would receive “Casino Royale” and any rights Columbia had regarding Bond material.

Both the Sam Raimi “Spider-Man” trilogy and “Casino Royale” were free to move forward.

So, with an original Fleming novel available to be filmed for the first time in decades, and a desire to change the tone of the series, the producers began their search for a new James Bond. Karl Urban, Henry Cavill and Sam Worthington were considered to varying extents, but the producers zeroed in on Daniel Wroughton Craig.

Craig was a relative unknown to American audiences, and only slightly better known in the UK. He had had roles in “Road to Perdition”, “Lara Croft: Tomb Raider”, and “Munich” but his largest role had been 2004′s “Layer Cake”, where he plays an unnamed drug dealer who gets involved in a situation that eventually leads to major violence. Craig would bring a serious intensity to the role, and return the physicality to the part. He had been a semi-professional rugby player, and was prepared to get into top shape for the part.

Fandom at large was divided about the announcement. While many sought out “Layer Cake” and were impressed, others derided his lack of charm and… of all things, the fact that he had blond hair. Promised boycotts and internet protests popped up online. Someone even launched danielcraigisnotbond.com. The Daily Mirror ran an article entitled “The Name’s Bland… James Bland”.

But EON knew what they were on to. They also rejected (not so subtle) overtures from Quentin Tarantino to direct the film, and returned Martin Campbell to the Bond movie helm. Campbell had directed the highly regarded “Goldeneye” in 1995, and bringing him back was yet another attempt to restore Bond’s stature.

And right from the opening frames, Campbell’s “Casino Royale” announced that this Bond would be different. The pre-title sequence is black and white, and the traditional gun barrel opening doesn’t appear until after the scene, symbolizing that we’ve seen Bond earn his license to kill. As the phenomenal, playing card themed title sequence plays, Soundgarden’s Chris Cornell blasts a modern, hard rock theme song that does not incorporate the film’s title. Then, Campbell unveils a breathtaking action sequence that set the adrenaline charged tone for the entire film. The parkour filled construction site chase scene.

Parkour is the art of “Freerunning”, that sprang from military obstacle course training. It gained notoriety a scant few years prior with the documentaries “Jump London” (2003) and “Jump Britain” (2005). For the film, to showcase the spectacular art form, Campbell and the producers obtained the services of one of the inventors of the sport, the ambassador of freerunning, Sébastien Foucan. Foucan plays a bomb maker Bond chases through a construction site, climbing girders and cranes and jumping over obstacles and through vents. Bond pursues him relentlessly, eventually catching him at the Nambutu embassy, but at the price of an international incident.

Aside from showcasing the dynamic, cutting edge running style, the opening action sequence also establishes the return to practical effects. Long known for their spectacular stunts and action sequences, the Bond films had begun to substitute computer generated imagery in the films of late. “Casino Royale” would proudly feature several notable sequences that were filmed using traditional stunts and “practical effects”. Though CGI was certainly used to supplement their efforts, “Casino Royale” showcases the value of real events in creating onscreen believability.

Also tangible was “Royale”‘s return to the Ian Fleming source material. For decades, the Fleming stories had been exhausted, and the Bond series had been relying on entirely original scripts – with mixed results. Here, Fleming’s novel provides a perfect jumping off point for the screenplay. One that would return that classic “Bond feel” to the film.

Bond travels to multiple exotic locations, has dalliances with gorgeous women, and survives many life threatening situations. But much of the story revolves around a high stakes poker game set up by the film’s villain, Le Chiffre. When Bond foils Le Chiffre’s attempted sabotage of a jumbo airliner’s maiden flight, Le Chiffre is forced to hold a high stakes poker game in an attempt to recoup his losses. Though the poker hands involved defy probability, there’s no doubt that movie-making magic keeps a card game riveting. With a fight scene and a poisoning sequence interspersed within, the entire game is an exercise in tension between Le Chiffre and Bond.

Mads Mikkelsen provides a fantastic turn as a Bond Villain. With a scarred eye that weeps blood, Le Chiffre joins the proud lineage of Bond villains with notable physical defects. Mikkelsen imparts him with a chilling stoicism befitting a Bond adversary as well.

Judi Dench reprises her role as M, Jeffrey Wright makes his first appearance as Felix Leiter, and Giancarlo Giannini portrays Bond ally René Mathis. All of whom make solid contributions to the film, and collectively comprise a solid cast. But aside from the new Bond, no one shines as brightly as the film’s “Bond Girl”, Eva Green as Vesper Lynd.

