When MGM and EON obtained the rights to Casino Royale, it was akin to getting their hands on the Holy Grail. With Kevin McClory and his rival bids no longer dogging their heels, the way was clear to deliver Bond the way the world was used to seeing him. Except…why not go back to the beginning? Casino Royale was the first Bond novel, and after the CGI excess of Die Another Day, what better than an origin story?
Unfortunately for Pierce Brosnan, it was felt he could not realistically sell an origin tale after being the face of Bond for the last four films. So Brosnan was out, Daniel Craig was in. Immediately he was a controversial choice – too ugly, too blonde, too short. Hard to believe now after his blistering take on the world’s greatest secret agent. To steer this new Bond origin tale the producers returned to director Martin Campbell, who had successfully launched Pierce Brosnan. Oscar winning Screenwriter Paul Haggis (Crash, Million Dollar Baby) was drafted to lend a polish to the script. Veteran Bond production designer Peter Lamont lent an immaculate sheen to proceedings.
But all this meant nothing if Craig didn’t deliver. For once, Bond sells the idea he is a “blunt instrument”, a Government sanctioned hitman with a recently acquired Licence To kill. In a sharp, black and white pre-credit sequence we see him wait in the shadows for the treacherous Dryden to return to his office. Intercut with this is his first clumsy kill with Dryden’s contact, in a Cricket pavilion toilet block, smashing porcelain and kicking down stall doors. “Made you feel it, did he?” taunts Dryden. “Still, the next is-” Bond shoots him mid-sentence. “Yes, considerably,” he retorts. What a bad-ass! Trash talking a dead man!
When the first victim reaches for a gun Bond spins and shoots him, the famous gunbarrel sequence adapted to incorporate this moment. The opening credits begin, to the best Bond song in years, You Know My Name, performed by Chris Cornell. A stylised Bond silhouette stalks his victims through a kaleidoscope of playing card themed assassinations, designed by Maurice Binder’s spiritual heir, Daniel Kleinman.
Craig brings a rough about the edges, flinty, impatient intensity to the role. The film charts his bumpy progression from deadly assassin to smooth operator, all the while remaining a darker, harder character, closer to what Ian Fleming envisaged. In a nice touch, as each familiar trope of his character is touched on (acquiring the Aston Martin, the fitted Tux, etc), snippets of the Bond theme weave into the score. The full number is saved for the very end, and the iconic line as he stands over the villain: “Bond, James Bond.”
The stuntwork is some of the very best in the series, and tied in to this Bond’s direct character very well. When Free running bomber Molaka scales the crane after a head start on Bond, Bond simply knocks the brake off a load and zips up on the freed cable. Here’s a BTS look at the stunt work in the film.
To emphasise his rise from a Services background (for his modern backstory, Commander Bond, RNVR, was seconded to the SBS), Craig massively bulked up. The scene of him emerging from the surf had millions of women swooning, and millions of men sucking their stomachs in. “I wanted to look like I could kill someone, “Craig said. The fight scenes are bloody and convincing. Bond frequently gets hurt, and improvises. When Molaka vaults a plasterboard wall Bond simply ploughs straight through it. In the aftermath of the brutal stairwell fight with Le Chiffre’s disgruntled African warlord client, he shakily pours himself a scotch and dabs his cuts in the mirror, glimpsing therein the ugly truth of “The great game“.
Bond also gets the most terrible and pitiless torture sequence in the series. Stripped and bound to a whicker frame chair with the seat removed, he is whipped about the scrotum with a knotted rope by Le Chiffre (Mads Mikklesen), demanding the password to access the funds he lost to Bond. Bond, even in agony and knowing he’s going to die, can’t resist goading Le Chiffre. “The whole world’s going to know you died scratching my balls.” Le Chiffre retorts with a bitter truth – MI6 will still save him from the retribution of his paymmasters because of the value of what he knows.
So much for the action. What about this Bond’s relationships with women? At first he professes to only sleep with married women to avoid messy entanglements.Vesper Lynd soon strips away his armour. She is the flinty Treasury Agent controlling the purse strings on his mission to take Le Chiffre to the cleaners at the poker game in Casino Royale. In a lovely scene, each dissects the others character to an uncomfortably accurate degree. It seems they are very alike. “How was your lamb?” she asks him. “Skewered. One sympathises,” he replies.
At the hotel, the banter continues. He’s bought her a stunning evening gown so that “When you enter that room and kiss me, I want the other players attention on you and not on their cards.” She counters by having selected him a personally tailored tuxedo. “There are dinner jackets and dinner jackets. This is the latter.” She claims she “sized him up” the moment they met, and laughs as he can’t help preening in front of the mirror. Vesper’s relationship with Bond defines his relationships with women in the future. He falls heavily for her, even resigns from the Service because “I want to leave with what little of my soul is left” but eventually, her enforced betrayal breaks, not “melts“, as Mathis teased, his “cold, cold heart”.
The film ends with him suited and booted, the cool, collected killer we’ve come to know, a little harder, a little colder. James Bond, as ever, will return. For more Bond goodness, see Blogalongabond here and here.
Originally posted 2012-09-23 11:02:03. Republished by Blog Post Promoter