Wednesday, March 23, 2011

Bond Is Forever: “Casino Royale”

MI6 agent Jame Bond (Daniel Craig), having recently earned his 00 status, is attempting to ensnare a bomber for hire in Madagascar. An explosive confrontation at the Embassy leaves the bomber dead, and security footage of Bond shooting an unarmed man fuels the newspaper headlines. MI6 head, M (Judi Dench), sends 007 away to “stick his head in the sand,” time which Bond spends traveling to the Bahamas, where he has tracked a message sent to the bomber. The agent’s investigation results in Bond foiling an engineered bombing, which inevitably costs a man named Le Chiffre (Mads Mikkelsen) an excess of 100 million dollars, money intended to finance an organization of terrorists. Desperate to recoup his monetary loss, Le Chiffre organizes a high-stakes poker game with a buy-in of ten million dollars. James Bond, along with treasury agent, Vesper Lynd (Eva Green), is officially assigned to join the game and prevent Le Chiffre from funding the terrorists.

Casino Royale (2006) was the first Bond film since 1987 (with the release of The Living Daylights) to adapt an Ian Fleming story or, at the very least, utilize a story’s title. When producers Harry Saltzman and Albert “Cubby” Broccoli acquired the rights to James Bond, the Casino Royale rights were unavailable, having already been sold and made into an episode of the CBS series, Climax!, with Barry Nelson as CIA agent Jimmy Bond and Peter Lorre as Le Chiffre. Once producer Charles K. Feldman owned the novel’s rights, he tried to make a serious adaptation but ultimately released a parody in 1967, with David Niven as Bond, Orson Welles as Le Chiffre, and Ursula Andress as Vesper Lynd, and also starring Peter Sellers (who either left or was fired during production) as a character named Evelyn Tremble, who impersonates Bond. (Interestingly, Niven was suggested by Fleming to play 007 in 1962’s Dr. No and, according to some reports, was the inspiration for the author’s character.) The 1967 film was released by Columbia Pictures, which was purchased by Sony in the 1980s. Sony reportedly traded the rights to Casino Royale for MGM/UA’s rights to a Spider-Man adaptation (see Thunderball for more information). In any case, Sony Pictures acquired MGM in 2005 and greenlit a film version of Casino Royale.


The 2006 film is usually considered a “reboot” of the Bond series. However, though Casino Royale seems to reexamine some of the more popular 007 elements, the filmmakers keep their feet in familiar territory. The movie opens in stark black and white, as James Bond awaits an MI6 agent selling classified information. In flashback, the audience witnesses Bond vigorously obtaining intelligence from the other man’s accomplice, the scene ending with 007 spinning around and firing his weapon. As the opening credits and title song begin, a version of the gun barrel sequence is shown. This insinuates that Casino Royale is almost a prequel, a way to return to square one. Playing the initial scenes without color is much like starting with a blank canvas.

Nevertheless, Casino Royale is not a film which completely reinvents either the James Bond character or the cinematic series. It’s true that, by essentially starting over, the film can disregard former narratives. But there is little connection among the preceding 007 movies. In terms of certain characters and minor plots, some of the entries will link, but major narrative components are concluded with each film, and there is clearly no story arc within the series. In fact, one could argue that the Bond series is reset every time a new actor secures the main role. On Her Majesty’s Secret Service (1969/George Lazenby) was a love story, Live and Let Die (1973/Roger Moore) was more action-oriented, The Living Daylights (Timothy Dalton) featured a more rugged 007, and GoldenEye (1995/Pierce Brosnan) opted for a more dashing spy while retaining the nonstop action.

A number of Bond conventions are acknowledged in Casino Royale, some of them tongue-in-cheek, but many of them in a
manner both serious and respectful to the series. Though Bond’s choice of cocktail in Casino Royale is a concoction he invents and dubs “the Vesper” (which is taken from Fleming’s novel), he does order a martini but, already irate, hisses an apathetic response when asked if he’d prefer the drink shaken or stirred. Likewise, the film seems to mock sexually suggestive names of female characters when Bond jokingly tells Vesper that a supplied document declares her alias as Stephanie Broadchest. Casino Royale, however, also “introduces” viewers to Bond trademarks: in addition to the gun barrel image, the audience sees the spy win an Aston Martin DB5 (much like the one featured in 1964’s Goldfinger) in a poker game and later drive a newer model, wield a Walther P99 (the same gun that, in effect, replaced the PPK for Brosnan in 1997’s Tomorrow Never Dies), and eventually present himself to a villain as “Bond, James Bond.” Other moments are good-humored nods: Bond hinting that “M” is the first letter of the woman’s name, Craig’s emergence from the ocean recalling Andress in Dr. No, and Vesper’s first line, “I’m the money,” followed by Bond stating that she’s “worth every penny,” a subtle reference to Miss Moneypenny, who does not appear in the film.

