Daniel Craig pretty much shut everyone up with this movie. Both Xander and I were doubters when the casting news first came out, but as you can tell from our writing below that didn’t last long once we saw the film. Successfully relaunching the longest running franchise in cinema history is no small feat and yet this movie does it perfectly.
We’re almost done with Across the Bond, but that doesn’t mean that the this movie should be considered last in the Bond canon in any other way.
Casino Royale is a great example of Bond being trapped between a rock and a hard place, but coming out victorious anyway. Many fans were dismayed by the series’ dive into tired self-parody in Die Another Day and eager for a change, yet appalled when that change involved the loss of Pierce Brosnan, with his split from the series supposedly less than amicable. Wounded comments from the actor in the press shortly afterwards would certainly support this claim, although while the nature of his departure has never been officially disclosed (understandably), he seems to have made peace with it in the following years. His spirited appearance in the excellent documentary Everything Or Nothing shows a man not necessarily pleased, but accepting, of the producers’ need to take drastic action to save the creatively ailing series. Either way, neither the press nor fans were anticipating the role to go to Daniel Craig, a man until then best known for a slightly-Bondish lead role in Layer Cake and a handful of serious dramas. He didn’t look like the typical Bond, or anything close to Ian Fleming’s description from the books, and his blonde hair and muddled appearance at his first press conference were taken as omens of impending doom. The revelation that the series would finally adapt Fleming’s first novel – Casino Royale – after finally acquiring the rights was greeted with great enthusiasm, but the prospect of a full series reboot, making Craig the first man to play a brand newBond (got that, Tamahori?), was treated with suspicion by many – yours truly included – who remembered stories of Cubby Broccoli rejecting a Bondorigin story out of hand on several occasions.
In other words, there was greater pressure than ever on the series to pull something spectacular out of the hat. With Die Another Day writers Neal Purvis and Robert Wade still on scripting duty, doubters were out in droves as to whether they could succeed. A few months ahead of the movie’s release, the script was leaked to a disheartening reception. I tracked it down at the time and was met by questionable dialogue, a slightly uncomfortable structural framework seemingly blending two plots into one, and several key scenes from the novel either weakened by unnecessary humour or completely rewritten for the sake of another action set-piece. It was unquestionably an improvement over Die Another Day, because a colonoscopy is a step up in enjoyment over Die Another Day, but didn’t seem to do justice by Fleming’s book or justify the casting of such an unusualBond as Craig.
All the flaws described are present in the final movie. The dialogue is, at times, face-palmingly awful (‘If the only thing left of you was your smile and your little finger…’) and the torture scene’s forced humour has the movie relent at the time it really could have gone seriously nasty, turning Bond into a bit of a caricature, even if director Martin Campbell kept the tone darker than it appeared on the page. The climactic set-piece in an abandoned Venice building also makes little logical sense and is too overblown to have the same gut-punch impact as Vesper’s suicide in the novel. Fleming’s powerhouse of a closing line (‘Yes damnit, I said ‘was’. The bitch is dead now.’) is also completely thrown away, even if the alternative offers its own thrill in a decidedly showier way. For all the claims of the movie being grittier and tougher, it always backs down when Fleming was at his most sadistic. Given the mainstream reception to Licence To Kill, a movie which never pulled a single punch, that might have been a wise decision. From a fan perspective, it’s a tad disappointing.
Nevertheless, the shortcomings of Casino‘s script are squashed into near insignificance by the inspired creative team of director Martin Campbell, who had revived Bond once before with Goldeneye, and star Daniel Craig, whose force of nature performance immediately established a more forceful, psychologically fractured Bond than had been presented on screen before. While Craig rightly attracted all the plaudits, Campbell’s role in the movie’s success should not be overlooked: the film is visually sumptuous, at once filled with bold colour but never losing a grounding earthy quality. From the black and white introduction to the limited, slightly saturated lighting in the torture scene, every section of the movie has a distinct visual identity formed around the mental state of Daniel Craig’s Bond. When he’s doing what he does best, firing guns and kicking arse, the movie beams around him. When he’s in emotional or physical pain, Campbell pares back to a limited palette, unpredictable cutting and a harsher image quality. Editor Stuart Baird, who had plenty to atone for after helming Star Trek Nemesis (which did to that series precisely what Die Another Day did to Bond), cuts the movie together with stunning assurance, keeping the big action scenes moving at a frantic pace while showing no fear in taking the time to build tension around an elongated game of poker.
