Sunday, November 4, 2012

Bond @ 50: Casino Royale

After the release of the 2002 film Die Another Day, there was a paralysis. At least that’s what Pierce Brosnan said. Die Another Day celebrated the 40th anniversary of Bond in film and it was also the 20th film to be released by Eon. It did well in the box office and I think most of us were expecting a fifth and final film for Pierce. A couple of things happened around this time. There was a lull in films being made between 2002 and 2006. In the 1990s Kevin McClory was trying to get another version of Thunderball produced through Columbia Pictures. They owned the rights to Casino Royale and they were hoping to start up their own rival Bond film franchise. In the end, it didn’t matter. Sony Corporation which owns Columbia Pictures led a consortium that purchased MGM thus giving it distribution rights to the official James Bond franchise anyway.

Casino Royale was the very first James Bond novel. It was published in 1953 and of course was written by Ian Fleming. It introduced us to the world of James Bond. Ian Fleming wanted Bond to not solely live as a literary figure. In 1954 Casino Royale was made as part of the Climax! anthology series. This US based production for CBS starred Barry Nelson playing the less than suave American agent James Bond though he often was referred to as Jimmy Bond. It was nothing like what we would soon love about the film franchise but that did not mean that it wasn’t good. It was a live television production that was bounded by budget and the technology of making live television. It was a play. CBS eventually asked Fleming to write 32 episodes featuring James Bond but although Fleming did create outlines for the episodes, production never commenced. The world if James Bond in film could have been very different. These outlines were eventually published by Fleming in 1960 as For Your Eyes Only.
The Eon film series of James Bond began in 1962 with Dr. No. It was decided not to release the films in the order of the novelization publication. When Dr. No was made, it was decided to start with a film that worked best for the start of the series in regards to location vs. budgets. As the Bond film series was in earnest, a spoof version of a Bond film was unleashed on the public in 1967. This was Casino Royale. Charles K. Feldman ended up having the rights to this film. He wanted to get this film made as part of the official Eon canon of films but neither the producer of that film series or himself could come to an agreement on the details to make that happen. Feldman decided the better option was to turn this into a farce rather than trying to compete with the film series.  The film starred Peter Sellers, David Niven, and Woody Allen…all as Bond. The film has a bad rap but I personally adore it.

We jump back to the 21st century. As I am researching for this article especially about the time that Pierce was done with the role of Bond, there are some things that are different than I remember them. There was a point that the fans were waiting for information on the next Bond film. I don’t think there was any reason to believe it would have been too different from Die Another Day. Suddenly things got very quiet from the producers Barbara Broccoli and Michael G. Wilson. I seem to remember for a long time Pierce Brosnan making public pleas to have the producers make a fifth film with him. In February of 2005, Brosnan bows out probably realizing that there was not a chance of him returning. One thing that happened a little earlier is that Eon gained the rights to make Casino Royale. It was something that Bond fans now knew would eventually become one of the next films. Bond fans also knew that Casino Royale was the first Ian Fleming novel so it was clear that it would be an introductory story of sorts. That wasn’t what Pierce Brosnan wanted.
While Pierce thought he was still going to play Bond, he wanted to do Casino Royale. He thought that would be a great fifth Bond film for him. Brosnan also thought that the perfect director for this version of Casino Royale would be Quentin Tarantino. Tarantino really wanted to do Casino Royale. I think Brosnan and Tarantino talked about doing it even after Brosnan no longer was Bond. In fact, Tarantino would only do a version of Casino Royale if Pierce Brosnan played Bond. He also wanted to make the film completely in black & white. All of this may have been a good idea but since Tarantino never really formally approached Eon about it, it never was a serious contender. Then in 2005, we meet Daniel Craig.

Daniel Craig was formally announced as Bond on October 14, 2005. Immediately he was roasted by some sectors of the online fan community. Clearly there were a lot of people who thought that Bond should not be blonde. I think to some fans felt that Brosnan was unceremoniously dropped from the franchise and it seemed pretty disingenuous. After all, Brosnan made Bond relevant again in the 1990s starting with GoldenEye.  The producers saw it differently. They saw how films were changing. Films like The Bourne Identity were becoming insanely popular. The type of Bond film that was Die Another Day was extremely popular in 2002 but would that type of film be so popular in 2006? A lot has changed in that genre since then.
The plan was that the next Bond film would indeed be Casino Royale. After 40 years of films taking place in the same continuity, the franchise would reboot itself. Casino Royale would take place right when Bond received his 007 status. We were also told that we would see a Bond who would be making mistakes as he was still early on in his career. As for Craig himself, there was a section of fans that were so sure that the Producers cast the wrong man to play Bond that they set up a boycott site called As for myself, I wasn’t so against Daniel Craig being cast as Bond but more of the idea of a reboot. At the time, I was a fan of the “Bond Formula” as it were and I was not sure how it would pan out. I also recall at the time that the Producers weren’t focusing the film as much on action, it sounded like it was going to be an almost complex character driven film. I knew I would see it but I was very apprehensive and have to admit were not sure if Eon was making the right choice in the direction of the franchise.

