The killing is grimly realistic, as if to suggest that
this Bond operates in the real world of real pain
and has wounds that may never heal.
- Richard Corliss in Time (November 2006)
Casino Royale (II)
Film: 2006 (#21)
Book: 1953 (#1)
Bond follows a trail of terrorist money in a particularly impetuous fashion, leaving a trail of destruction and death that does not impress M, especially when he shoots his way through an embassy. However, Bond does eventually close in on Le Chiffre, who acts as banker and money-launderer to all sorts of suspicious characters. Le Chiffre has been making investments and betting with his clients' cash without their knowledge or consent, and he's lost a fair bit of it (Bond implicit in one of those losses, ruining one of his schemes). He plans to get it back in a very high-stakes poker game. After cautioning him to put his ego in check, M tells Bond she wants him to play in that game and bankrupt Le Chiffre, but not kill him. Once Le Chiffre has angry clients after him, she believes they can offer him sanctuary in exchange for information.
Bond is assisted by Vesper Lynd, who is there to oversee the cash investment provided by Her Majesty's govt, and by Rene Mathis, an old hand from French intelligence. Vesper, initially prickly to Bond and shocked by the violence of his lifestyle, warms to him slowly and eventually helps save his life. Nonetheless, Bond loses very badly (partly because he misreads Le Chiffre's 'tells') and is at one point completely cleaned out. Vesper is annoyed at his reckless bets and refuses to give him the reserve money. However, American CIA agent Felix Leiter, who unknown to us has also been playing in the game and is about to lose, offers Bond a fresh stake, feeling Bond's odds are better than his.
Bond succeeds in cleaning out Le Chiffre. Later that night, Vesper is kidnapped. Bond chases her and is himself caught. Le Chiffre tortures Bond to try to get the account codes so that he can take back his money. Bond refuses to talk, and Le Chiffre is apparently about to kill Bond out of frustration when he is shot - one assumes by a disgruntled client. Bond is in the hospital recovering when he is visited by Mathis. Bond confronts Mathis, saying that he knows Mathis was feeding Le Chiffre information, and Mathis is taken away. Bond and Vesper strike up a romance, and eventually decide to just get away from the world on an extended boat trip. However, Vesper sees a one-eyed man in a marketplace and her behavior changes. The next day, Bond finds out simultaneously that the poker money was never given back to the government and that Vesper has just cleaned out the account. Bond chases Vesper, confronting the men she has contacted and fighting them in a house as it slowly collapses. Vesper is hiding in an elevator during this fight and it gradually submerges. Bond tries to rescue her, but she deliberately locks the elevator door and drowns.
It develops that Vesper was being blackmailed. She has left clues for Bond, which lead to the mysterious Mr. White, who also shot Le Chiffre. Bond finds Mr. White, and is seen confronting him as the film ends.
Book vs. Film
Pretty much everything in this film from the point M says she wants Bond to play in Le Chiffre's poker game is a straight adaptation of the book (except the game, which in the book is baccarat, which they had to change because no one these days knows what baccarat is, at least not in America).
Vesper is built up a little more in the film and slightly repurposed, but also made more naive. In the book she is a fellow agent who worked for the section that specialized in the Soviet Union; in the movie she is just there to keep an eye on the money. Her refusal to pay out the rest of the cash to Bond is not in the book. When Leiter gives Bond some financial help in the book it arrives in an envelope with the note "Marshall Aid. Thirty-two million francs. With the compliments of the USA." I repeat this excellent joke because, alas, it wouldn't fly in a 2006 movie, and no one these days knows what the Marshall Plan was anyway.
In the book, the agent Vesper sees who makes her realize the jig is up is from Smersh - Vesper had been an (involuntary) double agent for the Soviet ministry of internal affairs, and Le Chiffre is paymaster for Smersh. Smersh will likely never again appear in any Bond films, and here we are unclear (even after the conclusion of the loose ends of this story in Quantum of Solace) whom Vesper was compromised with/by - was it Quantum, or someone who just likes blackmailing intelligence agents for fun and profit? (More on that at the next film).