Green is gorgeous and sharp, here. She matches wits quickly and caustically with Bond. Lynd is a representative of the treasury department, forced to play Bond’s romantic partner as cover while attending the poker game. She winds up seeing what a 00 agent does a little too closely, and has trouble coping… which in turn draws she and Bond closer. A romance forms that puts Bond in a difficult position when Lynd is alternately put in danger and involved more deeply in the situation than previously suspected. Green plays all of this with a dignified, classy air. She’s a beautiful woman intent on having not being seen strictly as a pretty face, and she makes it plainly evident that she is Bond’s intellectual equal.

Inarguably, she is one of the best Bond girls in series history.

All of these elements blended together perfectly to create an unforgettable Bond movie. A darker, more physical Bond. A return to practical effects. The first script based on an Ian Fleming novel in decades. A great Bond villain and a world-class leading lady.

Audiences responded enthusiastically.

“Casino Royale” became the highest grossing film in the Bond franchise, wresting the title from its predecessor, “Die Another Day”. It grossed $167 million in North America, and $594 million worldwide, becoming the 4th highest grossing film of 2006.  Critical response was enthusiastic as well, earning a 95% favorable rating on Rotten Tomatoes, and appearing on several annual top ten lists. But perhaps most importantly, the film reinvigorated the Bond faithful. It was instantly discussed as one of the best films in franchise history, and many fans award it the top spot.

It’s an exhilarating action film that showcases the best that modern filmmaking has to offer while simultaneously harkening back to the classic films of the Bond era. It’s part of a proud heritage, yet stands alone as an independent movie with no prerequisites for the uninitiated viewer. It has healthy portions of action, drama, romance and style… a fantastic combination that lends to an engrossing, exciting film.

It’s definitely a “Movie That Everyone Should See“.

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55 thoughts on “Movies That Everyone Should See: “Casino Royale”

    • Yeahhhhhh…. I mean, those are great scenes due to the tension – the “high stakes” as you put it, true. But in all honesty, as someone who’s played a fair share of hold ‘em, that final hand in that scene is the most ridiculous hollywood nonsense ever. LOL

  1. Good one to highlight for this week, Fogs. Although, I have to admit, one of my favorite one-sheets was 1967′s “Casino Royale”. That old “non-canon” movie I can do without, but its poster was glorious, and was better that the original poster for the 2006 hit. Everything else you’ve said applies, though ;-)

    • Ha! I like the poster for the 67 film, I really do. But I also like the two main CR 06 posters… both Craig at the poker table and Craig with the silenced gun. I think theyre both cool. A little unimaginative, maybe, but cool nonetheless!

  2. Superb write-up Fogs. Absolutely love Casino Royale, definitely one of my favourite Bond films. Everything from the theme song to the very last shot is brilliant and such a relief after Die Another Die, which ranks as my least favourite of all! Looking forward to your thoughts on Skyfall. Are you bursting with anticipation yet?

    • Yeah Chris, I am. No doubt. They advertised heavily during football yesterday, and everytime a commercial came on I started freaking out a little. LOL. It’s going to be crazy, I cant remember the last time I was this psyched for a movie. Probably Casino Royale!

      Glad you enjoyed the write up man, thank you for the nice comment, I appreciate that very much. :D

  3. Excellent Post, Sir!!!
    I’m Of The Mind That “DIE ANOTHER DAY” Is The Very Worst Of The Bond Flicks. I Called It “The Kitchen Sink” Bond Adventure. Anything They Could Borrow From Every Other Bond Flick, They Did. I Saw It Twice In The Theater, Just To Make Sure I Didn’t Like It That Much hahaha
    “CASINO ROYALE” Is A Vast Vast VAST Improvement.
    The Best Bond Flick Since “GOLDENEYE” And It Was Even Better Than That One.
    In Fact…
    …I Think I’m Gonna Watch “CASINO ROYALE” Right Now!!!
    ‘Tis A Flick I Love, And It Only Gets Better And Better As I Compare It To Other Bond Flicks.
    As I Said, EXCELLENT POST, Sir!!! :D
    -B.

    • Ha! My work here is done. :D

      I’m still not sure whether Die Another Day is the worst or if that should be Diamonds are Forever or A View to a Kill. I’ll have to finalize before I rank all the films next week, LOL.

