Martin Campbell‘s Casino Royale (Columbia, 11.17), which I finally saw Tuesday night (a certain Sony strategist kept me from seeing it beforehand), is more killer than I expected. It’s a hard package of smart, not-too-formulaic, tough-as-nails filmmaking with barely a remnant of the smart-ass sexual conquistador attitude that permeated the late Sean Connery, Roger Moore and Pierce Brosnan Bonds. I’d read it was exceptional and had a return-to-early- Connery quality, but I suspected this talk might be overblown. It’s not.

Color still from a scene that’s presented in black-and-white during the first five or six minutes of Casino Royale

That whole shaken-not-stirred, sexual-smoothie-in-a-tuxedo, Walther PPK stud-with-a-quip thing has been thrown out the window, finally and praise God. The influence of producers Michael Wilson and Barbara Broccoli is finally dead, dead…and ding-dong to that! Wilson-Broccoli have naturally been trying to sell the notion they were four-square behind this new incarnation, but don’t buy it. They’ve been the invisible-car bad guys — stooge caretakers — since they grabbed the reins in the mid ’90s. The startling coolness of this new film happened in spite of Wilson-Broccoli, not because of them.
Due in no small part to Daniel Craig‘s totally-unto-itself, ace-level performance, Royale is certainly the best James Bond film in over 40 years and is close to being the best Bond ever. I still feel on some level that Dr. No and From Russia With Love have an old-hat specialness because the early ’60s era in which they were made isn’t that far removed from the early ’50s zeitgeist that informed the early 007 novels from Ian Fleming, and because they’re lean and unencumbered by the high-tech, bigger-is-better stuff that began to envelope the films in the mid ’60s.
But that’s what’s so pleasurable about Casino Royale — the return to low-techitude. No Q, no outlandish gadgets, lots of running and hand-to-hand fighting and straight shootings. I’m too whipped to write well (it’s been one of those days) but cheers to Craig, Campbell, screenwriters Neal Purvis, Robert Wade and Paul Haggis. And a big pat on the back to whomever dreamt up the ending, which is the first bulls-eye in the history of the franchise. Every single Bond film including Dr. No and From Russia With Love has ended on a chuckly romantic kick-back note, but not this time.
People actually applauded at the end tonight’s screening, which is something I haven’t heard from a Bond crowd since The Spy Who Loved Me.