On November 17, 2006 I was wrong. I was wrong about everything. I think there were a lot of other people who feared what was going to happen to the franchise who also realized they were wrong. Casino Royale wasn’t good, it was a masterpiece. Daniel Craig made Bond his own from the first frame we see him, he is James Bond. I had a feeling this was going to be the case based on when the trailers started to come out. They looked great. It was a triumph! It felt like no other Bond before. The film itself had scale and depth that made this film stand out as possibly the best Bond ever made. Watching it again to write this article, I was reminded about how wonderful this film was to watch.
The film was directed by Martin Campbell. The last time he directed a Bond film was GoldenEye. I was less than enthusiastic to hear this as I really don’t care for GoldenEye that much. Every shot in Casino Royale is magnificent. Everything looks amazing and rich with detail. It tells the story of Bond becoming 007 and how he nearly lost everything.

The film starts in black & white. To get a 00 status, an agent must have two kills. The reason for the opening being in black & white is because Bond’s life as 007 doesn’t start until the second kill. He kills an MI6 section chief who was selling classified information. The two of them have a standoff in the section chief’s office. Bond is able to relay how he killed the station chief’s informant and we see a flashback of that sequence. This scene takes place in a bathroom which becomes a big fight sequence. This is important as it gives us a glimpse of the fight sequences to come. They are all very tough and real. It’s very physical. The sequence ends back at the MI6 section chief’s office where Bond kills him. At that point we flashback again to the informant that Bond thought he killed in the bathroom only for the guy to come to and try to kill Bond but Bond gets to him first. This is seen through a gun barrel sequence. Yet unlike a traditional gun barrel sequence this is not the first thing we see in the Bond film, a major change in the format of the Bond films. I remember sitting in the theatre in 2006 and as the film studio logos flashed on the screens, the guy in the row behind me quietly hums the opening bars of the James Bond theme fully expecting them to appear as usual. He must have been surprised! I have read recently on a James Bond forum that some of the members there think that if the gun barrel sequence completely disappeared from the James Bond films that the general public would probably not even notice. Bullshit. It is one of the most iconic film images of all time. If the producer chose not to use it in Skyfall or whatever, it shouldn’t be a reason not to see the films but it certainly would be missed. It’s even the image for one of the posters of Skyfall.
From the gun barrel sequence we move onto the opening credits which were designed by Daniel Kleinman. These are extremely stylized and gorgeous. It all is done in the motif of playing cards and gambling. The guns are spades and clubs from playing cards. Animated people in the sequence are being stabbed by diamonds. The sequence is such a strong start for the film. Kleinman took inspiration from the original 1953 novel of Casino Royale. It is clear that I am about to watch something pretty amazing as the credits is a visual tour de force.

The entire film is based on a financier for terrorism Le Chiffre. He puts money into the stock market against some big new money making opportunities. The point is that some sort of terrorist activity happens and it causes the terrorists to make a ton of money off the terrorist act. In the film, M insinuates that some terrorists made a ton of money off of 9/11. Le Chiffre has borrowed over $100 million dollars to put against the prototype airliner Skyfleet that he is planning to blow up.
We catch up with Bond in the film in Madagascar. He is following a bomb maker which leads to one of the coolest sequences in the film if not any Bond film. It’s a free running sequence of Bond chasing the bomb maker through all sorts of levels and roofs on a building site. The sequence has the bomb maker elegantly jumping wall from wall and dive through small holes in walls to get away from Bond whereas Bond is bigger and more physical ends up crashing through walls and is not quite so elegent. The entire sequence is tense and energetic.

