Fresh off receiving his 00 status, James is assigned the task of playing in a tense game of high stakes poker in order to stop a banker for terrorists from winning over $100 million.
Bond, James Bond:
After the complicated messes involved in casting the previous two Bonds, this one, at least on the front end, was relatively simplistic. A wide range of actors came in, including Hugh Jackman, Sam Worthington, and Henry Cavill, but the final choice was Craig, who finally decided to come onboard when he saw that the script did not fall into the general formula that the franchise had fallen into. The reaction to the casting was a frustrated one, caused predominantly by the fact that Craig did not have the traditional tall, dark and handsome, instead being a bit brutish looking, not to mention blonde.
I can’t imagine that this frustration lasted long once this film began. The film, an origin story, begins in black and white, showing us how Bond got the two kills necessary to become a 00 agent. The first time we see him, he is cool and relaxed, holding a corrupt and high-ranking member of MI6 at gunpoint. The movie then smashes its way into a flashback as Craig fights a man in a bathroom. These are his first two kills, the first being a rough and tumble fight leading into a gunshot (which leads into the opening credits in a thrilling way), and the second (the one we see first) delightfully easy, and allowing Craig his first attempt at a Bond quip. In general, the dark and rough Bond is basically what the series attempted with Dalton, but it’s Craig’s ability to deliver a quip without a knowing smile that really makes him feel different from Dalton.
The strong introduction to this Bond continues throughout the film. The first major action sequence has Craig chasing a terrorist doing parkour, and, in contrast to the smooth jumps of his target, Craig is a rough brute, crashing through walls and falling onto ledges in a way that you know hurts him, but he pushes through it. The ability to take pain comes through in a darkly humorous way during Bond’s major scene with our villain. As a naked Bond is tied to a chair, the villain whips him through the cut-out-bottom of the chair. Bond asks him to get a scratch for him, and begins cackling, saying “Now everyone will know you died scratching my balls!” It’s a rough scene to get through, and Bond’s laughter is admittedly disconcerting, but its everything that you would want to see from Bond; remaining cool and collected throughout the worst of situations.
Craig looks the part as well. Although not as traditionally handsome as our other actors, Craig makes up for it by being ripped to shreds. In a sort of reverse =callback to how we were introduced to the first true “Bond girl,” we see Craig emerge shirtless from an ocean, and you can see the results of that below. It has become something of an iconic moment for Craig’s tenure as Bond, and you can see why.
I’ll touch more on it below when talking about Vesper, his romantic lead, but Craig plays his side of the relationship well, including two mini-speeches about how she has impacted him, and how dedicated he intends to be with her. The first, after Vesper tells him he’ll never let her past his armor, he tells her “I have no armor left. You’ve stripped it from me. Whatever is left of me…whatever I am…is yours.” The second is after he tells Vesper he’s planning on leaving MI6, telling her “You do what I do long enough, there won’t be any soul left to salvage. I’m leaving with what little I have left. Is that enough for you?,” giving the final line a bit of sad hopefulness. The one other time in this franchise when Bond and his female lead get this close, Lazenby did not have the acting chops to pull of his side of the relationship, although the script is able to carry him through that well enough that the relationship still works. There is no such deficit here; Craig nails it, and you truly believe that he would be willing to leave his job to be with her.
He nails it so well, in fact, that what could have been a creepy scene, Bond sitting with Vesper and cleaning her fingers with his mouth, plays as sweet. On paper, it sounds remarkably creepy. But the context of the scene (Vesper is having her Lady Macbeth moment, where she feels that she has blood on her hands, and is sitting fully clothed in a shower) allows the moment to come off as more tender. James joins her, allowing his tuxedo to get soaking wet, and upon hearing that she can’t get the blood off her hands, he takes her hands and takes two fingers into his mouth, not lingering over either one, just doing it to help get the metaphorical blood off. Still admittedly creepy, the script and performances allow the tenderness of it to come through more than the creepy (a line a similar scene later in Craig’s tenure does not pull off in, but more on that with Skyfall).
