It feels pretty strange to nominate a James Bond movie as one of the decade's best examples of filmmaking craft — the series had been photocopying the same formula over and over for decades ever since the glory days of Sean Connery, and even longtime fans like myself had given up hope that the franchise would ever feel exciting or vital again. Imagine my surprise when Martin Campbell's 2006 "Casino Royale" turned out to be a fantastic, full-service entertainment in an era when the standards for big-budget cinema have plummeted: It's a thriller with action scenes that further the character development (and how rare is that?), a romance between two leads who have movie star charisma to burn, and finally, a heartbreaking tragedy.
On one end of the spectrum, I love the deliriously fun chase sequence in which Bond pursues an acrobatic would-be terrorist through a construction site. Notable for its lack of shaky camerawork or ADD editing, the scene gradually evolves into a game of "Can you top this?" as Bond realizes he's met an opponent he'll have to outthink rather than outfight. It's his first lesson that if he's going to survive, he'll need to become something more than just a glorified hit man.
Yet while "Casino Royale" isn't ashamed to revel in the kinetic freedom of a good action scene, it's also thoughtful enough to consider the consequences. After Bond (Daniel Craig) and love interest Vesper Lynd (Eva Green) barely survive a brutal, claustrophobic fight (which ends not with a one-liner but the gruesome sight of Bond strangling a man to death), he returns to his hotel room to wash off the blood and calm his nerves with a stiff drink. His expression as he stares in the mirror is eerie and ambiguous: Is he scared or impressed with his capacity for violence? Vesper doesn't fare as well, and Bond finds her in a near-catatonic state, curled up in the shower still in her evening wear. As they embrace under the running water, both of them shaken by their close brush with death and holding on to each for comfort, the Bond series manages to make up for years of cheesy pick-up lines and one-night stands with one of the most deeply romantic images of the decade.
Film Salon has invited a group of special guests to write about their favorite film(s) of the 2000s. To read the entire series, go here.