Looking Back At ‘Casino Royale’

(Originally written on October 19, 2017)

Recently, things have been somewhat quiet on any developments about the next James Bond film. The only significant update to come out in the past two months or so is actor Daniel Craig saying he would return to the role at some point. It’s a shame we don’t know when since most of the movies involving him as the character of 007 were entertaining. Case in point, the first film starring Craig as James Bond, Casino Royale, hit audiences with a bang. A very welcome and unexpected bang when it released back in 2006.

Even before the movie released many questioned the casting choice and were skeptical about Daniel Craig, given that his natural look didn’t follow how James Bond had been portrayed up to that point. Instead of having dark hair, he had a more lighter tone. Instead of a slimmer physique, Craig’s Bond was more built and intimidating. Rather than a suave super spy, we were introduced to a more rough-around-the-edges type of character, but that made sense since Casino Royale was supposed to show James Bond becoming a double-O agent and his first real experience as such.

Throughout the film, we see many firsts for the character: His promotion to 007. Learning how to approach things from a different angle rather than going in shooting (which he still does). Coping with defeat. And finally, experiencing a true bond and attraction to a woman. The last factor is fairly significant because this film showcased a Bond seen as emotionally vulnerable, something we rarely saw (if at all) in the past.

The character of Vesper Lynd (portrayed by the gorgeous Eva Green) introduced to us was a ‘Bond girl’ who didn’t follow the typical route that many female characters in other 007 films did. She wasn’t just some throwaway character. She never felt intimidated by Bond and held her own. In fact, the very first scene she is in, Vesper is matching wits with James. In the scene, they are basically sizing each other up purely by their choice of fashion and their mannerisms. It’s an incredibly well put together moment where both characters don’t hold themselves back [intellectually] and find themselves to be on equal footing.

If that didn’t establish Vesper as different from the rest, perhaps James calling his favourite drink in the film a‘vesper’ is what could do it, along with the emotional journey they share together of course.

But that’s not all Casino Royale has to offer. Since this is a 007 film, there must be actions scenes. Given that Bond is only recently promoted to 007, we don’t see any fancy gadgets nor much stealth and spy-type action. The approach taken here is Bond’s go-to always being acting on his instinct rather than being careful. He is scolded by his superiors, particularly M (portrayed by Dame Judi Dench once again), for not taking precautions when faced with certain situations. Remember, this is a Bond who is more of a blunt instrument rather than a delicate one.

Another thing to note, and one I never thought I’d enjoy watching, is how most of the plot hinges on the playing of poker. While some might be bored with these scenes, there is enough tension and stakes (both with playing cards and 007’s mission) to string you along. It’s also in these scenes that we see the conflict between James and Le Chiffre (portrayed by the amazing Mads Mikkelsen), and how James’ overconfidence almost costs him everything. In past films where we always see 007 stylishly saving the day, here we witness the character going through moments of frustration and having to subsist. Although in the end we witness the more classic characterization of Bond (especially him introducing himself), seeing the journey in getting there is quite fascinating.

I’m sure I speak for the majority who’ve seen this film when I say that it is the best one (or perhaps to some, second best) in the Craig-as-007 series. It introduced a vastly different take on the character, its supporting cast is just as excellent, and both scenes of action and ones without are executed well. Though some of the films in this series failed to hit the mark, we can’t deny Daniel Craig as this portrayal of 007 as convincing, surprising and appealing. So here’s to the next film and that it won’t be uninspired. Something that’s shaken, not stirred.

- A. Shin

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