In a franchise that has had songs succeed with the help of powerful female vocals, this origin story goes in a different direction with the late Chris Cornell taking the reins on this film’s song, “You Know My Name”. This song rocks so hard, from the very start you get a different feel than any other song had given (with the exception of “Live and Let Die,” which only begins to rock out after a slow introduction). It’s difficult to not get pumped up when you hear those opening chords, and that excitement continues throughout the song. Especially after the shrug of a refrain in the previous film’s song, having the vocals be in Bond’s voice, and include lyrics like “The coldest blood runs through my beings/You know my name,” is an essential jolt that this franchise needed. We know who Bond is supposed to be, and this film is going to give us what we want to see; this song confirms that.
Bond’s antagonist in this film is banker-for-terrorists, Le Chiffre, played by Mads Mikkelsen (who I will try not to refer to as Hannibal while I write about him). Hanni…Mikkelsen already has a fairly distinct and disconcerting look to him, and the film adds a malformed tear duct, causing Le Chiffre to cry blood, creating a wonderfully odd-looking villain, and one I grew to appreciate only after I began to see Mikkelsen in other things (including a tv show called Hannibal. That’s twice.) I think the delay in appreciation might come from the fact that Le Chiffre does not get to do a whole lot in this movie, except be worried about stocks and play cards. But when I watched the performance as a performance, small smirks and glances begin to creep through Mikkelsen’s performance, allowing Le Chiffre to seem impressed with Bond at certain points during the game. The film also allows us to see the villain in fear for his life, and how it is that fear that motivates him throughout the poker match. Then there’s the chair scene I discuss above, which is where Mikkelsen really gets to shine. From his taunts (“soon enough there will be little left to identify you as a man”) to his cutting of Bond’s cackling confidence, as he explains that he won’t die because, even though he has killed 007, he still has information that MI6 needs, and, because of this, they will welcome him with open arms, Mikkelsen owns the climatic scene.
James technically has a small tryst with someone in the early stages of this film, but I want to dedicate the entirety of this section to one of the two strongest female leads in this franchise. Vesper Lynd (played by Eva Green) is an employee of the Treasury who goes to the poker match to ensure that Bond gambles with the government’s money wisely. We meet her as she throws herself into a seat opposite James as they travel to Montenegro, and, from there, she proves herself able to verbally spar with Bond in a way that few other characters have been able to in this franchise. They exchange barbs about each other’s profession and surmise what they can about each other just by looking at them. After Bond gives an impressive estimation of Lynd, she smiles, pauses, and then reads Bond like a book, impressing him as he smiles and says nothing throughout her monologue. She concludes by saying “I wouldn’t go as far as calling you a cold-hearted bastard, but it wouldn’t be a stretch to imagine. You think of women as disposable pleasures, rather than meaningful pursuits…so I will be keeping my eye on our government’s money…and off your perfectly formed ass.” He quips “You noticed,” to which she responds “Even accountants have imagination.” Bond smiles and quips about how he feels as if he had been skewered, and they go their separate ways. In one scene, the script, combined withGreen and Craig’s magnetic chemistry, are able to convey a stronger relationship than every other Bond/female lead pairing before it, with the potential exception of George Lazenby and Diana Rigg, although Lazenby’s performance hurts it there.
Their relationship continues to impress throughout, including Vesper being able to deduce Bond’s tux sizes because she “sized [him] up the moment [she] met [him].” After the poker match has ended, the two share a drink, where they flirt back and forth and laugh at each other’s awkwardness. During this scene, Bond points out that he recognizes her necklace as an Algerian love knot, a gift from someone he considers to be “a very lucky man.” Although he enjoys flirting with her, he understands that a cute back and forth is all their relationship should ever be, which is a nice twist from the Bond we are used to.
After they are both rescued from Le Chiffre’s clutches (after Bond failed to rescue her on his own), Lynd expresses that she knows that she needs to move on from her previous suitor, and the two begin a romantic relationship. Green’s performance throughout these late scenes show a convincing amount of genuine affection, but it all appears to be clouded by a complication.
We eventually learn this complication is that she was something of a double agent, in Montenegro as an employee of the Treasury, but there also to ensure that Le Chiffre won the poker match. We learn that her boyfriend has been kidnapped by a secret organization and that he will be killed if Vesper does not get the money to them. She never planned on falling in love with Bond along the way. In the end, she promises to get Bond’s winnings to them, with the implication being she has them promise to not kill James. She eventually figures out that the money drop will likely lead to her death (again, a knowledge Green plays well as she departs Bond, promising it to be a short trip, but knowing it will likely be permanent). She leaves Bond clues after she leaves in order to ensure that he will track her, and in the ensuing battle with the mysterious organization, James is able to kill everyone there but is unable to save Vesper, who is trapped in an elevator that eventually falls into the water. James dives to save her, but she swims to him (still trapped), puts his fingers in her mouth, absolving him of her death, and lets herself die.
