Bullet Points: Casino Royale (2006)
The new James Bond film Spectre holds a special place in my heart which shouldn’t be too hard for you to guess why, but I will tell you anyway. When my ancestors emigrated from the motherland to The United States of America they wisely chose to change our surname from a wild mess of symbols and sounds to a name that represents power. Their love for the James Bond series, both Ian Fleming’s stories and the film series led them to choose Spector. Unfortunately, they never actually read the books themselves, and had no idea how to spell. I always have assumed that when SPECTRE was spelled out and described in the movies as the Special Executive for Counter-Intelligence, Terrorism, Revenge and Extortion they must have been asleep. I am just glad they didn’t choose the Soviet counterintelligence group SMERSH from the Fleming novels. So now that you know some of my family history, and a major family weekness, join me in a journey to Daniel Craig’s first portrayal of James Bond in a film that does not feature SPECTRE but the criminal organization Quantum, Casino Royale (2006.)
After the outlandish stunts (remember the windsurfing on a CGI tsunami) and gadgets (remember the invisible car) in 2002’s Die Another Day, the James Bond producers were looking to reboot the franchise with a new Bond and more realistic action. This is a common theme in the Bond franchise because of changing tastes of moviegoers and is bound to happen within a series that is over 50 years old. [See Licence to Kill and For Your Eyes Only.] Daniel Craig was cast to replace Pierce Brosnan which caused a little bit of a stir because of Brosnan’s popularity, and Craig’s (gasp) blonde hair. (Hair color seems pretty tame compared to the kerfuffle caused by the potential of Idris Elba taking over the 007 role, but 2006 was a simpler time.)
Casino Royale is a tense action thriller that shows the beginnings of James Bond as a Double O with MI6. Bond in his first mission as 007 must deal with Quantum, a large criminal organization that finances terrorism, while also learning the lesson of why it is a bad idea to get emotionally involved. Daniel Craig is extremely believable as a spy who can get dirty in hand to hand combat during the day but also look dapper at night. Casino Royale has all the elements that make it a great addition to the Bond Series, including the villains, action, and Bond Girls, while also adding a large dose of mystery and intrigue that will have you on the edge of your seat.
When you are a character in a movie and your defining characteristic is that you cry blood there is no doubt you are a bad guy. Le Chiffre is said character and also a financier the works for Quantum. When a terrorist act at an airport is foiled by Bond and Le Chiffre loses a lot of money from a lot of bad people, he sets up a no-limit Texas Hold’em poker game at Casino Royale in Montenegro (in the US and UK you might know it as Casino Quarter Pounder) to win the money back. Luckily for the world that doesn’t like terrorism, Bond has a seat at the table. Le Chiffre is played by Mads Mikkelsen, an actor that excels in playing eccentric characters. Mr. White (Jesper Christensen) is Le Chiffre’s superior in Quantum. Wait, both bad guys are played by Danes? Were the producers subliminally trying to tell us the people from Denmark are evil? Well it didn’t work! There is a lovely country and it is called old Denmark. One of the great things about Casino Royale is the ambiguity and mystery about characters like the abstruse Mathis (Giancarlo Giannini) and the dichotomous Vesper Lynd (see Bond Girls section.) The audience doesn’t get some of the answers until the very end, and others are not provided until the direct sequel Quantum of Solace.
Casino Royale is packed with stunts that show the physicality of an incredibly confident spy just learning the ropes. The opening parkour inspired chase scene has the free-running bomb maker Mollaka using finesse being chased by the bruising Bond. Special points for this scene being filmed in The Bahamas (although set in Madagascar) right next door to the hotel that Thunderball was filmed at. The chase is filled with gunplay, explosions and a snake vs. mongoose fight. I am talking about the animals not the legendary drag racers. At the aforementioned airport, there is another chase that starts in the terminal and ends on the tarmac with a lot of unique action. Eventually Bond makes his way to Venice and a shootout with Quantum in a house on a canal that leaves Bond with that sinking feeling. He dispatches one of the Quantum henchmen with a nail gun shot to the eye. Gruesome. There is one specific scene that is still tough for me to watch. Le Chiffre temporarily catches Bond and tortures him for information. If you have seen the movie then you know why to this day I refuse to sit naked and tied to a chair that has had the seat cut out with a man swinging a thick rope with even a thicker knot at the end. However, according to Bond, it is not a bad way to relieve an itch. I can’t end this Bullet Points without talking about the poker action in a movie called Casino Royale. While poker might not be the type of action many of you are used to, like kicking people in the face, it provides very suspenseful scenes. More special points awarded to the filmmakers for choosing the easier to follow Texas Hold’em as the game instead of the novel’s use of Baccarat.
Vesper Lynd (Eva Green) is an extremely deep character for a Bond film that has several layers. There are some twists that I won’t spoil, but watching this movie several times you can see emotions and actions that make the character one of the better Bond Girls. For those that don’t care about your knowing you characters in depth, you won’t be disappointed because Vesper is still very attractive. Casino Royale shows Bond’s first mission as 007 and it also shows the first conquest and subsequent death of his paramour. Solange (Catherine Murino) is the wife of Quantum agent Dimitrios and Bond uses her for information and pleasure which leads to an abrupt end for Solange. I cannot end a section on Bond Girls without mentioning M played by Dame Judi Dench. While she should never be considered a Bond Girl, Dame Judi Dench was carried over from the Pierce Brosnan Bond films. Personally, I never cared for her in the role of M, which if you have seen Skyfall, you will know why I like that movie so much. However, I am obligated to mention that we do get to see M in bed with her husband.
I don’t want the image of Dame Judi Dench in bed to be the last image in your head so here are some Bullet Points. These Bullet Points are most likely shot from a Walther PPK.
- Third Time’s a Charm: Casino Royale (2006) is actually the third film with the title based on the Ian Flemming novel, but it is the vastly superior work. The first in 1954 was a one hour TV movie that was part of the Climax! series. The second was a 1967 spoof film with a star studded cast that has some merits for a non-EON production, but is an overall weak film.
- Virginia: Casino Royale was the first outing for Daniel Craig as James Bond, but he wasn’t the only virgin appearance in the film. Virgin Group founder Richard Branson makes a cameo and his first James Bond appearance in the airport scene.
- Name Game: Since you know how my forefathers got my last name, I am going to force down your throats how my parents, also huge Bond fans, selected my first name. It is not really a name but an acronym just like SPECTRE. My mom chose her favorite films in order, Moonraker, A View to a Kill, Thunderball and The Spy Who Loved Me. My father liked Dr. No, Octopussy, Live and Let Die, and The Man with the Golden Gun. I think me as an unborn fetus dodged a bullet with that choice. My favorites are Skyfall, On Her Majesty’s Secret Service, Licence to Kill, Octopussy, Never Say Never Again, and Goldfinger. Not really, but SO LONG!