Well, it took a little longer than expected, but we’ve finally arrived to the Daniel Craig era of James Bond. As I’ve stated before, 2006 is the year that the entire James Bond saga was rebooted. No longer was Bond that suave, experienced agent. Having reset the story, Bond is now a relatively young agent just earning his license to kill (a process seen in the prologue of this movie) and he is far from being sure of himself (however cocky he may act throughout the film).
The only carryover from the original franchise is Judi Dench as an M who is (rightfully) frustrated with Bond’s seemingly overwhelming desire to kill everything in his path (as opposed to capturing suspects alive for questioning). She actually has a rather funny set of lines early on (after Bond has caused another scandal) where she declares “In the old days, an agent who screwed up that badly had the good sense to defect!” and then mutters “Christ I miss the Cold War” (the majority of the Bond films were set in the Cold War era).
Bond’s mission now is to engage the criminal known only as “Le Chiffre.” This mastermind is supposed to invest money on behalf of investors in the criminal underworld, but he also likes to make some money for himself by playing that money on the stock market, engineering disasters that will cause a tremendous profit (for him and his clients). Unfortunately, Bond managed to halt his latest attempt, causing Le Chiffre to lose a large sum of money that he had just invested for an African warlord. Desperate to recoup his money before said warlord comes to kill him, Le Chiffre organizes a world-class poker game at the famous Casino Royale in Montenegro. (In the original novel, the game is actually baccarat, but poker is more recognizable in 2006). The prize would be large enough to cover all of Le Chiffre’s losses and save his neck. Bond’s job is to go in, ensure that Le Chiffre loses, which should then force him to surrender to the authorities and spill everything he knows about his employers.
Of course, this being a James Bond film, things don’t exactly go according to plan, and in the end Bond comes out of the chaos more hardened and cold than when he went in, and begins to bear a resemblance to the hardened assassin seen in the original novels.
I distinctly remember when it was announced that Brosnan was out as James Bond. I was outraged naturally (Brosnan was the only Bond I really knew at the time) and couldn’t imagine anyone else in the role. Then Daniel Craig was announced and I nearly went through the roof. Why? Well, look at a picture of Craig: he’s blonde. Look at ALL of the Bond actors who came before him: dark haired, every last one of them. And for the final proof, look at Fleming’s own description of Bond: dark-haired!!! The press continually derided Craig as the “Blonde Bond” and also “James Bland” because they really didn’t think he could pull it off. I didn’t think he could either…and then I watched the movie in the theater, the first Bond film I ever saw on the big screen.
Needless to say, I promptly took back every bad thing I’d ever said or thought about Craig being Bond. He surely wasn’t the SAME kind of Bond, but he was recognizable nonetheless.
Some things about the reboot still bothered me though. For example, the famous opening gunbarrel sequence was absent (though I believe it did appear at the end, it’s just not the same). Miss Moneypenny, M’s long-suffering secretary (and ever hopeful for James’ love) was absent as well, and there was no Q either.
Now then, on to the music. Once again David Arnold returned to score the film, though it was orchestrated and conducted by Nicholas Dodd. In a twist, the classic James Bond theme is completely absent. Instead, Arnold used a four note motif from the title song “You Know My Name” as Bond’s theme, his intention being to highlight Bond’s immaturity. The proper theme does not appear until the very end, implying that Bond has finally “grown up” as it were. Also, this is a rare example of a Bond title song where the song title “You Know My Name” does not match the title of the film “Casino Royale.”
“You Know My Name” was performed by Soundgarden member Chris Cornell and jointly written between him and David Arnold. The song received very positive reviews and won a Satellite Award and the World Soundtrack Award and also received a Grammy nomination. Cornell stated that the two biggest influences for this song were Tom Jones (who performed the Thunderball theme) and Paul McCartney (who performed the theme for Live and Let Die). The lyrics attempt to illustrate Bond’s state of mind at this point in his life. Since this film centers around a poker game, the title sequence features a lot of gambling and playing card motifs.
Credit to Art of the Title
While not the smoothest of transitions, Casino Royale turned out to be a relatively well-done movie that served to whet my appetite for what was to come.
Random trivia: this is actually the THIRD adaptation of the Casino Royale novel. First came an adaptation for television in 1954 starring Barry Nelson (an American Bond, oh the horror!); a “spy comedy” film in 1967 starring David Niven (it was more of a spoof film than a serious feature); and finally this film in 2006.
Next time: Quantum of Solace (2008) (I can hear the question already: What’s a Quantum of Solace? Well….)
Check out the rest of the “Introducing James Bond” series here
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*the poster and images are the property of Eon Productions