Through a script that allows Vesper Lynd to be a strong, complicated character and a layered performance from Eva Green, Casino Royale creates a romantic relationship that somehow tops Tracy Bond.
Other than some producers, the only thing to connect this film to the most recent films is the return of the wonderful Judi Dench as M, and she has not lost a step in her performance. We meet her as she exits a meeting, shortly after Bond recklessly killed a potential source of information, after he had collected a singular piece of information that he believed to be sufficient. She monologues her frustration with the Prime Minister, and with Bond, concluding the rant with “In the old days if an agent did something that embarrassing he’d have a good sense to defect. Christ, I miss the Cold War.” She later confronts Bond, who has broken into her apartment to do research, to the point that she even threatens to have him killed if he speaks her real name. From the start, this relationship between M and Bond is one that feels strained, but also one deeply based on respect. M tells James to bury his head in the sand, knowing full well he would take that opportunity to continue the investigation on his own while allowing her to have plausible deniability. When James says “you knew I wouldn’t let this go, didn’t you?” she smiles and says “I knew you were you.” Her final scene, talking to James after he has rescinded his resignation, after Vesper’s death, she plays it with a combination of true sympathy and tough love. She tries to comfort him, asking him questions that suggest that Vesper truly did care for him, despite the betrayal. However, at the end of the conversation, she inquires if he trusts anyone anymore, to which he coldly responds “No.” She follows that with a “Good. Then you’ve learned your lesson.” The relationship between M and Craig’s Bond is an essential one in two films, and this movie does the heavy lifting to ensure that the emotions of the film are effective and genuine.
Felix Leiter also makes a major appearance in this film, portrayed by the delightful Jeffrey Wright. After watching this film years ago, really before any other in the franchise, and then knowing that Leiter would be in earlier films, I was excited to see the character. However, none of the other appearances really feel like they make the impression that Wright does here. We see him as just another player in the high stakes poker game, but we find out who he is as he stops James from impulsively going after Le Chiffre out of the context of the game. He introduces himself as “Felix Leitler, brother from Langley,” allowing James to know his connection with the CIA, and that they are both working towards the same goal. In one scene, Wright and Craig seem to have more of a connection than any other previous Bond/Leiter combination, including the one where Bond was Leiter’s best man.
Two other men have some time to make at least a small impression in this film, one that will come into play in the next film. First, Rene Mathis is Bond’s contact in Montenegro during the poker match. Mathis appears to be very good at cleaning up messes, removing a corrupt chief of police and framing another player for Bond’s murder of a group of men who attacked Le Chiffre and Bond. Giancarlo Giannini plays the character with a wonderful charm, a charm that plays into the disappointment when we learn that Mathis may have been working with Le Chiffre all along (the film leaves it unclear if this is true, especially in light of Vesper’s duplicity, but Bond seems convinced).
The other character is Mr. White, who speaks of a secret organization who Le Chiffre reports to, and he eventually executes Le Chiffre’s in the name of that organization. We will learn more about the organization in the next film (and then again in Spectre, albeit with less satisfying results). Jesper Christensen is only in a few scenes, including the film’s pitch-perfect conclusion, but he plays the character with the mystery required to pique our interest in his employer.
This film is relatively light on gadgets. I do want to note though that the Aston Martin that Bond drives in this movie ended up finding its way into the record books for a pretty amazing stunt, and one that they did accidentally. After one attempt to flip the car only caused a singular flip, and not a particularly impressive looking one, that tried the stunt again, and this was the result. Guinness later confirmed it was a record.
The story of this one is so good, because both the villain plot and the romantic plot are well done and plotted out well, and actually cross over in a fluid way (unlike the similarly strong On Her Majesty’s Secret Service, where the two arcs felt pretty distinct). Although the short-selling stocks plot line is kind of complicated, because I’m a fool who doesn’t entirely comprehend the stock market, you understand it well enough to understand why the poker game happens, and why a win is so important to Le Chiffre. The idea of Bond winning the final hand with a straight flush does require you to believe that he had the craziest luck in the world, but that’s how movies work sometimes. It’s not an insane amount of disbelief we need to suspend.
