While watching the Everything or Nothing documentary, Barbara Broccoli recalled an important conversation she had with her father, Cubby. He said, “Whenever you have a problem – go back to Fleming. Go back to the books.”
This was the basis for how Casino Royale came to be.
Casino Royale was the necessary reboot of Bond and the only way Casino Royale could be fully realised on screen. Die Another Day disappointed not only critics but also Bond fans alike. But getting Casino Royale off the ground was not going to be easy, and it stems right back to when the book was first published in 1953.
Ian Fleming always wanted Bond to be adapted for the movies. Unfortunately the studios could only see Bond as a TV series. Frustrated, Fleming sold the rights to Casino Royale cheaply which later prevented Broccoli and Saltzman from making it the first Bond feature film (Dr. No became the first instead). What came out of this was a TV adaptation where James Bond was renamed as Jimmy Bond for the American audiences. It’s interesting that Joe Don Baker’s character in Goldeneye (Jack Wade) calls Bond “Jimmy” or “Jimbo” – American slang for James, but it can also be viewed as an obvious reference to the past. In 1967, a spoof version starring Woody Allen, David Niven and Peter Sellers followed where there were multiple Bonds in one film. In fact the rights to Casino Royale have been passed around (like tic tacs) so many times, that each attempted adaptation forgot the key ingredient – including the actual James Bond in his integral form! It’s no wonder Fleming was horrified but worse was yet to come.
After Kevin McClory won his court case over the rights of Thunderball, it gave him a certain privilege to start his own rival Bond film after a certain number of years. This spawned Never Say Never Again in 1983 but he also tried to negotiate rights with Columbia Pictures for Casino Royale. At the same time Sony was trying to negotiate the rights of Spider-Man off MGM/UA in exchange for Casino Royale. Barbara Broccoli and Michael G. Wilson had to fight back and it was only due to McClory’s no show in court due a visa problem that the rights for Casino Royale was finally back in the hands of EON and the Broccoli family. And thank God for that because Casino Royale is one of the best Bond films ever – period.
The success of Casino Royale really stems from two things – a faithful adaptation of Fleming’s most famous novel (while updating it to the modern world) and rebooting Bond with Daniel Craig.
I remember when Daniel Craig was announced as Bond and the amount of negative vitriol aimed at him. It was totally uncalled for. I just kept thinking “let’s see what he can do before we judge him” but even Sam Mendes, director of Skyfall admitted at the time that he thought it was a terrible idea (Everything or Nothing documentary, 2012). But I can see why Barbara fought very hard for Daniel Craig. While it must have been difficult to drop Pierce Brosnan (it wasn’t his fault why his last film was so sh*t) but the change was necessary. If Craig’s performance in Layer Cake (which is a brilliant film btw) was any indication that he could be Bond, Craig possesses the characteristics that would take Bond into the new world and new era. Barbara Broccoli believed this and Craig went on to prove his critics wrong with an absolutely tremendous performance. I hope those idiots at danielcraigisnotbond.com are weeping right now…
What makes Craig’s performance so good is for the first time (in a long time) we got to see an emotional side to Bond.
The beginning of Casino Royale easily establishes what we already know (or should know) about Bond – he’s a cold killer spy. The opening scenes shot beautifully in black and white shows Bond at his deadliest and brutal best. We see Bond bleed, bruised and battered after fights. We see him in peril and tortured. He bulldozes his way from situation to situation (e.g. the awesome parkour chase) without care. Only his ego and his drive motivate him to get the job done. He’s a “blunt instrument” as M would say. This is Bond going back to his roots.
