It’s the dark gritty reboot! And all that entails. Although with the rights to Fleming’s first 007 novel finally in the hands of Eon, it’s a logical place to refine and redefine the rules of the series. And the result, Casino Royale might just be the best of those films to date.
Brief and brutal. Not yet 007, Bond (Daniel Craig) breaks into the house of Dryden, his Prague station chief, who’s been flogging secrets, and they talk shop for a while. It’s interspersed with Bond belting the living daylights out of Dryden’s contact, making his first kill a tough one. His second, however, is considerably…
Daniel Kleinman is still on board for the titles but gives it a bit of a new look doing some very slick animation of suits of cards slicing up and perforating the screen. Another change is the lack of the ladeez, as the montage sees the agent battles bad guys instead.
The opening song is a little out of left-field too, Chris Cornell singing “You Know My Name”, co-written with David Arnold, who also returns for the soundtrack. Arnold, as usual, doesn’t miss a beat, but he does something appropriate for what is effectively the origin story of 007 – he reprises the “You Know My Name” motif through the play, holding back Monty Norman for the end credits.
A solid mix of new and old haunts. Location plates dropped include Prague (previously seen in The Living Daylights, Uganda, and Madagascar, and that’s just within the first act. Things get a little more familiar with London (of course), The Bahamas (where just about every 007 film seems to have been filmed), Fake Miami (see Goldfinger and Thunderball) and Venice (see From Russia With Love and Moonraker) and of course, the Casino Royale set in Montenegro – actually back in Czechia, apparently.
Having earned his zeros, Bond and another agent are in Madagascar on the tail of a bombmaker, Mollaka (Sébastien Foucan) – the colleague blows his cover, spooking the target, who basically parkours his way through a construction site with Bond hot on his tail, and then down into an embassy. Bond doesn’t believe in barley and busts into the embassy, grabs his man, and when he’s eventually forced to give him up, no-one else is going to get him either, causing a minor diplomatic incident in the process. Whoopsies.
Having said that, Bond has grabbed the guy’s cellphone and gotten a brief lead from it. He finally gets back to London where he’s dressed down by M (Judi Dench), not just because he broke into her house so he could use her terminal to check out some shit, but because of the aforementioned diplomatic incident. Still, Bond isn’t sacked yet, which is important because there’s still most of the film to run.
Le Chiffre (Mads Mikkelsen) is essentially a bagman and banker for terrorists, with a serious problem with weeping blood. He’s picked up a new account from another warlord, Steven Obanno (Isaac de Bankolé), having been recommended by the mysterious Mr White (Jesper Christensen) who presumably works for a very scary organisation, he promptly uses the funds to try to short Skyfleet, a airliner manufacturer. How does Le Chiffre know Skyfleet’s stock is going to tank? Well, he’s arranged for their new prototype to get blown up.
From the sketchiest of clues, however, Bond figures out the middleman is in the Bahamas (natch), one Alex Dimitrios (Simon Abkarian), so he makes his way there, wins Alex’s Aston Martin DB5, and later gets the next clue while he’s fooling around with Dimitrios’ wife Solange (Caterina Murino).
That next clue takes him to Miami, where he finds Dimitrios has handed off to Carlos (Claudio Santamaria) whose job it is to actually blow up the stupid plane. Bond kills Dimitrios and then pursues Carlos, after a kickarse chase around the runways of Miami, manages to thwart the Carlos, who inadvertently blows himself up after Bond does a switcheroo with his detonator. Everyone is happy, even Richard Branson.
Well, Le Chiffre isn’t happy. He’s done his dough as Skyfleet’s disaster never eventuates, and now he’s in the red with some very unhappy warlords. So as a dab hand at the cards, he arranges a high-stakes card game in Montenegro to get his money back, as you do.
There was a bit of a stir when the baccarat tournament of the book was replaced with Texas Hold’Em poker for the movie (hey, it was the mid-00s, and at least they didn’t change it to Snap or Uno) but the result is that you get a pretty easy game to explain but with enough tension that you can make it the centrepiece of the second act without boring everyone senseless. In the name of the mission, Bond gets banked up for the game as well, hoping to bankrupt Le Chiffre absolutely, so he has no option but to sing to MI6 about all his clients.
Providing the cash on behalf of Her Majesty’s Treasury is Vesper Lynn (Eva Green). The first meeting between Lynn and Bond is one big awesome psych out as they get each other’s measure, on the train. They turn up to the resort in Montenegro, where they meet up with local guy René Mathis (Giancarlo Giannini). After getting suited up, Bond fronts up to the game and starts off well.
During a break in play, Le Chiffre gets ambushed by Obanno who is very very unhappy about Le Chiffre’s lack of prudential due diligence, but leaves him be on the proviso that Le Chiffre wins the game. Then Obanno bumps into Bond and Lynn, and Bond and Obanno and Obanno’s mate slug it out in a stairwell, totally freaking out Lynn.
