Welcome to your briefing 007. Your mission: Casino Royale. Le Chiffre is an international accountant for freedom fighters. He is funding terrorism and it is apparent he is part of a larger organization. He just lost a lot of his clients money, so now he has set up a high stakes game of poker in Montenegro. Our reports say you are the agency’s best player, 007. You will meet the treasury’s Vesper Lynd, who will supply the money, and your contact Rene Mathis will supply the information. Remember 007, if you lose, we will be funding terrorism. You must win.
The film takes an unexpected turn right out of the gates. 1. It is filmed in Black & White. 2. It does not follow the normal formula: there is no bubbles across the screen with the famous gun barrel shot. Instead we are shown that 007, well, isn’t 007 yet. Bond is sent to get rid of a secrets seller in Prague, who tries to tell him how hard it is to kill, since Bond is inexperienced to this point. Little does he know who he is dealing with however, and in fact, Bond has already killed, the man’s contact, who did not die well in a bathroom brawl. It is probably the shortest pre-title sequence in the series, but massively effective and I love the black & white, and the set up for the character of Bond.
The scene gives way to the title sequence which is pretty cool with the design, which features a casino, card themed sequence. It is complimented by the theme song, “You Know My Name” by Chris Cornell. Cornell is a great choice to sing a Bond song in my opinion, but the song, written by Cornell and composer David Arnold, is just alright. It is a nice song that works for the sequence, but does not rank among some of the best compositions for the series.
Prague, Uganda, Madagascar, The Bahamas, Miami, Montenegro, Venice
Judi Dench returns as the head of MI6 and we actually get a little bit more information on her character here. As an ally to Bond she pretty much does her normal duty, letting him know what he must do, even if it follows that he will still do it his way. But we see the inside of her apartment, learn that her name starts with M (it isn’t a “randomly assigned letter”), and she is married, or at least sleeps next to a similarly aged gentleman at night. It must be difficult being married to the head of MI6, but Dench’s ‘M’ has always been very human to me. She has always shown she has heart, emotion and sympathy, even if that also means she still has what it takes.
Mathis is a fun character played by Italian actor Giancarlo Giannini. He Bond’s contact in Montenegro and a sort of cool, mysterious guy. He is the only guy in Montenegro following Le Chiffre, which makes him an island with no one to really put him in check. He strikes with a sense of humor and of style, and when Bond gets betrayed, all eyes are on him as the culprit, but could it be?
Our good friend Felix returns tot he proceedings, but this time Bond does not know who he is. Leiter joins Bond at the table to beat Le Chiffre, but it is not until Bond gets knocked out that the CIA agent reveals himself to Bond, volunteering to stake him because he is “bleeding chips” himself. I have always thought of Jeffrey Wright as a sort of mechanical actor, and he fits that bill here, but for some odd reason he has a certain watchability too, even if Leiter is the minor-est of minor characters.
Le Chiffre is an interesting villain simply because of the way he is played. Mads Mikkelsen is an actor that seems perfectly suited for the role, playing him with equal parts disdain and and cocky arrogance, much like Bond himself in this film and for that reason he is a worthy opponent. It is a clash of egos, but Le Chiffre is also one of the weaker villains, at least physically. He has asthma, taking hits from his inhaler throughout, but he also weeps blood from the slightly disfigured eye, a mystery we are never privy to, but a weakness nonetheless, which is telling when it pops up that he is not the top of the food chain, there is a whole hierarchy in this secret organization which sets Le Chiffre, a formidable villain, fairly low on that totem pole.
If Le Chiffre is low on the chain, Dimitrios is even lower. He is the man in The Bahamas who lives by the beach, has a beautiful wife, plays a bit of poker, and makes his money on the side by organizing terrorist attacks on commercial airliners so his friends can make money off it.
And then there was the blandly and chromaticly named Mr. White, who is the most mysterious of all. He introduces the freedom fighter in Uganda to Le Chiffre, then pops back up in the middle to kill Le Chiffre after he fails and essentially save Bond. Obviously he is a higher up in the strange organization, but just how high? And what exactly is this organization? Mr. White exists to perpetuate this mystery, and does so in marvelous fashion. Knowing what I do about the next installment may sway my opinions on this matter, but Mr. White is one of the main reasons I think Casino Royale works as well as it does.
Vesper Vesper Vesper. What a Bond girl this gal is. Eva Green is gorgeous in her own unique way. I honestly would struggle to find another woman with beauty like hers. That dark hair and her stunning eyes matched with her freckled skin and large lips. But apart from being beautiful, she is also one of the most fleshed out Bond girls in the series. She goes toe to toe with Bond when they first meet and proves a strong match for out man James, even causing him to basically fall head over heels for her. But she has a past as well with the Algerian Love Knot Necklace, and in the end her love proves more volatile then even Bonds, which is strong enough to push him to resignation from the MI6. It is just the mystery of her situation that propels just how intriguing her character really is.
Every Bond film has that disposable Bond girl and Solange is that girl. She is the stunningly beautiful wife of Mr. Dimitrios in The Bahamas, whom Bond “pumps” for information, but does he? The way the film unfolds make it seem as though they never do the naughty, which just tells us a little more about Bond himself. He is a man on a mission and will stop at nothing to complete it, even if that means missing out on Solange, and ultimately leading her to her tragic death.
Valenka need not be included in this review really, so why did I? 1. She is beautiful and that alone is worth mentioning. 2. She is the girlfriend of Le Chiffre, and as such she has zero direct contact with Bond, which makes her even less noteworthy really, but 3. the first shot of her is one of my favorite in the film (see above), which is why she gets two pictures. Other than that, not really worth mentioning at all.