Of course this doesn’t work well for M as everything Bond did in Madagascar was reported worldwide. M is still played by Judi Dench. I think Judi Dench is much better as M with Daniel Craig’s Bond. I wouldn’t go as far and say she is motherly but she certainly looks at Bond differently than she did with Brosnan’s Bond. We also find out that the letter M is not a letter assigned to anyone in the position but has to do with their name. At least that what it is for this reboot. Bond being very computer savvy is able to get information from the bomb makers phone to track down where he needs to go to next. Bond heads to the Bahamas. Bond is tracking a call from the number code ellipsis he found on the bomb maker’s phone. Bond gets to the resort that the call went to and is mistaken for a valet by some rich snob. This leads to a great scene where Bond takes this snobs car and bashes it in a fence that sets off the car alarm and a ton of other car alarms.
Bond is able to work out that the new prototype airliner Skyfleet is the focus of a terrorist act. Bond is able to stop it but not before having another amazing action sequence involving a fast chase and multiple crashes on a runway. This was what Le Chiffre put so much money against. Le Chiffre is screwed.

The thing with Le Chiffre is that he is an amazing Poker player. To get the money back that he lost, he sets up a high stake Poker game at Casino Royale in Montenegro. It costs $10 million to get in with a $5 million buy back. If Le Chiffre loses this, he will be killed. M send Bond out there because he is the best Poker player in the service. M also send with him a woman from the Treasury office named Vesper Lynd. Bond and Lynd have a rapport from the start. It may not be the usual “fall for Bond” type of rapport but it is there. They are undercover as a couple. There is a great scene of the train they are on traveling through the mountains. It is beautiful and when the two meet, they have a very cutting and witty dialogue which is fun to watch.
In Montenegro, Bond teams up with a man named Mathis who helps Bond out. They get into the game at Casino Royale. Right from the start, Le Chiffre and Bond try to stare each other down at the poker table. Bond believes he knows whenever Le Chiffre is bluffing. The game takes a break as Le Chiffre heads back to his room only to find the man who he borrowed the money from, Steven Obbano. Obbano threatens Le Chiffre and leaves only to find Bond and Vesper have been spying him in the hotel hallway. Another great physical fight sequence takes place in the stairwell of the hotel. Once again it keeps you on your toes at it is very aggressive. Bond is beaten up pretty seriously but he kills Obbano. One of my favourite scenes is when he cleans himself up after the fight and tries to wipe all of the blood on him while having a drink to calm his nerves. The camera movements are shaky and raw. It is a great sequence and previously we never really see the aftermath of these types of fights. I just love it.

Bond loses out of the game and Vesper will not allow him the $5 million buy in. It looks like Bond had lost. Suddenly one of the guys who have been sitting at the table the entire time offers to buy in for him. His name is none other than Felix Leiter from the CIA. He will stake the money to allow Bond back into the game only if the CIA can have the recognition for nabbing Le Chiffre. Bond is back in the game and as things starts going well, he gets a drink delivered to the table but the drink is poison. Bond quickly excuses himself from the game and tries to get the poison out of his system. He leaves Casino Royale to go back to his own car. In his car is a defibrillator. Bond has gone into cardiac arrest and is trying to hook it up. One of the connectors got loose so whenever he tried to press the button nothing happens. Bond loses consciousness. One person comes by to save him and it’s Vesper. She re-connects it and saves his life. I think this is a turning point in the relationship. To me it’s very reminiscent of Tracy in On Her Majesty’s Secret Service. Tracy saves Bond’s life when he is on the run after escaping Piz Gloria. Vesper saves Bond’s life after being poisoned.
Bond returns to the game, though he should have gone to the hospital. Ultimately, he wins the game and all of the money. Le Chiffre leaves and should have been arrested by Felix and his men. Bond and Vesper celebrate with a late dinner. It’s a great scene. Bond’s drink of choice wasn’t a usual martin;, it was a drink he created in Casino Royale which consisted of Three measures of Gordon's, one of vodka, half a measure of Kina Lillet. Shake it very well until it's ice-cold, then add a large thin slice of lemon peel. At dinner he tells Vesper that he named the drink after her. It’s a touching scene that ends all too quick as Vesper gets a text from Mathis asking her to join him. Bond finally gets it and realizes it’s a trap for Vesper.

Another great scene is when Bond leaves Casino Royale to see Vesper kidnapped. He races after her in his car only to nearly hit her as she is lying in the middle of the empty road. The car rolls over multiple times. Le Chiffre identifies Mathis has his agent and takes Bond and Vesper away. Le Chiffre needs that money and he seriously tortures Bond for the information to get into the account the money has been wired too. The scene is graphic. Bond is tied to a chair naked. The chair has no seat to it. Le Chiffre has a carpet beater that he swings under the chair and connects with Bonds scrotum. Each time is more and more severe. Bond will not give up the information. Suddenly, a man enters the room. We see him at the beginning of the film. This man shoots Le Chiffre. It’s over. This man is Mr. White. This isn’t the last time we see him.
Bond is recuperating at a hospital and realizes he loves Vesper. In fact both of them plan on resigning from their jobs and living together. It is at this point that Vesper is able to fully transfer the funds that Bond won to the correct account. Little do we know at the time, she is not transferring the fund to the correct account but to her own account.  