An astute observer will notice that this still leaves a great deal of action at the beginning of this film which is not in the book. For more on that, see remarks below.
It's appropriate to have a rebooted Bond matched to the very first Bond novel, where people had absolutely no expectations of the character. I have only read Casino Royale once, for reasons similar to my experiences with this film (below), but one thing about the Bond of the first book is that he is surprisingly suave and not especially violent. How can he be? He spends most of the book sitting at a gambling table.
Fleming said that, in the first novel at least, "I wanted Bond to be an extremely dull, uninteresting man to whom things happened; I wanted him to be a blunt instrument." He constantly failed at the former, fortunately; in this book he mostly fails at the latter too. There is violence and there is brutality, but these are mostly things which "happen" - to Bond, without his active input. In particular, there is a brutal sequence involving his being beaten on the genitals from below, with a carpet beater, while tied to a cane-seat chair which doesn't have a bottom. He also gets a Cyrillic letter cut into the back of his hand to mark him as a spy. (It is later removed with a skin graft; M comments on it in the beginning of the next book.)
Daniel Craig is, on paper, an extremely improbable Bond. He's too short, too blonde, too mean, too ugly, and too low-class. He is worse at being suave than Connery (though not as bad at it as Dalton). He behaves like a thug from a bad neighborhood who was told to put on a decent suit and clean up his act, as opposed to an Etonian type who has taken a step down in the world and accepted a rather demanding government job. To me Bond should radiate more of the latter than the former. And yet ... I don't dislike Craig, despite myself, and I don't hate his Bond. He is strangely compelling. He brings something new to the part - a certain constant aura of grim determination. I wish he'd smile once in a while, but on the whole, I can tolerate him fairly well.
Eva Green is barely in this film, and that might be for the best. Still, she manages to pack enough into her brief appearances that her death hurts, which, quite frankly, is all Vesper was ever written to do. Blame Fleming, not the film.
Much has been made over the years of Bond saying "the bitch is dead" to M at the end of the story. In the book it is made explicit that this is not what he really thinks; he is on an insecure line and he has to downplay any attachment he might have had, for the benefit of eavesdroppers. It annoys me that people continue to overlook this, and use this line as evidence of Bond brutality and/or misogyny. Bond has plenty of misogynist moments, but that's not one of them.
Brosnan's contract was up after Die Another Day. At the time, Brosnan was fifty. Aware that one of the major complaints against Moore had been that he outstayed his welcome, and also probably exhausted by the demands of Bond films, he declined to renew. The casting search for the new Bond, at various times, reportedly hit Sam Worthington and Henry Cavill (both of whom were considered too young) and Karl Urban (who could not screen test due to other commitments).
Craig initially declined the role. He felt Bond was formulaic and cliché. Remember that; I'll come back to it below. He only got interested when he read the script. He liked the idea of a fresh Bond start because
Bond has just come out of the service and he's a killer. [...] You can see it in their eyes, you know immediately: oh, hello, he's a killer. There's a look. These guys walk into a room and very subtly they check the perimeters for an exit. That's the sort of thing I wanted.
Not my vision of Bond, but that ship has sailed. For what it's worth, many fans felt casting Craig was a mistake, and so did quite a few film writers. There were protest sites, et cetera. I suppose it's nice that any fraction of the public was still able to muster that degree of enthusiasm, however negative, about a Bond film at all!
Martin Campbell was brought back to direct (he did Goldeneye, as you'll recall). His two Bond films are the highlight of his career to date, if you ask me. He's mostly done a lot of bad franchise sequels. Campbell, for his part, claimed he agreed to direct only because he had no other projects in development - which is basically saying "I had nothing better to do."