No Q this time. Gone is John Cleese, presumably for good, though I assume Q will return in some capacity. He is too great a character in the series to disappear for good. But honestly he is not needed in this film, which is without the hi-tech gadgetry and chock full of true brute force.
The Car & the Chase
The first chase scene here is what I would like to call the post-title, pre-title sequence. The free running chase scene which takes place in Madagascar just after the credits is what everybody remembers from this film because it is just brilliant. So brilliant in fact that I am sure most people think it was the pre-title sequence, but it wasn’t. The scene features Sebastien Foucan, the creator of Free Running and one of the founders of the French urban sport Parkour, as the baddie. He runs from the physical Bond through the jungle and a construction site which features some of the best stunt work in the series which is single handedly handled by Foucan himself. The art of Parkour is such an interesting thing and bringing it to the forefront in a Bond scene as breathtaking as this I am sure propelled the “sport” to massive popularity at the time. Heck, remember that Office episode where they were Parkouring? It is still relevant today, and if it ever does go out, it will still be an awesome scene in Bond history.
The car in the film, after Bond ditches the Ford rental, is an Aston Martin DBS, which succeeded the Vanquish, which is perhaps my favorite car of all time, so what a shame that Aston Martin had to premier the equally awesome and luxurious DB5 for this film instead of the Vanquish. But any way you put it, it is an awesome car, which meets an unfortunate end after Bond pursues the kidnappers of Vesper. In what is one of the more visually arresting images of the film, Bond must swerve from the road to avoid hitting Vesper, who has been laid out in the middle of the road. That image, and the following crash is just awesome.
As I have done with every rebirth in this franchise during this marathon, I find it only fitting that I should being the debriefing with discussion on the new man in the numbers we know and love, Daniel Craig as Ian Feming’s James Bond 007. I can remember the search for the new Bond after Brosnan bowed out. I can remember Goran Visnjic among others being considered for the role and then came the announcement of the blonde haired, blue eyed Daniel Craig landing the role. I thought to myself, who? I had no idea who he was or what to expect from this new Bond. But I am here to tell you that he knocked it out of the park, heck he knocked it into a different time zone, which is a major compliment to both Craig, and the writing team of Purvis, Wade and Haggis, who penned a brilliant rendition of a classic character.
What makes Craig’s Bond different is his edge. Bond has always had a bit of an edge, but in this film he is clearly reckless. He is a cold hearted brute with no connections and seemingly no worries. When we first meet him he is brutishly fighting a guy in the bathroom, a scene which is intercut with him cooly dispelling another in an office. Then we see the physical prowess in the chase scene, which also features Bond taking a bulldozer and, with no regard for collateral damage, going full bore after the baddie. It goes further when we see how he treats Solange. But the most telling relationship in the film for Bond was the one with Vesper, which starts off brilliantly in one of the best “meet cute” scenes I can remember. That scene on the train, the dialogue between the two, is brilliant. “Skewered. One sympathizes”. I would even go so far as to say that the dynamic in their relationship is what this film is really about, and that the plot with Le Chiffre is actually just a subplot, a MacGuffin even. We learn more about the character of Bond in this film than all of the other Bond’s put together, at least if you take out On Her Majesty’s Secret Service.
The other thing that immediately comes to mind whenever I think about Casino Royale is the poker. 2006 was right smack dab in the middle of the poker craze created by Chris Moneymaker and the World Series of Poker, so I will always feel like this film was just capitalizing on that popularity, but in a good way, but still opportunistic. The poker scenes are some of my least favorite in the film to be honest. There is just such a technical delivery there that is off putting to me. Everything between Le Chiffre and Bond at the table really works and helps to support the plot, but I could do without the rest. The other players at the table seem really stale and the line that Leiter delivers, the “I’m bleeding chips” line always makes me role my eyes, so terrible. I would say that the poker is over long too, but director Martin Campbell and his team do a good job of setting the poker action off with plenty of breaks in the game to push the plot forward.
And Campbell, who also directed the great first installment with Pierce Brosnan, GoldenEye, really proves a great choice for the film. He is rock steady with the camera and even throws in some really nice touches here and there. For one, the choice of Black & White in the opening is a brilliant stroke. I have always been fascinated by the reasoning behind the use of Black & White in the color age, and in this case I would say that it works because it depicts the past for Bond. Even though we are seeing it as the present, for Bond it is the time before he was a 00. It creates a certain rebirth for both the character and the series. The stunt work is great too, with a new dedication to the real as opposed to the CGI craze of the 21st century, as well as a dedication to smaller action. By smaller I mean there is much more close, hand to hand type of action that guns blazing, huge explosions action, although it still has its explosions.
But the truly remarkable thing about this film has to be the screenplay, which is able to weave together a web of deceit, mystery, intrigue, and a great character study of a couple of its main characters. The structure of the film and how it all unfolds is really a testament to the writing team of Neal Purvis, Robert Wade and Paul Haggis. Everything about the evil organization is so well thought out and set up, especially going into the next film. As a reboot for a series it really stands out for that reason. Introducing this new organization, and giving the viewer the bare minimum of information about it creates an air of intrigue that translates really well into what Bond is trying to do. Mr. White is the lynchpin of it all and that is why the ending is as great as it is. It is this undercurrent that drives the film while the relationship between Bond and Vesper does the grunt work on the surface.
This film is different. It is different than all the other Bonds and it is different for all the right reasons. It is different because Bond seems to be unhinged with an ego that has a death wish. He even tells M that her “mistake will be short lived”. Craig makes the difference, Campbell makes the difference, even David Arnold, who has been the series’ composer for a while makes the difference. Casino Royale is one of those rare films where everything comes together so nicely, and for it to come together as a Bond film just makes it that more fun and exciting.
James Bond will return in…