In Venice, she goes to run some errands. She sends a text to her office saying that she will be out for the months. Now, perhaps I am a Neanderthal but when she was texting throughout the film, I had no idea what that was. I thought it was some kind of science fiction thing. I know it was only 2006 and looking back on it now, I am basically embarrassed that I had no idea what texting was. If course it was some kind of Sony device. Any kind of electronic or digital devise that was used throughout the film was either a Sony or Ericsson devise since the film was released by Columbia Pictures which is owned by Sony.
Bond resigns via e-mail to M from the secret service but M calls him. It is not about the resignation but about the money not making it to where it needed to go. I like this scene because M never accuses Bond of stealing the money which she could have after his resignation but instead she knows what is going on and after her call to Bond, he now knows what’s going on. Vesper has the money. She has gone to the bank to get the money to hand off to someone else. Apparently any bank in Venice is equipped to allow $125 million to be withdrawn at any moment.

Bond follows Vesper to an old building that is being renovated in Venice. As Vesper is about to hand over the money to this agent, a gun fight occurs that starts the building to collapse. Vesper is in the antique elevator which gets submerged underwater. Bond dives under to save her but she stops him from doing so as she knows what she has done hurt Bond and others. In effect, it’s suicide. Bond still doesn’t realize that Vesper’s action were not her own choice. She loved Bond and never wanted to hurt him. Vesper actually had a boyfriend who was kidnapped and the organization that Le Chiffre and Mr. White belonged to were blackmailing her. Obviously Le Chiffre didn’t know this but he wasn’t pulling the strings, Mr. White was.
Vesper left one more text on this magical device from the future I had never seen before. It alerted Bond to the name of Mr. White and his phone number. The pièce de résistance of the film comes at the end when Bond follows Mr. White to a villa. Bond calls Mr. White and as Bond gets confirmation that he is the correct man, shoots Mr. White in the leg. As White is crawling to the stairs Bond shows up in a smart 3 piece suit and tells Mr. White who he is addressing. The name is Bond…James Bond. Cue the familiar Bond music for the closing credits. This scene is simply bad-ass. It is also the first time the theme music is used in whole throughout the film. That’s nice because the score has the Bond theme weaving through it but not as a primary theme but here is where we hear the full orchestrated version. Bond has arrived!

Like I said, I love this film. In fact, at the risk of sounding too fannish and naïve but I think it should have been nominated for an Academy Award for Best Picture. I am being serious. The film has complex themes to it and it is by no means the usual run of the mill Bond fare. It stands alone as a great film; there is no need to think of it as part of a franchise. The book by Ian Fleming is really well-written but I also think the addition of Paul Haggis to the roster of writers polished this script to be the best it could possibly be for this film. Perhaps the film runs a little too long. It seemed like the film could end shortly after Le Chiffre is killed. Obviously, the film was nominated for nothing, which I still think is too bad.
I watched this from the 2-disc version of the Blu Ray. It is a really nice set that includes some really nice behind the scenes documentaries including some stuff that focuses exclusively on Ian Fleming himself. Sadly, this set is not the Blu Ray in the 50th anniversary set or the re-released single of the film. The double Blu Ray set is the one with Bond sitting at the Poker table which looks more in line with the re-release covers. I would highly recommend this set. I know some people are not great fans of the reboot. I would love to hear your thoughts. This new era of Bond couldn’t have started out any better but would the quality keep up for Daniel Craig’s second outing of Bond in Quantum of Solace?

Next Week: We conclude our look at Bond @ 50 with the most recent film prior to Skyfall US release, Quantum of Solace. Is it a worthy sequel to Casino Royale? For DVD reviews, I will be looking at the second series of the new Upstairs Downstairs and a nice travel series about Cornwall hosted by Caroline Quentin.
Have a great week!

Do you have feedback, article requests or want to talk about a program but do not want to leave a public comment? Feel free to drop me an e-mail at
I now have a regular column on DVDTalk called Brit-Streaming. Please check it out here: Brit-Streaming.
I am on Twitter: @FromtheArchive

Also please subscribe to my From the Archive: British Television Blog Facebook Page for updates about new articles.