Bond manages to off the assailants, consoles Lynn, and then gets cleaned up to return to the game, where he gets cleaned out as he misjudges Le Chiffre’s bluff. Lynn refuses Bond any more of Her Majesty’s money to buy back in, but CIA associate Felix Leiter (Jeffrey Wright) offers to do so on the proviso the Seppos get Le Chiffre if Bond wins.
Bond agrees to the offer and returns to the table, and starts doing well again. That is, until he takes a sip of a drink, spiked with digitalis by Le Chiffre’s squeeze Valenka (Ivana Miličević). Bond runs off for a chunder then gets back to his car for the antidote, but passes out before he can defibrilate himself. Lynn arrives just in time to replace the electrode and zap Bond back into consciousness, who promptly dusts himself off, sits back down like he’s just had a satisfyingly long piss, and proceeds to reduce Le Chiffre to zero.
Le Chiffre is an asshole and an extremely bad loser, though, so after Bond and Lynn celebrate with a meal, Le Chiffre kidnaps her. Bond sets off in pursuit but writes off his car as he swerves to avoid Lynn who Le Chiffre has just dumped in the middle of the road, and after the bingle Bond and Lynn are recaptured.
Nek minnit, Bond is in some basement, tied up naked to a chair as Le Chiffre literally tries to bust Bond’s balls to make him give up the password to the escrowed winnings. Bond is having none of that, even having bit of a giggle, so Le Chiffre reaches for the knife. Before he can go any further, though, Mr White turns up and does a number on Le Chiffre.
Fade to black.
Bond wakes up in a hospital on Lake Como, and during his recuperation, Bond and Lynn’s on-and-off infatuation blooms into the real thing, and Bond decides to quit MI6 so he can float around Venice with Lynn.
There is the small matter of the funds which have to be returned to the British Government, but soon enough Bond finds out that Lynn has made off with the cash – Mr White’s organisation, whoever they were, seem to have cut a deal with Lynn as they had kidnapped her lover (no, not Bond, another guy) but Bond isn’t informed of this until, well, after it’s too late.
Until then, having been unable to save Lynn from drowning herself after stealing the cash (which has since been appropriated by Mr White), he denounces her, but then finds a final clue on her phone as to the whereabouts of Mr White. Following up on the lead, Bond pays a visit to Mr White to re-introduce himself. Strike up the twangy guitar and the horns. Bond Begins.
After Die Another Day there probably wasn’t anywhere else for the series to go but back to its roots – as mentioned, the rights to the seminal 007 novel had finally been picked up by Eon, who made the most of the opportunity. The anti-Craig campaign seems utterly laughable now, given that within the very first minute he takes over the role and makes it his own.
So it is a very interesting redefinition – on the one hand, utterly in the spirit of Flemings’ own words, bringing the harder edge that Connery and Dalton brought to the cinematic portrayal. At the same time, a finely chiselled performance that brings intelligence and brutality to the role in equal measure.
The plot is also well wrought – perhaps it gets a little convoluted in the beginning, but there’s just enough clues given to the audience that you can work it out just as Bond does. We also get a more thorough examination of Bond’s character in that train scene than we did in the whole 15 hours of Moore being a suave prat in a dinner jacket. (Sorry, Roge, you were great at times but the scripts they gave you sometimes…)
While a lot of the 007 tropes were elided or streamlined – there are hot cars and gadgets, but they’re introduced by-the-way, and familiar side roles get reintroduced in later films but in a smarter way that doesn’t go down the “oh we gotta have Bond flirting with Moneypenny after he tosses his hat onto a hat-rack and then he insults Q while getting geared up” shtick.
Getting up to ten years since its release, it’s now easy to recognise Casino Royale as one of the landmark films of the smarter marquee wave, along with Nolan’s Batman trilogy (compared with Zack Snyder’s Orphan Fight which nailed the grimdark but forgot the smarts) with a nod to a similar revival in the small screen. Like, you’re definitely still seeing an action film, a Bond movie no less, with charismatic villains, hot women, fast cars, fucking casinos, and lots of frequent flyer points, but you’re not getting pummelled with teh stoopid of the Michael Bay variety that was starting to take over.
Now, the weird thing is that I never got around to seeing Quantum of Solace, although the impression I got from others was that it was a bit of a letdown, although Skyfall picked up the game again. Nevertheless, I’m quite keen to see how this ends. Like, right now, after I post this.
(Haven’t seen Spectre yet, either, in case you’re wondering – I seem to only get to see the odd-numbered Bond films in the cinema.)
You can probably guess what sort of score I’m going to give this:
19 out of 20 salbutamol puffers.