‘Casino Royale’: One Decade Later – A Retrospective Look Back

When Daniel Craig was announced as the sixth actor to play James Bond in Casino Royale, one London paper ran with this headline: “The name’s Bland. James Bland.” People were furious that this short, blonde Brit was going to play cinema’s most enduring spy.

Their words must have tasted bitter when Casino Royale hit theaters on November 17, 2006. Craig defied expectations, reinvigorating a expiring franchise.

 
PUTTIN’ IT TOGETHER

Casino royale 1Producers Michael G. Wilson and Barbara Broccoli (above) knew they had some rough work ahead of them. Pierce Brosnan’s latest outing as James Bond in Die Another Day did what Golfinger, Blofeld, and Rosa Klebb couldn’t: kill 007.

The movie’s reliance on CGI over minutely-planned stunts was just one knife slid into the series’ ribs. The convoluted script, schizophrenic theme song, and desperate attempts to throw in as many references to past Bond movies for the franchise’s fortieth anniversary were others.

To bring Bond back, the producers decided to reboot the franchise. This new series would have no ties to the original movies. It was an attempt to recapture the essential traits of the James Bond character. And there was no better way to do so than by adapting the very first 007 novel, Casino Royale.

Rumors persisted that Quentin Tarantino wanted to direct it, with Brosnan returning as Bond. Tarantino wanted to set the movie in the 1960s, which is a hard sell considering each movie in the series progresses from the one before.

So Tarantino was out. As was Brosnan.

Daniel Craig was filming Munich when Steven Spielberg played “The James Bond Theme” over the PA system on set. That’s how Craig learned he was the newest James Bond.

 
THE SCREENPLAY

Casino royale 2Screenwriters Neal Purvis and Robert Wade (above) were brought back to adapt the novel. Both writers wanted to make Bond more “real”, more like the calculating killer in the books.

Their idea was to show Bond in the early stages of his career. Make him an unpolished field agent uncertain of whom to trust. American screenwriter Paul Haggis was brought in to help. The script this writing trifecta conjured is an adaptation faithful to the book while updating it for the modern climate.

 
THE FILM ITSELF

Right from the very first scene, it’s evident Casino Royale is intended to be unlike any prior Bond movie. The black and white pre-credit sequence forgoes elaborate, slack-jawed stunts for a tense standoff between Bond and a bent MI6 operative. What’s unknown until the closing seconds of this scene is that it is the last objective Bond must execute to earn Double-O status.

The scene is masterfully staged and filmed by returning director Martin Campbell. Bond’s still-as-concrete face-off with the deceitful double agent is the perfect juxtaposition against flashbacks of Bond violently beating an evil-doer to death inside a bathroom.

Craig presents his Bond as a ruthless killing machine always one step ahead of his target. The cold, steely, non-objective look in Craig’s eyes is enough to kill.

The plot remains true to its literary origins. Bond is sent to break the bank of Le Chiffre, a terrorism financier. There are subtle changes, such as Le Chiffre now being a SPECTRE agent, instead of working for SMERSH; a series of suspenseful Texas Hold ‘Em poker games replaces the book’s game of baccarat; and for the torture scene, Bond is whacked with a balled-up industrial rope instead of being swatted with a bamboo cane.

Ian Fleming is possibly the only author who could craft such a page-turner of a card game. He did the same for golf in the Goldfinger novel; a scene perfectly adapted for the movie of the same name. Just proves million dollar stunts and explosions aren’t always necessary to entertain an audience.

 

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The Bond Girl this time out, Vesper Lynd (Eva Green, above), is arguably the most fully-realized love interest since Tracy Bond (Diana Rigg) in 1969’s On Her Majesty’s Secret Service. Want a masterclass in writing dialogue? Look no further than the initial meeting between Bond and Vesper aboard a train rocketing toward Montenegro. Their back-and-forth banter begins as confrontational and abruptly ends, with Bond desiring more. He’s in love, he just doesn’t know it yet. Or maybe he does. Either way, it’s a learning mistake.

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Casinoroyale5Le Chiffre (Mads Mikkelsen, above) may not be the most physically imposing villain Bond has ever fought, but he’s still memorable and formidable. What sets Le Chiffre apart is his growing desperation and paranoia. Like Bond, he doesn’t know whom he can trust. Not only is Bond after him, but if he doesn’t win back his client’s money, he’ll be on SPECTRE’s shit list. Le Chiffre is a candle burning at both ends. His demise is inevitable. But it’s fascinating and horrifying to watch this well-groomed, calm, capable numbers genius devolve into a brutish, sweaty thug who will plead for his life.

For this, the movie earned an “A” from Owen Gleiberman, film critic for Entertainment Weekly. In his review, Gleiberman writes Casino Royale:

“Turns Bond into a human being again — a gruffly charming yet volatile chap who may be the swank king stud of the Western world, but who still has room for rage, fear, vulnerability, love.”

A DECADE LATER

Casino Royale still holds up.

Why?

Because of its grounded story and its humanistic depiction of James Bond. Over the years, Bond had turned into a superhero who is overly reliant on Q Branch gadgets to pull his ass out of the fire. Casino Royale jettisons that aspect and brings back the essence of character originally conceived by Fleming, in a realistic spy story that will forever be among the best of the James Bond movies.

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Ryan Malik
Ryan Malik
Ryan is a screenwriter with a BFA in Film from The School of Visual Arts in New York City. He's a connoisseur of Batman, Ghostbusters, Hitchcock, Scorsese, Stephen King, and Pop-Tarts. Tweet me @Theaterfilms1

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