Countdown to Spectre: Casino Royale Revisited

bond-review-series-header

The Bond: Daniel Craig, a blonde, which caused a minor uproar when his casting was announced. Thanks in large part to producer Barbara Broccoli, Craig beat out a number of actors for the role including Hugh Jackman, Ewan McGregor and Clive Owen.

The Release: Released November 16, 2006 in the UK and a day later in the US, this was the first Bond movie in four years (thanks to MGM’s financial troubles) and the first true post-9/11 Bond. The tone is appropriately darker and grittier than what came before—no gadgets, very few quips and more violence. The change is also a response to the success of both the Mission Impossible and Bourne franchises. At the time, some critics argued the character had become more Bourne than Bond or that the reboot nature of the film was a little too close to Batman Begins. However, critical response was positive overall and the movie grossed $167 million domestically and $599 million worldwide.

Casino-Royale-pOsters1

The Girl: Eva Green as Vesper Lynd, the quintessential Bond Girl. While Caterina Murino’s Solange gets to be the sexy one (though Green gives her a run for her money in that purple dress with the plunging neckline), Vesper is the girl who gets to be Bond’s intellectual equal. And SPOILER she might even be a better spy.

The Villain: Mads Mikkelsen as Le Chiffre. Apart from the fact that he occasionally weeps blood and uses an asthma inhaler, Le Chriffre is pretty normal as Bond villains go. What makes him formidable is that he’s played by Mikkelsen, who gives a master class on being sinister and threatening even when he’s just flicking a poker chip. His means of torture is even simple, if completely twisted. With just a piece of rope and a chair with the seat cut out, Le Chiffre creates one of the most visceral torture scenes in Bond history.

The Gadgets: Pretty much the only gadget in this movie is Bond’s Aston Martin. While it doesn’t fire rockets, it has a defibrillator that saves Bond’s life. Though considering Vesper has to fix it after it’s already failed Bond, it doesn’t deserve much recognition.

The Song: “You Know My Name” by Soundgarden’s Chris Cornell. It’s a good aural reboot for the franchise even if the vocals already sound a little dated nine years later. Still, the melody itself is strong, with hints of John Barry’s classic score mixed into the grungier rock. Returning composer David Arnold also cleverly works strains of the melody into the score throughout the movie.

The Book: The rights to Casino Royale were sold long before the Broccoli family came along. The first screen adaptation was an episode of the television show Climax! in 1954, where James–or Jimmy–was played by American actor Barry Nelson and Peter Lorre played Le Chiffre. The second was a 1967 spoof film starring Peter Sellers and Ursula Andress that’s the spiritual ancestor to the Austin Powers series. The Broccolis finally acquired the rights in 1999 and this version is surprisingly faithful.

Most of the changes modernize the story (like substituting the Soviet Union for a terrorist organization), but there are major changes to the structure too. There are no construction site parkour or airport shenanigans in the book. Instead, Bond arrives at the casino almost immediately. There’s also no sinking Venetian building at the end, but SPOILER that’s a lot more exciting than Vesper quietly taking sleeping pills while she and James are on vacation once the action ends. Nitpicky fans often argue the card game shouldn’t have been changed to Texas hold ’em poker from baccarat, but that misses the point. The scene is about the tension created by the interplay of luck and skill. Plus, we’re spared a scene where Bond pretends to explain the rules to Vesper but really does it for the audience’s benefit.

11128111_ori

The Movie: From its opening frames, Casino Royale declares itself a different kind of Bond movie. Filmed in cold black and white, we see the two hits (the double-00’s in 007) that earn James his license to kill. One is a messy fight that destroys a public restroom (to which GoldenEye director Martin Campbell gives a slightly grainier look) the other is cold and fast. Both make it clear that this Bond is a “blunt instrument” even before Judi Dench’s M tells us so later. The previous Bonds have been introduced in full-color as talkative, cocky spies with a sense of style. Craig’s Bond is emotionless and efficient. In fact, he barely says three lines in the film’s first half hour because he’s so busy barreling through walls.

When he finally does speak, the same wry wit is there, but with a newfound edge of cruelty. The first real conversation he has is with Vesper and it’s a doozy. No two real humans will ever banter so well. From her opening line of, “I’m the money,” to his final admittance of defeat by sympathizing with his “skewered” lamb dinner, it’s sexy and more engrossing than perhaps any meet-cute in franchise history. No wonder James falls in love.

And he does fall in love. Outside of On Her Majesty’s Secret Service, this is the most serious relationship Movie Bond has ever had and losing Vesper pretty much destroys whatever humanity he had left. While neither Quantum of Solace nor Skyfall quite managed to explore the emotional fallout of Bond’s relationship with Vesper effectively, the story is still a strong backstory for the character.

Comments are closed.