The foot chase across and over a construction site is where these talents come together in the most striking way. It’s the rare action scene driven entirely by character, where Bond‘s ability to adapt to his surroundings on the fly is set against bomb-maker Mollaka’s super-human levels of freerunning agility. (The character makes such an impact that star Sébastian Foucan, one of the founders of parkour, gets his own credit distinct from the rest of the cast). Where Mollaka dives gracefully through a narrow gap above a cardboard placeholder for a door, Bond smashes right through it. Where Mollaka escapes the building’s upper floors by leaping from one lift to another, Bond smashes the controls of a nearby hydraulic platform to drop him to ground. As M notes, he’s a one man path of destruction, albeit with a better understanding of the big picture than she gives him credit for. Is he Fleming’s Bond? Yes and no. His lack of professionalism and self-control certainly push towards the latter, but his introspective streak offers a surprisingly effective representation of the literary Bond‘s sometimes self-doubting inner monologue.
Craig immediately owns the role, balancing brute force with a fragile psychology which finds a match in Eva Green’s wonderfully fatale Vesper Lynd. There isn’t a weak link among the cast, and the movie’s biggest sign of confidence is in giving villain Le Chiffre (portrayed by the viper-like Mads Mikkelsen) an identifying physical defect which is sinister rather than silly. The welcome hints of a SPECTRE-like criminal organisation behind the scenes give the impression of a world of nastier, more cunning villains waiting to be torn apart in future movies, even if such tantalising promises now look destined to go unfulfilled. Is Casino Royale the best Bond ever? Nope. But it offers yet further proof of the Bond series’ unmatched ability to successfully adapt to the demands of new times and new audiences, achieving success off the back of difficult and often controversial creative choices. Anyone who compares a movie this brave and immediately iconic to the one-note Bourne movies (which themselves stole plenty from Dalton-era Bond, albeit with a fraction of the substance) is a buffoon. At the time when the doubters were louder than ever, Casino Royale and Daniel Craig comprehensively proved that nobody plays the action game better than Bond.
I know when to admit when I’m wrong and boy was I wrong. I was not a fan of Daniel Craig, who showed up to the announcement of hist casting like he was a hobo, when he got the role of Bond. It wasn’t about the blonde hair or even his looks, but from what I had seen of him (relatively little) I didn’t think he was right for the part at all. By the end of Casino Royale when he delivers the iconic “Bond. James Bond,” damn near as well as Connery in Dr. No‘s opening I was pretty much ready to have his babies. It’s a rare actor who can take a sea of whining fanboys and in one movie completely and totally make them all fall in love with him. Craig does this with one of the strongest performances in a Bond film to date.
Not all credit should got to Craig, however. The reset of the franchise, surely hastened by the fact that Eon finally got the rights to Casino Royale, was a ballsy move and probably makes this the third most important film in the history of the Bond franchise in terms of keeping the character alive. I, unlike Xander, would put Goldfinger as the most important since it sparked the phenomenon and then GoldenEye as the second most seeing as the hurdles it had to surmount were a bit greater. While Casino Royale was important in carrying on the franchise we can’t forget that Die Another Day was a massive so unlike when GoldenEye released Bond still had a place in cinema at this time. Wherever it ranks in importance to the franchise it cannot be denied that it is a fantastic movie that almost completely reinvents Bond while keeping him Bond, a feat that is no small task.
British cinema needs to give Martin Campbell a big fucking medal because without him the biggest British film series ever would not be what it is. Returning to once again relaunch Bond the man absolutely nails it. It’s strange too because many of his other films are lackluster, but you ask the guy to direct a risky relaunch of one of cinemas most popular characters and he knocks it out of the damn park twice. Xander takes you through the cinematic snobbery of it all, but I’d just like to reiterate how this Bond is a far throw from Bourne in both direction and tone. The comparison comes from the more visceral fight scenes, which admittedly at times do look the same, but Campbells direction is nothing like Paul Greengrass’s constantly shaking camera and Craig’s fighting is far less smooth than Bourne’s. Daniel Craig is also the most physical actor to play the part, allowing for some real fist fights and simply brutal stunt work that is believable. Previous Bond actors could not pull of the shit he does.
I’m actually a fan of the humor written into the film, though I agree some of the lines get pretty damn dumb. Part of Bond now is humor and when the likes of Licence to Kill went to far in the other direction it didn’t feel like Bond anymore. Casino Royale finds a magical balance that keeps Bond serious as a character, but still grandiose as a movie. Touches like LeChiffre weeping blood tears, which in previous films would have seemed silly, instead come across as dark and disturbing. I also find Bond’s humor during the torture scene actually more faithful to the book, and darker, than Xander give it credit for. In the book Bond retreats into his mind to survive. In the film he uses jokes to push through the immense pain he must be in. I think this is exactly how the film Bond would react to this situation and it only reestablishes how well a lot of the movie was put together.
I could nitpick almost any scene from here and come away happy about it. I even forgive the lackluster “The bitch is dead line,” thanks to the films pitch perfect ending with Craig stepping more fully into Bond we know by delivering the aforementioned iconic line. This is just a damn good movie with a damn good actor and director who knew what he was doing. Even if it wasn’t Bond it would stand as a stellar piece of cinema.