Casino Royale
4 stars

review by Stephen Notley

It feels strange to take a James Bond movie seriously. For the last several years during the Pierce Brosnan cycle, Bond films have been intentionally trivial recitations of formula; one went to a Bond movie with the simple expectation of seeing gadgets, chicks, explosions and slightly less than top-of-the-line stunts all wrapped around a character who'd become more a collection of smirks and single entendres than a person a viewer could actually care about. Passably entertaining, but undeniably silly.

Now we have Casino Royale. How does the formula fare, the gadgets, the explosions, the stunts, the gals? Gadget fans will go home largely empty-handed; this is an early Bond more likely to solve a problem by stabbing someone than by flipping the cap off a pen full of nerve gas. Explosion partisans will get a taste; there is an explosion, a decent though unextraordinary one. Stunts? Stunt seekers will be pleased; there is a stunt-filled chase scene that shows off some of the more remarkable things human bodies can do when their brains are eager not to be captured. And the gals? Gal enthusiasts should also be satisfied; though there's only one gal of note she's as beautiful as any and she wears attractive clothing.

But the formula is not the point this time around. Casino Royale may not be profound but it is definitely not silly. The new Bond, Daniel Craig, has none of Brosnan's smarminess and plastic false humor. He's handsome, for sure, and capable of suavity, but he never looks like he's enjoying his own little private joke as previous Bonds have done. He is, as he's described early in the film, a "blunt instrument of the state" -- an assassin, in other words, a licensed murderer, and no number of tuxedos and card games can change that basic fact. Craig is a brutal, thuggish presence in the film, rarely smiling or speaking, moving through scenes with an unemotional and dangerous expression on his face as though he's poised two seconds away from fucking somebody up real bad.

Curiously, this unemotional performance offers the first insight in years into the character; strip away the smirks and one-liners and you find a man who by nature and training cannot allow himself to feel. By playing the armor Craig reveals that it *is* armor and hints at the man inside. Thus, when he does feel something, when he does smile, it actually means something. Any Bond can be tortured, but this Bond can actually be hurt. A strange change, unexpected in a Bond film, but most welcome and ideally a sign of more to come.