by Del Harvey
An old friend returns, and he’s doing better than ever.
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For those of you who grew up with Roger Moore or Timothy Dalton as James Bond 007, you may see this film and walk out scratching your head, wondering where your cartoon spy went. For those of you who first learned about this character from the books, or perhaps saw one of the very first films, you will be very pleasantly surprised. Gone are the big gadgets, the non-stop womanizing, the flippant toss-off comments timed for laughs. In are real relationships, real drama, realistic villains, real dilemmas, and a much more realistic main character.
To pull off that last, most difficult task, the producers spent several years looking for a suitable replacement for the last man to portray the British superspy, Pierce Brosnan. Brosnan himself wanted the role almost from the moment he got the part for television’s Remington Steele. Unfortunately, the producers did not seem to agree with his analysis for some time. But, that’s old news. The news as regards Casino Royale’s new leading man is that a list developed which at one point was reported as being over 200 names long and included Jude Law, Clive Owen, Ewan MacGregor, Colin Farrell, Dominic West, and Julian McMahon, amongst others. Fortunately, the producers had a new direction in mind for the world’s longest-running film franchise, and they stuck with it. Their final choice, Daniel Craig, not only did not click with many fans right off the bat, but he was blond! What were they thinking?
Well, the new film is now out in the US, and apparently the producers were thinking better than any of the rest of us, for all our combined smarts and knowledge of what would help re-boot the franchise.
In Casino Royale, we first pick up on Bond as he is given his assignment for a second kill. It’s the one that takes him to double-0 status, and where he earns his rank of 007. He is known to M as a “blunt instrument,” which seems fairly fitting for how he likes to approach things in general—head on. This Bond is raw and unsophisticated as compared to the other suave actors who previously filled the character’s shoes. But that’s okay. It’s better, in fact, because this is a story about alliances, loyalty, and trust. And sometimes to get at the heart of a difficult matter, the situation calls for a blunt instrument.
On his very first mission, Bond blows it. He is caught on camera shooting a terrorist bomber in the yard of a foreign embassy. Oops! That doesn’t go down well with the government wonks who ensure there’s money to fund the subversive ops unit of MI:6. What’s worse, he breaks into M’s private residence in order to meet with her. He isn’t making any points, but there is something about this brash, hard-skinned character that gets to M, so she lets him slide with a warning. But he’s not done getting under her skin. And it’s not as though he tries – this secret agent does everything asked of him.
Eventually, his perseverance pays off, even if his methods haven’t improved any, and he is able to give M a target: Le Chiffre (Mads Mikkelsen). But this isn’t a film about some madman bent on taking over the world. I mean, think of the headaches of such a job! This is a major international arms dealer who is part of a larger organization, the kind of shadowy group whose tentacles reach into the far and darkest corners of the world.
I don’t want to give anything away, but I will tell you that the ending requires a little more thought than the typical Bond film. Instead of the largest explosion one could imagine, we’re given a real suspense story, and several “blinds” which hide a deeper truth. And this Bond falls in love, and pays for it. Of course, when the object of your desire is a woman like Eva Green, it’s worth the trouble.
Other new ideas which help to make the film a fresh take on a tired franchise include removing much of the gratuitous male-dominated sexuality. In its place we are given an equality which is not only much more realistic, but also much more enjoyable to watch as well as giving the story depth. There is also a torture scene which can be a little hard to take. But the end result is worth any seat squirming the audience may endure.
Director Martin Campbell, who so capably launched Brosnan’s career as the double-0 spy in Goldeneye, does an admirable job of positioning Daniel Craig as perhaps the best Bond yet, and Casino Royale as perhaps the best Bond film ever.
Del Harvey is the founder and editor of Film Monthly. He teaches screenwriting at Columbia College Chicago.
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