When I first saw CASINO ROYALE (2006) I didn’t see much point to rebooting Bond. It’s not like he’s bogged down by a ton of continuity, or that it’s hard for new viewers to get a handle on him: He’s a womanizing secret agent with a license to kill, that’s pretty much all you need to know.
Rewatching, though, I think it makes sense. The conventional Bond plot is barely there; instead, Bond’s personal arc is the spine of the film.
First, the history. Casino Royale was the original James Bond novel. A rather flippant Bond is assigned to take out Le Chiffre, a French union leader working for the Communist bloc: a word from Le Chiffre to strike can tie up the French economy for a month (a common theme in the anticommunist films I covered in Screen Enemies of the American Way is that only Commie subversives ever call for strikes). He’s been embezzling funds he hopes to make up by winning at baccarat. If Bond beats him (and Bond is very good), Le Chiffre’s own masters will eliminate him.
With financial backing from the CIA and female attention from British agent Vesper Lynd, Bond wins. Le Chiffre captures him and Vesper and tortures Bond with a whip to the groin. The Soviets fortunately take Le Chiffre out but Bond is so shaken, he decides to retire with Vesper. He tells M that the whole Cold War game is meaningless, and Le Chiffre doubtless saw himself as a hero too.
Everything changes when Vesper kills herself. Bond learns she was a Russian agent, serving under blackmail. The fact the Russians have destroyed the woman he loves rips the scales from his eyes: He now sees that yes, they are evil, and he’s ready to devote the rest of his life to smashing their rotten system.
In the 1950s a much-mutated version of the story (Bond is an American agent) appeared on the TV anthology series Climax!. Whatever the rights deal was that Fleming signed, that made it possible to produce the dreadful 1967 Casino Royale outside the regular Eon Studios series. And then, in 2006, we got the Daniel Craig version.
The film opens with Craig’s Bond earning his 007 rank by gunning down a traitor. It’s a cold-blooded execution, not a gunfight, and drives home that Bond is once again a very hard man. He later tells a lover that he prefers married women because there are fewer complications that way. When the plot gets under way, he hunts down a terrorist bomb-maker to interrogate about his funding, but when he can’t bring the guy in alive, he just shoots him (after a long chase; Craig may be the most physical Bond to date)
M (Judi Dench) worries he’s too hard: She tells him that a 00-agent has to use discretion and not turn his license to kill into a blunt instrument for problem solving. Undeterred, Bond uses information from the bomb-maker’s cell phone to trace his contacts, which leads eventually to an bombing attempt on a new-model passenger jet taking off in Miami. Bond saves the plane.
We learn the goal of the bombing wasn’t terrorism. Le Chiffre (Mads Mikkelson), now a financier/banker for terrorist organizations, blew up the plane because he’s lost a lot of his clients’ money. To make it up, he took out options on the airline’s stock, gambling it would collapse after the bombing. Only now it didn’t. He has a problem …
And at that point, in the interests of space, I’ll move on to a second post.
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