April 23, 2006
Merrick Thinks The CASINO ROYALE Script Is Quite A Gamble!!
...thought it might be fun to look through the screenplay of the forthcoming James
Bond movie, CASINO ROYALE.
You know, the Bond film that reboots the whole damn franchise? The one that casts
LAYER CAKE’s Daniel Craig as James Bond? You can CLICK HERE to find some
behind-the-scenes footage from the movie.
Before reading this script, I wasn’t sure what to think about this project. I found the
notion of a Bond reboot compelling, not entirely necessary – and potentially very
dangerous. Beginning the franchise anew brings with it so much baggage, and so
many expectations, the undertaking seemed both an inconceivable and thankless
Having read the script, I’m still not sure what to think. Many of its elements are quite
successful, but they're not enough to overshadow what doesn't work. If I had to
guess, I’d say “this reboot” was ill-advised. In the hands of an artist, perhaps it could
work. But CASINO ROYALE is directed by Martin Campbell (GOLDENEYE, the ZORO
movies), who I find a capable…but rarely inspired…filmmaker.
The script is surprising in many ways, but it was also disappointing. The James
Bond character has been dramatically refined, yet some of the same issues plaguing
the franchise (blah, uninteresting villains) persist. The action has been dialed down –
brutal, hand-to-hand combat now preferred to gargantuan set pieces. The smartness
of this decision hinges solely on how the picture is directed in terms of tone and
CASINO ROYALE is very immediate. It does not “feel” like a BOURNE movie, as
some have feared. However, its intimate scope and emotionally driven plot certainly
do evoke BOURNE sensibilities. This is a more twisty & turny kind of Bond…it’s
sometimes hard to know who to trust and who to doubt, who to turn to and who to
More on all of this below.
But, before we go on…
THERE ARE MAJOR SPOILERS BELOW THIS POINT!!!
DO NOT PROGRESS FURTHER IF YOU WISH TO REMAIN UNSPOILED ABOUT
THIS IS THE LAST SPOILER WARNING. TURN BACK NOW OR FOREVER HOLD
WHO WROTE THIS?
Neal Purvis and Robert Wade (THE WORLD IS NOT ENOUGH, DIE ANOTHER DAY,
STONED), and Paul Haggis (CRASH).
WHAT’S IT ABOUT?
A bad guy named Le Chiffre is, essentially, a banker for terrorism around the world.
Bond thwarts a particular bomb plot, causing money problems for Le Chiffre, who
launches an ultra-high-stakes card game to reclaim his lost fortune. Bond infiltrates
the game in an effort to bring down Le Chiffre. It’s “gamble against terrorism!”
WHAT DO YOU MEAN BY “REBOOT”? THEY’RE STARTING OVER?
Yes – they’re starting over.
We meet a Bond who is nowhere near as experienced or refined as previous
incarnations of the character. For example, we see this Bond actually earn his
“Double 0” status – via two assassinations which go down in a pre-title sequence.
One “0” for each person dropped = “00”. We even see Bond’s “007” ID being forged
in the bowels of MI6 as part of the film’s opening titles.
This Bond isn’t used to killing…but it’s part of his job. There’s no glory in it for him,
though – he’s haunted and even distracted by the ugliness of death. More on this
Also, the universe he inhabits is much more…I hesitate to use the word…”realistic”
than it was before; the story is grounded in a far less stylized world than previous
SO, HOW “REAL WORLD” IS THIS NEW BOND?
M: When they analyzed the stock market after 9/11, the CIA discovered there had
been massive shortings of airline stocks. When the stocks hit bottom on 9/12,
someone made a fortune.
Or…when nearly everything is going wrong that can go wrong with Bond’s
M: Christ I miss the Cold War.
GONE is nearly any visage of over the over-the-top action sequences we’ve come to
expect from James Bond movies. There are a few large-scale set pieces, but they
feel a tad derivative. They’re fine enough, but they’re oddly familiar.
