Casino Royale is based on the Ian Fleming book and serves as a version of the James Bond origin story. Despite its modern-day setting, it follows the infamous British spy on his first mission as a licensed-to-kill "double-o" MI6 operative.
After earning M's wrath by publicly bungling the pursuit of a suspect in Madagascar for vital intelligence, Bond uses the lead to find a presumed terrorist connection in the Bahamas and there uses a man's wife to jump to the trail of a presumed terrorist attack in Miami.
Eventually, Bond is assigned to represent the British government in a high-risk attempt to clean out a terrorist money man in a high-stakes poker game in Montenegro. He is partnered with a female agent named Vesper Lynd, and the pair begins a cat-and-mouse game with the evil Le Chiffre, each side trying to outwit the other to win the $100 million-plus. Along the way, James and Vesper circle each other as well, deciding how deeply to give in to their obvious physical and emotional attraction to each other.
As ever, James Bond remains unquestionably loyal to queen and country. To that end—and occasionally to save a girl—he endures torture and risks life and limb for the general good of all mankind. He also serves the British government as an instrument of justice, given free rein to execute those he deems worthy. (That's not entirely positive, of course. More on that in my "Conclusion.") Bond reveals his sensitive, nurturing side when comforting a distraught Vesper.
The head of a group of Ugandan "freedom fighters" asks Le Chiffre is he believes in God. He says no. In response to Bond's insistence that they share a hotel suite as part of their cover, Vesper retorts that her cover character is a strict Catholic and, thus, the door between them will remain locked. Bond replies, "I hate it when religion comes between us."
In a notable change from most Bond films, this one, amazingly, does not feature the undulating shapes and silhouettes of female bodies in the opening credits. The rest of the movie does, however, indulge in the expected sexual content, featuring women in form- and cleavage-baring outfits and/or bikinis, and lots of shots of this significantly more muscular Bond with the majority of his clothes off.
Bond plans to bed the wife of a terrorist in order to obtain information about what he's up to. Asked why he likes married women, he replies that it keeps things simple. She wears a very revealing dress and kisses his exposed chest and stomach as the pair make out in full foreplay mode before being interrupted by a phone call.
Bond's second conquest, Vesper, comments on his "perfectly formed a--" at their first meeting, but her chilly resistance keep the two apart physically until there are more than just physical feelings involved on both sides. (Not exactly traditional morality, but it's something the other Bonds rarely bothered with.) The camera watches as they exchange sexual dialogue, kiss passionately, roll around (and off of) a bed together, and wake up naked and kissing in another bed. (There's a frame or two-long flash of his-and-her skin to drive home the point.)
Bond is not shy about proving that he's worthy of a double-o designation (meaning that an agent has scored two kills). Nor is he restrained in exercising his newly minted license to continue. His first takedown follows a brutal fight in a public restroom involving exchanged blows, face bashings against sinks and toilets, a near drowning and gunshots. It seems to trouble him for a moment, but he comments that the second one is much easier after shooting a traitor in cold blood.
Then the gloves are off. Men, armed or not, are killed by Bond and others. Death results from gunshots, drowning, falling, stabbing, choking, massive explosions, electrocution and a nail gun to the eye. Bond nearly dies after being poisoned. The camera sees plenty of blood and a few fatal bullet wounds.
A man with a sword threatens to cut a woman's hand off. We're told another woman was tortured for information before her corpse is found (and seen indistinctly by the camera). Bond endures an extended onscreen torture scene in which he is strapped naked to a chair. (He's seen from the side.) Le Chiffre then swings a heavy rope to repeatedly hit Bond in the testicles.
As if to show us that Bond wasn't always callous, one difference between this and previous films is that more than one violent and fatal exchange seems to leave him shaken and stirred. Similarly, Vesper, who is compelled to assist him in one killing, appears to suffer great emotional angst over the encounter. In all, the violence is both more brutal and given more weight than in a typical Bond outing, prompting Time critic Richard Corliss to declare that the film "should have earned an R rating instead of the indulgent PG-13 it received."
Crude or Profane Language
M's favorite swear word is "h---." It's heard as many as 10 times. She also takes Christ's name in vain. The British swear words "bloody" and "b-gger" are uttered, as are "a--," "d--n," "pr--k," "b--ch" and "b--tard."
Drug and Alcohol Content
Alcohol is ordered and consumed by most of the characters. While gambling, Bond experiments with a martini combination and is pleased with the results. He also drinks to steady his nerves after a near-fatal confrontation.
Other Negative Elements
A significant portion of the film involves high-stakes casino poker; it's pictured as glamorous, dangerous and costly. In Madagascar, a crowd cheers and bets on a mongoose-vs.-snake fight. After being poisoned, Bond is heard vomiting in an attempt to get the stuff out of his system. Part of the action takes place in and amongst a Body World bones-and-muscles display of human cadavers.
Much has been made of Casino Royale rebooting the Bond franchise for a new era. And though this "Bond, Chapter One" pays homage to the elements of 007 lore, there's no doubt the tone has been darkened to reflect our more serious days. Gone: Bond's trademark jocularity and cheesy one-liners; gadget-geek Q's snooty lesson on the latest spy toys; and one central villain with a ridiculous plan for world domination and a freak-show sidekick. Even the classic Bond elements left in place are deconstructed. Star Daniel Craig's version of the secret agent doesn't view the tux or the vintage '64 Aston Martin or even his first buxom conquest as a grab for impressive style or idle pleasure. Each is a targeted means to achieving a very focused end: winning at all costs, defeating the opponent, proving his worth.
Craig's Bond is a dangerous guy. You can see it in M's eyes when she finds him waiting for her in her house. You can see it in his own eyes after he kills killers. Not dangerous in the sense that, "I'm glad he's on our side," but dangerous in the sense that, "I hope he's on the right side, because I'm not sure he'd care as long as he wins in the end." At a time when we can be reasonably sure there really are guys out there licensed and eager to kill in the name of country—whether justified or not—Bond seems less naturally heroic and more morally culpable for his actions than ever.
Thus, in spite of telling a far better story and Mads Mikkelsen's nice turn as a desperate villain with refreshingly believable motives, Casino Royale offers less outright "fun" than previous incarnations. Golden Eye director Martin Campbell wants us to see that Bond has started down the path of trading in his soul—his ability to trust anyone as "good"—for the right and privilege of purging the planet of the worst of the worst. He's good at it, but is he a hero? He may be built like one, but there's a hint in the film's final moments that the world may need saving from Bond as much as it needs saving by him. And come to think of it, that's exactly the same relationship Hollywood has with this now re-energized franchise.
Other Belief Systems
Readability Age Range
Daniel Craig as James Bond; Eva Green as Vesper Lynd; Mads Mikkelsen as Le Chiffre; Judi Dench as M; Jeffrey Wright as Felix Leiter
Martin Campbell ( )