      At least Die Another Day is the beneficiary of modern action sequences. There’s a couple of non CGI ones that arent awful.

      I dont know, it’ll be close. LOL :D

  4. Definitely the best Bond movie. Hands down.
    Your review was really awesome, especially going back to all of that stuff about Die Another Day (pretty sure I saw it once but forgot about it…). Totally makes me want to see the film again!
    It was a really good point you made about how Casino Royale can honor past films but not let the past films define the new film. I totally agree.
    AND gotta love Vesper! Favorite Bond character ever.

    • Nice. Agreement on multiple fronts! :D

      If youve forgotten “Die Another Day”, it’s probably all for the best. LOL. I felt it was important to add though because such a big part of this movie is its a rebound movie. A reaction to the previous one. If Die Another Day hadnt been the misfire it was, this may have never happened!

  5. This is the quintessential modern day Bond (so far). I really enjoyed the stunt over CGI basis FMR highlighted. That opener is one for the books, lenghty and impactful. This film is Craig becoming Bond with him owning the steely, bold spy persona. I dig the cards scene in total as one of the great settings in the movie.
    Great post for four day countdown. ;-)

    Felix Leiter: I should have introduced myself, seeing as we’re related. Felix Leiter, a brother from Langley.
    [sees that Bond has a knife]
    Felix Leiter: You should have faith. As long as you keep your head about you, I think you have him.
    James Bond: Had. Excuse me.
    Felix Leiter: You’re not buying in?
    James Bond: No.
    Felix Leiter: Listen, I’m bleeding chips. I’m not going to last much longer. You have a better chance. I’ll stake you. I’m saying I’ll give you the money to keep going. Just one thing: you pull it off, the CIA bring him in.
    James Bond: What about the winnings?
    Felix Leiter: Does it look like we need the money?

    • I know right? There’s not many days left now!! WHOOO HOO

      I like that Leiter scene. It was a nice surprise. And as you say, the opening scene is one for the ages, absolutely!

      I like how you add the (so far) there. Cmon Skyfall!!

    • Yeah, Paul, I think Quantum was a disappointment for everyone to some degree or another. Some hate it more than others…

      Casino Royale though was a grand slam. Complete victory across the board. I’m hoping “Skyfall” lives up, too. Its been getting rave reviews, I have to confess I’m getting pretty excited for it!

      Thanks for chiming in, here, appreciate it!

  6. Really good review Fogs! This is certainly a magnificent Bond film, although for some reason, it didn’t sit well with me. Maybe it was Eva Green…she seemed a very helpless woman-in-need-of-help and less of a heroine like Olga Kurylenko was later on. The opening scene is stunning, but the rest of the movie fell a little flat. But I’m a girl, so I didn’t appreciate the eye-candy and the explosions as much as you guys probably did! I prefer the darker, grittier vengeance of Quantum of Solace. Which has pretty much the awesomest title, does it not? :D

    • That may be the only way Quantum is the “Best” in any Bond category, but yeah, that title is freaking aweosme. I think it went over a lot of people’s heads though. Those are a couple of vocabulary words in there. :D

      This flick is actually pretty dark, too, although definitely not as dark as QoS. Vesper’s death, some of the things that Bond does in cold blood, the torture sequence… not for the faint of heart!

      Still, to each their own. I think Vesper was more of a treacherous snake type opponent/Bond girl, where as Olga’s Camille was a more straight up punch you and knee you in the groin type. LOL :D

      • Oh I totally get that this film is dark – but somehow the poker, the jewels, the thrill of the gambling all combines for a more polished and standard action film feeling…whereas QoS is about vengeance and dealing with deep hatred, that’s why I thought it went beyond CR, and that’s how I’m hoping Skyfall will go beyond both CR and QoS. I suppose CR is the original Bond sort of movie though, that’s probably why it is so popular! I personally like it when the director takes a standard character that’s been done to death and gives it a new darker twist (Batman, anyone?;).

  7. Great write-up. Really enjoyed the examination of the legal issues, which I was mostly unaware of — I mean, obviously I knew about the other Casino Royale movie and TV episode, but I didn’t know it caused such a snafu.