It is around halfway through the film with the introduction of Vesper Lynd where Bond really comes alive and we see a different side of him – something that has rarely been explored in the previous films. The first scene shared between Bond and Vesper is the best dialogue I’ve heard in ANY Bond film. It starts off as flirtatious banter as they “size each other up”. It’s like watching a married couple! When the poker game is in full swing and Bond faces the endless twists and turns, we see how others perceive his brutality as an agent for her majesty’s government. Vesper becomes a firsthand witness to what kind of world Bond lives in. Traumatised and in shock, she sits alone in the shower, letting the water wash off the memory (or maybe realising what she had let herself in for with her own motives). Realising this, Bond comforts her. This was the moment where Bond doesn’t think about missions or getting the job done. This was the moment Bond fell in love with Vesper and vice versa. Two characters broken by their past, vulnerably finding each other to be the emotional crutch they needed to survive.
Vesper is a complicated woman and probably why she is my favourite Bond girl of all time. Smart, sophisticated and beautiful, she certainly matches Bond in terms of his humour, charm and devotion. While her own motives were kept hidden, falling in love with Bond was probably not part of her plans. But she did. She watches Bond confess his love and give up the spy life just for her, something that must have taken her by surprise. So to see her break his heart and betray him after all they had been through is heart-breaking. Obviously she never intended for him to get hurt, sparing his life from ball breaker Le Chiffre’s torture. No matter how much we will this relationship on, it feels that Vesper and Bond’s love affair was doomed from the start and that’s why it will always feel tragic. Killing herself spares her the lifetime of guilt and pain but desperately separates her from the one man who got her, the one man who still fought for her, despite her deception.
In all the Bond movies, this is the most emotional and personal Bond adventure I’ve seen and kudos to Daniel Craig and Eva Green for making this work.
Casino Royale works because it highlights that James Bond is a tortured soul, just how Fleming intended. Like On Her Majesty’s Secret Service, it robs Bond of a happy ending but reminds the audience that there are no happy endings in Bond’s world. Unlike OHMSS where Teresa’s death robbed Bond of a new life (committed by outside forces), Bond was deceived by the one he loved. It’s a death that is hard to take. Bond seemed to be growing up because he has always thought of women as “disposable pleasures”. You genuinely feel sorry for him. As much as Vesper was herself a pawn in the organisation’s game (later to be known as Quantum), it is the unseen enemies, the ones who we turn a blind eye to that sets us up for failure and pain. Bond learnt the hard way and it sets up Quantum of Solace so perfectly. Craig gives Bond a hidden emotional depth – every punch, every kill, every secret and lies hurts him. It’s no wonder why he has quickly elevated as the best Bond ever.
The poker scenes are filled with edge of your seat tension with Mathis constantly reminding the audience how much money is in the pot or what cards are needed to win the game. Mads Mikkelsen is brilliant as Le Chiffre. It’s nice to see a villain for a change under pressure throughout rather than a villain who is constantly in control and having the upper hand on everyone else. The more Le Chiffre is under pressure to win the money back for his expensive (and pissed off) clients, the more extreme his lengths would go. Composer David Arnold evokes the spirit of John Barry with his best film score for Bond.
But most importantly for Casino Royale, it brings back respect to James Bond and the entire franchise. It really saves it. If people thought Die Another Day would be the death of Bond, Casino Royale was Bond reborn.
While Fleming may have been horrified at the early attempts of Casino Royale, I hope somewhere up there, he is proud of this adaptation.
The Countdown So Far:
- #23 – Die Another Day
- #22 – Diamonds Are Forever
- #21 – Octopussy
- #20 – The Man With The Golden Gun
- #19 – Moonraker
- #18 – Tomorrow Never Dies
- #17 – The World is Not Enough
- #16 – Live and Let Die
- #15 – For Your Eyes Only
- #14 – The Living Daylights
- #13 – You Only Live Twice
- #12 – Dr. No
- #11 – Thunderball
- #10 – A View to a Kill
- #9 – Quantum of Solace
- #8 – The Spy Who Loved Me
- #7 – Goldeneye
- #6 – Licence to Kill
- #5 – On Her Majesty’s Secret Service
- #4 – Goldfinger
Two more reviews to go! Check back next week Wednesday to find out which Bond film comes in at #2