When it was evident that Brosnan would not be returning to the series, there was, not surprisingly, a debate on which actor should portray 007. Equally expected was a disapproval over the casting of Craig, who was virtually unknown in the U.S. (despite an impressive resume) and, according to many fans, did not have physical attributes associated with James Bond. Craig’s interpretation of the role is admirable. He has the charisma of Connery and Brosnan, the playfulness of Moore, and the vigor of Dalton. His Bond is one who makes mistakes and questions his decisions, who shows fear when in peril, and who’s visibly cut and bruised after chasing down bad guys. Though flawed he may be, he is still Bond, reacting instinctively, facing danger head on, and oozing charm, regardless of the scars and grime from scuffles. And much like Connery’s early films and Moore in For Your Eyes Only (1981), Bond in Casino Royale relies less on gadgets and more on guile and legwork.

This is the second Bond film directed by Martin Campbell, who also helmed another actor’s Bond debut, GoldenEye, introducing Brosnan as the MI6 agent. Screenwriters Neal Purvis and Robert Wade had worked on the previous two Bond films, with Paul Haggis also contributing to the script. Haggis’ 2004 film, Crash, which he co-wrote and directed, won multiple awards, including Oscars for Best Picture, Best Original Screenplay and Best Editing (Haggis was additionally nominated for Best Director). All three Casino Royale writers would script the subsequent 007 film, Quantum of Solace (2008).


Dame Judi Dench was the only actor to reprise her role in Casino Royale. Like in the films with Brosnan, Dench’s performance is precise and assertive, and M’s authority is undisputed. Green as Vesper initially seems detached, but this is her character’s personality, so, as Vesper warms to Bond, viewers will likely embrace the actress’ translation. And while the best actor to play Bond will always be a source of contention, it’s evident that Jeffrey Wright’s turn as CIA agent Felix Leiter is incomparable. He’s just as suave and savvy as his British counterpart. Fortunately, Wright would return to the role in the next Bond movie.

The bomber pursued by Bond in the film’s beginning is played by French actor Sébastien Foucan. Foucan and actor/stuntman David Belle co-founded parkour, a practice which addresses physical efficiency and speed (e.g., finding the quickest way past an obstacle). The actor is credited in the opening with “free running stunts,” to emphasize the action of free running, which Foucan founded and which differs slightly from parkour by focusing more on style in movement than efficiency (though the fact that his character is trying to escape Bond might make
parkour a more practical choice). Since 2006, parkour has become mainstream, although the American practice is closer to free running (particularly competitions, which parkour discourages). Parkour co-founder Belle displays his skills in the Luc Besson produced French films, District 13 (2004/Banlieue 13) and District 13: Ultimatum (2009/Banlieue 13 - Ultimatum).

The song’s theme is “You Know My Name,” performed by Chris Cornell, lead singer of the rock bands, Soundgarden and Audioslave, and written by Cornell and composer David Arnold. It is a beautiful tune that is incorporated throughout the film’s score in lieu of the James Bond theme, which closes the film (furthering the idea of the film introducing known elements of the series).

Casino Royale was nominated for a number of BAFTAs, awarded for Best Sound and Green winning the Orange Rising Star Award. Craig was nominated for a BAFTA and won an Evening Standard British Film Award for Best Actor.

Ian Fleming’s Casino Royale, first published in 1953, was the first of the author’s novels to feature James Bond. It was also the only Bond novel to have a U.S. paperback printing originally under a different title, with the asinine You Asked For It
(though Casino Royale appeared in small print as a pseudo-subtitle) and the blurb on the back referring to the protagonist, like Climax!, as “Jimmy Bond.”