The romantic relationship works primarily because of the chemistry between our leads, but the script is strong as well. It gives Craig and Green enough to do that you can believe that Craig would be willing to leave MI6 so soon after joining, and that you can believe that Green would risk her life to keep Craig alive, while still saving her boyfriend.
Everything works. It’s plotted and paced well. What more could you ask for in a story, let alone in a franchise that tends to get a tad complicated?
Miscellaneous Spy Business:
-When we first see Le Chiffre’s eye bleed during a poker match, he explains his condition to his competitor, saying “Nothing sinister.” Bruh, if you have to describe something as not being “sinister,” it instantly becomes way more sinister.
-Y’all stop reading this review to watch Hannibal yet?
-After James loses his first set of money, he goes to the bar and orders a martini. When the bartender asks if he wants it shaken or stirred, Craig spits “Does it look like I give a damn?” The twist of what we expected plays so well here, and Craig is just so angry, it’s an amazing moment.
-Felix covers Bond’s buy-back-into the game, asking only that he allows the CIA to be the one to take Le Chiffre in if Bond wins. Bond asks about the winnings, and Leiter laughs, saying “Does it look like we need the money?” Oh, 2006 America. If only you knew about housing bubbles.
-After Vesper saves James by utilizing a defibrillator, he wakes up and, immediately, asks “You okay?” Dude was just dead and his immediate concern is why a woman he has strong feelings for looks distressed?
-After James is rescued from the torture scene, James and Vesper spend some time on some hospital island, and the movie plays with the sex-crazed Bond really well. Vesper says “If all that was left of you was your smile and your little finger, you’d still be more of a man than anyone I’ve ever met.” Bond lets that sit for a moment, before leaning in and telling her, “That’s because you know what I can do with my little finger.” It takes a touching moment, lets it be touching, and then lets James be James.
-I critiqued Brosnan’s Bond in three of his films for creepily lingering over the corpses of women. In this, Craig’s Bond attempts and fails to ressusicate Lynd. Afterwards, he pushes himself back from her, attempting to contain his rage and sadness. After a couple of beats, he allows himself to succumb, going back to her and holding her corpse in his arms. This movie earns this moment by allowing us to see their amazing performance, and Craig sells this moment so well.
-As mentioned above, M mentions that she assumed James would continue investigating, despite his suspension, because “I know you’d be you.” When James tells M that Vesper had left her phone for him, she simply says “She knew you were you.”
-Craig doesn’t get to say the famous “Bond. James Bond” line until the end of the movie, but hot dog is it worth the wait. Watch it below, as it coincides with the first time we hear the famous Bond song that originated with the opening credits of Dr. No. It’s wonderful, and leaves you on a high note.
I’ve said it all above. Everything about this movie is so intensely amazing. If I had to recommend a movie to be the entry point for someone with this franchise, it would probably be this one, even though it does have a pretty distinct tone difference. It’s just so good, and it’s my favorite of these movies. 0011/0010. Ratings are garbage, but this is the one I know with the utmost confidence. It’s a score breaker.
TJ At The Movies Will Return With: Quantum of Solace
References Casino Royale Wikipedia https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Casino_Royale_(2006_film) Casino Royale Wikiquote Page https://en.wikiquote.org/wiki/Casino_Royale_(2006_film) Photo and Video Credits Cover Photo https://nerdist.com/wp-content/uploads/2018/02/Casino-Royale.jpg Craig Tuxedo http://www.jbsuits.com/blog/wp-content/uploads/2013/08/James-Bond-Casino-Royle-Peak-Lapel-Tuxedo.jpg Craig Swimsuit https://i.ytimg.com/vi/JGjYqlmHPVM/maxresdefault.jpg Opening Credits https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=XlqDf6jOwCk Le Chiffre https://thumbs.gfycat.com/BoringComplicatedCats-max-1mb.gif Vesper Train https://i.ytimg.com/vi/qlhEYZEmbUY/maxresdefault.jpg Vesper Mirror https://78.media.tumblr.com/c60ed5bfd5850e4f5637170d27a283cb/tumblr_inline_n4fvisB3Mw1qgp297.jpg Felix http://www.bondsuits.com/wp-content/uploads/2014/01/Jeffrey-Wright-Casino-Royale-3.jpg Aston Martin Flip https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=64CDKLMiTGY End Scene https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=RKysEIVJfBs