By Robert Fossil
Casino Royale can justifiably be billed as Bond 2.1. The
film eschews the history of the (cinematic) character
and introduces Daniel Craig as a very different Bond-one
that asks you to take a leap of faith and pretend he is
the first. Fresh into the 00 section, this Bond is
businesslike and as likely to put your head through a
bog urinal as dispense a bon mot. A gym-bulked
sourpuss with a crewcut, he is an anonymous face in the
crowd-never more so than in a scene where he is
mistaken for a valet and asked to park a car. One of the
frequent stock criticisms of the James Bond series goes
something like this: What sort of secret agent is
recognised in every part of the world he visits? The
twist on this is nicely done and adds a hollow veneer of
realism to a film that has already been undercut by
action sequences as ludicrously implausible as anything
Pierce Brosnan was put through.
What can I say about the PTS and song/credits that
hasn't already been said? The former was too short and
the song doesn't improve. Kleinman's credits were fine.
The opening scenes have some of the flavour and
exoticism of the under-rated The Man With The Golden
Gun although the crane sequence wandered into the
realms of fantasy. Ordinarily I would have no
complaints; but if you are going to cast Daniel Craig and
declare that he is the only person who can handle the
film because it is so different and serious I am bound to
point at sections of the film that are very much business
Very early it becomes apparent that the reboot has been
stripped down from what I had expected. I don't know
if Craig's casting played a role in this but I would have
to join that predictable naysayer chorus who feel that
the actor looks a tad mature to be a wild young agent
prone to mistakes and yet to discover his favourite
I was surprised when Eon announced that Casino
Royale would be the next film. Michael G Wilson seemed
lukewarm to the idea in a late nineties interview and I
was under the impression that Purvis and Wade had
lifted chunks of the novel in their screenplay for The
World Is Not Enough. The title itself sounded
old-fashioned and the idea of a poker set-piece sounded
very twee in a world of Jason Bourne and Jack Bauer.
The solution was to come up with half a new film and
then segue it into Fleming's novel. The first half is very
generic and the 'only Craig could have done this film'
doesn't really hold up. He brings a physicality that harks
back to Lazenby but I missed the precise economy of
Bond. It's all a bit Jason Statham for me. Even if one
remembers that Craig is supposed to be rough around
the edges I'm not sure I can ever accept him as the
precise, cool as a cucumber, suave 007 that I have
imprinted in my head. If that suggests a lack of
imagination on my part then so be it. I missed the
balletic simplicity. Brains over brawn.
Le Chiffre is a missed opportunity. Thoughts turned to
everyone from Phillip Seymour Hoffman to Jean Reno
when the casting process began. The final choice turns
in a performance that is either wonderfully understated
or as dull as a bag of bones. The body-works and Miami
Airport scenes were equally uninspiring. Two more
scenes that sound fantastic on paper but delivered
rather flatly onscreen.
Once we kick into the book Eva Green enters the fray
and is immediately exposed as someone who is going to
forge a career on her looks as much as any acting ability
she may have. She's ok but Fleming's original Bond girl
proves no more memorable on the big screen than
Izabella Scorupco's computer programmer from
GoldenEye, let alone Tracey from On Her Majesty's
Secret Service. I felt much more emotionally invested in
Lazenby and Rigg than I did Craig and Green. Did the
love story work? Not really, although the intent was
Paul Haggis was lauded as the trump card and the
script, shorn of the double-entrendres that poor Pierce
Brosnan was frequently saddled with, is ambitious for a
Bond film. There is however some awfully overcooked
and pretentious twaddle. "I have no armour left" and "If
only your little finger was left..." or whatever that line
The poker match was not the most gripping experience
I have ever had in a cinema. Craig seemed to look his
absolute worst in these scenes. Blotchy, dead-eyed and
slightly sinister. I came to the conclusion that he was
miscast as Bond but would have made a terrific Le
Chiffre eye-balling 007 across the table. I tried to
picture one of the young Bond candidates in the scene.
At no other time did I miss the old dark handsome Bond
type more than during this sequence.
The film looks good but rarely feels like a James Bond
film with its unconventional leading man and the
absence of Monty Norman's theme. David Arnold must
have felt like a boxer with one arm tied behind his back
scoring this film. A mention too for the scene where
Bond is drugged and turns out to have a hospital ward
in the dashboard of his car. The mobile-phone malarkey
is also as rife as recent Bonds. A knife fight is well
staged but you'll see better in a Jet Li flick. When Craig
looks in the mirror with blood smeared around him you
expect a box to pop up reading: Look everyone he's
ACTING! In a James Bond film!
Craig really goes to town in the torture scene. It all
seems rather out of place to me but perhaps I watched
too many Roger Moore films growing up. On the subject
of Sir Roger, Craig is never given anything especially
funny to say. He also lacks a lightness of touch. One
thinks of Brosnan's incredulous look at Wai-Lin walking
up the wall in Tomorrow Never Dies. Craig can't do that.
He tries once and wades out of his depth.
They contrive to get one painting by numbers action
piece out of the end although the denouement is bold
(for a James Bond film). Memories of Craig's infamous
Empire magazine cover flooded back in the final scene.
Someone stood up and said "Was that a James Bond
film?" Really?" Oh, I made that up.
I've always found it impossible to place Never Say
Never Again in my list of favourite Bond films because it
seems so strange. Casino Royale is much the same. I
can say that I watched a bit of The Living Daylights a
few days later and it seemed a million times more like a
Bond film than Casino Royale did. I feel like Eon have
cherry-picked a few elements of Fleming and what
might be broadly termed 'realism' and put them into a
film which is all over the shop in its overall deference to
these qualities. Bond come perilously close to being
nothing more than a classless nutcase in this 'entry'.
Fleming's Bond is a lean, handsome Eton drop-out. Craig
picks up some of the attitude but then I daresay Sir Ben
Kingsley would deliver a technically brilliant
performance as Bond. I'm not either would ever play
007 if I had anything to do with it.
The characters are very different and shouldn't strictly
be compared but the last Jason Bourne film was sleeker,
cooler and packed more of a kinetic punch than Casino
Royale. Yes, Bourne is a (deliberate) blank and largely
plotless but he was given a better director, better
all-round cast (Stiles, Cox, Urban), a hipper music score
and quite simply, a film with more flair, verve and
freshness. There is a tension in Casino Royale between
the attempt to make a 'straight' film and still give
audiences the high-octane nonsense they expect.
Bourne sort of does both with the indie spirit.
Did I accept Daniel Craig as James Bond? The answer
(you'll be amazed to know) was no. He's a good actor
but he isn't a James Bond. I don't even think he's really
a leading man. An unquantifiable number of 007 fans,
now out in the cold, will always feel that way.
And they used to be such an agreeable bunch.