In spite of the apparent reservations of fans due to Craig’s casting, Casino Royale performed very well, and the actor was accepted as the new 007. Still, there are some who overlook this film. I encourage anyone who has previously brushed off Casino Royale to give it a second viewing, and maybe a third and fourth. James Bond will change with the times, but he remains Bond, James Bond.

Bond Is Forever
will return next month with You Only Live Twice (1967)
.

8 comments:

  1. Sark, this is a very impressive and informative review of a rather good Bond film. I have read this version is very much like the book by Fleming although I haven't read it. So I enjoyed what you thought about how closely this film followed the plot. When I first saw this film I didn't care for it. I thought it was a good spy movie but not a James Bond movie. However, I have seen it twice since and like it better. You made an excellent point about the Bond films being "reset" after a new actor has been chosen to play 007. Craig is not the most handsome Bond, but the scene where he emerges out of the ocean...nice! Love the song performed by Chris Cornell, and yes it is on my iPod. I think I will go listen to it right now. Outstanding review and I truly enjoyed it!!

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  2. Good review of a great Bond film. I liked Craig a lot in this, but his follow up, "Quantum of Solace" not so much. He has the charisma of a dish rag in that one. His petulant Bond in that is embarrassing.

    Of course, I think "Quantum of Solace" is not only the worst 007 film ever, but its one of the worst movies ever made. So for me, the jury is still out on Daniel Craig, but I really hope the third time's the charm.

    At the end of "Casino Royale" when he said his name is "Bond, James Bond" and the famous 007 theme loudly kicked in, I practically stood on my chair and cheered. What a great ending.

    QOS negated all that, showing he's still in the process of being Bond. Wasn't that what "Casino Royale" was all about? It totally negated the end of "Casino Royale."

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  3. Sark, I feel so inadequate whenever I read your wonderful Bond posts. I never have anything of substance to say since I've only seen a few Bond films. I've always wanted to see this one, as I think Daniel Craig is hot, hot, hot! In addition, I suspect Dench would be great to watch as Q. I promise that I will one day watch a few of these.

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  4. Another marvelous Bond review, Sark! I enthusiastically concur with your assessment of the film and the star. I approached CASINO ROYALE with some trepidation because I couldn't imagine the star of LAYER CAKE as 007. And while Craig's Bond is a bit thuggish at times, that goes with the film's intent of showing Bond's evolution from semi-brute to secret agent. Plotwise, I think it's one of the best Bond films. I remember reading a review which criticized the film for being poorly paced, especially with the long gambling scenes. I disagree! I love the poker tournament and believe Martin Campbell did an exceptional directing job (which is interesting, because I wasn't a big fan of GOLDENEYE). The Chris Cornell song is cool, but I wish it could have been "John Barry-ized" (like Duran Duran's "A View to a Kill"). As always, your analysis is first-rate. Loved your description of the Bond actors' interpretations: "the charisma of Connery and Brosnan, the playfulness of Moore, and the vigor of Dalton." Maybe once you've reviewed all the movies, you can write some essays on Bondian characters and themes! I'll know we'll discuss QUANTUM OF SOLACE later but wanted to comment that it was a disappointing sequel (though I liked it better than Kevin).

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  5. I was pleasantly surprised with "Casino Royale" and very pleased with Daniel Craig as the new 007. I like my Bond with some machismo, and Craig has that in spades. Haven't seen "Quantum of Solace" yet, but I'm so behind in movies right now...
    Great piece, Sark, you covered a lot of ground really well and I enjoyed it start to finish.

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  6. I'm a little late with my comment, but today was crazy day in ClassicBecky land. I always look forward to your Bond posts.

    Sark, my gag reflex got a real workout when I read that the Bond character was ever referred to as "Jimmy Bond." Blasphemy! Casino Royale is such a marvelous book -- you know by now that I have never been happy with the way Ian Fleming's Bond has been presented in the movies. They made a caricature out of a complex man. I was really pleased to read in your wonderful article that Bond in this one makes mistakes, questions himself and shows fear like a real person. That is more like Fleming's creation.

    I haven't seen this one, and thought Craig was a very strange choice. However, your in-depth crtique has created real interest for me. As always, your incredible research and insight into the background of the Bond series are praiseworthy. Excellent review, well-written and one that makes me want to see this one!

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  7. Sark, You really deserve an award for your Bond posts. Very well written and interesting.

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  8. Excellent work as always, Sark! And sorry my comment is so late.

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