Neal Purvis and Robert Wade decided to deliberately go for a script that was faithful to the book, and EON decided they wanted more real-world shooting - having been stung by the criticism that there was too much CGI in Die Another Day. (They cut down on the product placement a bit too, reportedly after they heard some critics refer to the previous film as "Buy Another Day.") Third-billed writer Paul "Crash" Haggis' contribution was mostly to tinker with the ending a bit.
Daniel Kleinman did the excellent animated credits sequence, and Chris "Soundgarden" Cornell performs a decent song, but we're still stuck with the bland David Arnold for the rest of the music. The decision to not use the Bond theme in this film until the end was deliberate, the idea being that the character isn't really Bond just yet. (This is also why there are no semi-naked women in the titles, believe it or not.)
This film would not have been possible, of course, if EON hadn't obtained the rights to it in 1999. Sony traded the rights to it for MGM's rights to Spider-Man. One wonders if anyone at MGM ever regretted that deal. Then again, they're owned by Sony now anyway.
When this film was opening in theatres, one thing making me reluctant to see the film is that I knew they were going to chicken out on Vesper (by which I mean, not kill her). When a review tipped me off, obliquely, that they hadn't, it made my day. No, I hold no particular malice toward the character; I just get tired of studios shying away from "hard" scenes, especially in adaptations.
Seeing this film - with minimal gadgets, no Q or Moneypenny, no bad jokes, believable and, yes, even sexy romantic scenes [N.B. I wrote that line in 2006. I don't remember the sexy romantic scenes at all now], grit, and willingness to take chances - leads one to ask an obvious and shocked question: "Who are you and what have you done with Michael G. Wilson?"
Really, if I had not seen the Wilson and Barbara Broccoli producer credits quite clearly at the beginning of the film, I would not believe it. (In fact, rumor has it that Wilson and Broccoli insisted to Purvis and Wade that the two elements of the book they could not omit were Bond's torture at the hands of Le Chiffre and Vesper's death - exactly the two things I'd have expected them to go squeamish about.)
What got into these people, that they were willing to actually step back from their established claptrap and let this film happen, gloriously? Did MGM/Sony put the fear of god into them? Was there some writing on the wall?
It couldn't have been money - the Brosnan Bonds did quite well. Fears of continuing relevance? Ah, now there we may have something.
This reboot of Bond makes me feel old. Specifically, it makes me feel like picking up some people twenty or so years younger than I am, shaking them by the neck until they are in a weakened state, and shouting in their ear, "This is your idea of what Bond is supposed to be? How could you possibly be so wrong?"
I know, people and cultures evolve. This is very clearly a Bond meant to appeal to an audience younger than me, with different ideas and standards, and that's fine. Perhaps I resent being left behind the curve. Perhaps I'm oversimplifying. After all, this is also the Bond that Craig clearly wanted, and he's not quite a month younger than I am, and grew up seeing the same Bond films I did.
But, really, if it weren't for Craig's oddly compelling nature (oddly, in that I can't figure out why he manages to be compelling), I would not have ever rewatched this film.
As it is, I have never rewatched the bulk of the latter half of it, for the same reason I have never reread the book - that part of the film is a bunch of people sitting around a card table. I have no interest in rewatching a group of people sitting around a card table. It was barely interesting the first time.
The film is all too aware of this hole. It keeps interrupting the cardplay in desperate attempts to inject some action - an unexpected poisoning, a brutal fight in a stairwell - to the point where it's a bit implausible to imagine the game would suffer so many interruptions.
More importantly, the producers felt that the best thing to do with this impenetrable bit of tedium baked into the middle of its concoction was tack on lots of interesting action at the beginning. Lots of action. Almost a complete film's worth, between the parkour sequence and the airport sequence - which is why this is the longest Bond ever to date, at 144 minutes. (They cut a minute off Skyfall's one-too-many-endings so it wouldn't tie this record.)