    • Yeah, definitely a complicated history there. Glad I wasnt the only one to find it interesting. I have a feeling that that’s the “Skip this” section for a lot of people. LOL :lol:

      Thanks for your support buddy. :)

  8. Awesome review, Fogs. Whole-heartedly agree that Casino is one of the best. Had the same impact on me as Goldeneye did when Brosnan came on board.
    Casino added so much more though with the incredible human stunt scene at the beginning. I felt like Bond was more physical than ever and could enter the mission not needing all the gadgets to complete it. Had more of a Mission Impossible feel without being so over the top.
    A great showdown at the poker table with La Chiffre. A great car chase and a crash that made you hold your breath. And the humor was subtle as well, not so over the top in the few prior Brosnan films.
    Man, just talking about…I’m gonna have to watch it tonight!

    • My work here is done.

      LOL at your choice of screen names on this particular day. :) Youre way too funny with those, man.

      “I felt like Bond was more physical than ever and could enter the mission not needing all the gadgets to complete it.” Absolutely! Thats a definite selling point of this incarnation of Bond. There’s no doubt he’s an athlete. Someone who COULD do these crazy things!

      That car crash is still one of the sickest things ever. Absolutely correct, I think I DID have to hold my breath!

  9. Nice detail in the background story and an exceptional commentary on the films merits. Casino Royale stands with the first three Bond films in terms of story and quality film making. The B & W opening was effective and it’s use as the teaser trailer got me up for the film like you would not believe. I was happy as a clam with the free running action scene. The plot additions to the original story were needed to make it work in contemporary times. I look forward to your Skyfall Review but I will NOT be reading it before I see the movie itself. A great choice for MTESS this week.

    • Thank you sir, thank you. Obviously I was hoping the post would measure up to the expectations of the Bond faithful. Glad to hear it does.

      Dont worry, man, I know all about it. I dont read reviews now either before – not only seeing a movie- but before writing my own review! Its been hard with Skyfall, having already come out in other parts of the world… but I’m sure you’re experiencing that too.

  10. A couple of things make this Bond Different. The opening. When it comes down to it, this was a simple chase sequence. One man after another. Up and over, under and through, Wow! My pulse was racing. Brilliant film work!
    The other stand out. Bond falls in love! Not a sexual dalliance. Not a one-nighter. A true emotional involvement that affects his actions and even carries over into the next film.
    It doesn’t get mentioned but I think Bond is about due for a Best Picture nod. With the expanded format to include the more popular films. I think the series could final earn consideration. It’s long overdue!
    Once again your write-up is professional quality and as good as anything I’ve read in Tribune media these days. Now on to SKYFALL!

    • Thanks Ray, appreciate that.

      I’m with you on the chase scene’s brilliance. And certainly the love story angle is rare in a Bond film (although OHMSS did it) I think the difference here is how well integrated it was. OHMSS – ughck. Here, for whatever reason, they’re able to weave the love story and the regular story together so seemlessly that it doesnt even feel like a diversion. :D

      God, wouldnt that be sweet? Bond with an Oscar. Holy shit. That would be amazing. I doubt the Academy has the balls though. LOL

      • Oh Yeah. Forgot about OHMSS. Didn’t know where you placed that in the Bondian world. Cusp of the Canon?
        I don’t care if Bond wins the Oscar. I just want the Nom. This series has saved Studios, influenced countless movies, brought us Bourne and other wanna-bes. Recognition is due! Render unto Caesar!

      • Too true.

        I’m going to rank all the movies once I see Skyfall. Although maybe I should withold my placement of that until after its had some time to sink in, but… LOL.

        I dont think very highly of OHMSS. I’m pretty much what you’d call a “Hater”.

  11. Believe it or not, I checked this one out for the first time a couple of months ago and found myself absolutely riveted from start-to-finish. Yeah, it felt a bit more like a Bourne flick than an actual Bond flick, but that still means there’s plenty of action, intrigue, guns, car-chases, and most of all, sexy women that Bonds gets to play with in-between sheets. Great review Fogs.

    • Thanks Dan. I think I disagree that this feels more like Bourne than Bond… although certainly Quantum of Solace is subject to that criticism.

      Definitely a riveting film! I think that super violent Black and White opening, followed by the wickedly stylistic playing card title graphics, flowing right into the parkour chase is what does it! Its like getting hit with a right a left and a right! Bing Bam Boom!! :D Sucks you right in!

  12. A very fine write-up here Fogs. As you know, I don’t share to Bond enthusiasm but I really enjoyed this one. It’s definitely one of the best of the franchise. Your review does a fine job in proving that. Nice one bro!

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