The pre-credits sequence is beautifully shot (watch how it deliberately changes between very slick and highly grainy stock - one scene calm and polished, the other rough and brutal) and audacious. The parkour may be my favorite extended action sequence in any Bond film. The airport sequence is excellent. The car roll/crash after the poker game is over is breath-stoppingly scary. And in between all of this is a poker-table-shaped void which not even the best Felix Leiter ever can spice up.
All that said, this is a very good reboot of Bond, with Judi Dench on hand to provide the one strand of continuity needed. It's a film which is probably more closely grounded in the real world than any other Bonds, putting it in the company of the quiet, realistic Bonds such as For Your Eyes Only and The Living Daylights. (It is a better-made film than either of those, although I personally would rather rewatch For Your Eyes Only.) The return to the real world was overdue. The fact that we could quibble, after the film, over the plausibility of some of the mapping tools Bond uses, or the ability of MI6 to analyze his blood sample remotely with that sort of speed, only underscores that fact that, last time out, the man had a goddamned invisible car.
The business about needing two kills in the line of duty to achieve 00 status is not an invention of the film. It is alluded to twice in the books, once in a Bond aside about the 00 being a fairly meaningless distinction, and once at some length in Casino Royale itself, where Bond describes the two kills he had to make and why.
Once again M shows that she will tolerate nearly anything from Bond, including his unauthorized use of her own secure computer and breaking into her apartment! But she will not tolerate his revealing what the M stands for - possibly because it doesn't stand for anything.
("M," in case you did not know, is Fleming's take on "C." The first head of MI6 in the real world, George Mansfield Smith-Cumming, tended to drop the "Smith" and signed his memos "C." Later this became a code name and future heads of MI6 were referred to as "C" regardless of their right names. Fleming did the same with his fictitious Miles Messervy, and therefore it stands to reason that future heads in the Bond universe would continue to use the "M" initial the same way, as a title. Of course, if you believe that M has been rebooted too, and Judi Dench's M is the first M - which would put the lie to Bond's "your predecessor" comment in Goldeneye, then she will need an "M" name - which may be why she was retconned later to be named ... oh, I don't remember it now, but it was some surname starting with "M.")
Fleming was not noted for vivid physical descriptions of his characters, but at the beginning of the book we are treated to Le Chiffre's MI6 dossier, so his appearance is pretty well spelled out. Le Chiffre weighs 18 stone (about 250 pounds), so I guess my initial expectation that he should have been played by a bulkier-looking man was swayed by Orson Welles. Anyway, I don't have a problem with Mads Mikkelsen's portrayal. By the by, the asthma inhaler is in the book as well. (Putting a tracer in it is an invention of the film.)
The bombmaker who performs the incredible parkour style leaps and movements in the chase sequence early in the film is, in fact, one of the originators of parkour, Sebastien Foucan.
The car freeroll stunt had a special team and trashed three very expensive Aston Martins in the course of filming it. It apparently set a new record for most car rolls (assisted by a cannon).
Michael G. Wilson makes his usual cameo. He is listed as "Montenegrin Police Chief." The one that Mathis has arrested? I'll need another look.
Speaking of cameos, did you see Richard Branson in the airport, going through a metal detector? (You wouldn't have, if you saw it on any plane but a Virgin one. The other airlines cut him and his plane out of their versions.)
Tsai Chin, who plays Madame Wu (in the private gambling sequence aboard Le Chiffre's yacht), also played Ling ("I give you very best duck") in the opening of You Only Live Twice. Long time between Bond films, but apparently not the longest: Says here that Diane Hartford, who has a bit part as a card player here, also had a bit part as a dancer at the Kiss Kiss Club in Thunderball - forty-one years between Bonds. I mention this to prove that there are people even more compulsive about these factoids than I am.
The "007 stage" at Pinewood Studios burned down just after principal photography on the film had finished. That soundstage sure does catch fire an awful lot.
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