An elaborate chase through (and around) a crowded airport has a DIE HARD
sensibility. Bond chasing a bomber onto the scaffolding of a construction site
evokes the Statue of Liberty sequence from REMO WILLIAMS: THE ADVENTURE
BEGINS. Are these familiar because we’re conditioned to expect bombastic
shenanigans from Bond movies…and anything less is jarring? Or, is the over-the-
top nature of (many of the) previous films, in actuality, a critical component of this
concept’s personality? Is Bond, simply, too closely associated with excess to
divorce itself from it?
If this is the case, perhaps it’s “too soon” for CASINO ROYALE?
WHERE DO THEY GO IN THIS MOVIE?
Prague. Pakistan. Uganda. London. Nassau. Miami. Alps. Montenegro (where the
Casino Royale is located). Venice.
WHAT ELEMENTS OF “CLASSIC” BOND ARE RETAINED?
During Bond’s first kill, there is a shot looking OUT through the barrel of the gun
held by his prey. Bond spins and shoots his victim…shooting “us”. The iconic “gun
barrel”…Bond spinning to shoot at the camera…and the resultant flow of blood we
know as the franchise’s graphical intro is now implied to be the James Bond’s first
“0”…his first kill.
Monty Norman’s Bond theme music is referenced in the final moments of the script.
007 does introduce himself as “Bond, James Bond.” Once…unexpectedly.
Bond’s tuxedo. But he’s not used to Tuxedos; it’s a big moment for the character
when he gets one. He likes the way he looks in it; sizes himself up proudly in the
mirror…spinning back to check himself out again…to make sure he looks as good
as he thinks he does. He seems almost…proud. There’s a “working class” quality to
his reaction…someone who isn’t used to having nice things suddenly has
WHAT SURPRISED YOU THE MOST ABOUT THIS SCRIPT?
Its humanity. In many ways, this feels like a drama that is also a spy movie.
For better or for worse, this James Bond is a very human, extremely flawed, and
utterly sympathetic character. There is no stoicism here, no square-jawed resolve.
He’s lost, and alone. M is implied to be a mother figure for him, as well as a safe-
haven - though neither is clearly stated. And Bond could use a little help, because
CASINO ROYALE sends him through the ringer – physically and emotionally – over
and over again.
This Bond is barely holding himself together. He seems like something of a
cannonball…bouncing from adventure to adventure, place to place…as if looking for
something bad to happen to him. One scene finds Bond marching towards a villain
(and his henchmen) with a knife palmed from a dinner table; he’s going to take on
three armed men at once with one shitty knife. The narrative describes how Bond
knows this is suicide, but he’s doing it anyway.
Bond has enormous difficulty being close to anyone; he’s also a bit cynical. When
trying to pick-up the hot wife of a man he’s observing, the woman indicates that her
husband would be too upset if she went with Bond.
SOLANGE: I’m afraid I’m not that cruel.
BOND: Perhaps you’re just out of practice.
But, deep down inside, Bond truly, deeply wants to connect with someone. He
simply has too many doubts, too much fear, is plagued by too much insecurity, and
wears too much armor for this to happen. He systematically pursues attached (or
married) women because he feels it’s cleaner…more base. VESPER LYND breaks
through all of this – becomes someone for whom Bond is willing to leave behind the
only world he’s ever known.
VESPER: You love me?
BOND: Enough to quit and float around the world with you, until one of us has to get
an honest job. Think it will have to be you, I don’t think I know what an honest job is.
The final quarter of CASINO ROYALE is a love story. It’s a story of two people who
are trying to leave an uncertain, violent reality they're simply unable to cope with any
longer. They want to look for something new; they want to build something new.
CR’s emotional arc is about Bond learning that the greatest strength of all is not one’
s ability to kill…and not keeping the people who care about us at bay. It's allowing
ourselves to trust - and to love. Alas, it’s also about the potentially disastrous
consequences of doing so. The plotline here is quite nihilistic…and almost cruel…in
its treatment of Bond. It repeatedly condemns his bitterness and paranoia as
weaknesses to be discarded, then turns around and reinforces (and even justifies)
his misgivings in very painful ways. When we last see Bond, he’s more angst ridden,
more bitter, and less trusting than ever before. And, again, he is very much alone.
BESIDES THE CHARACTER DRIVEN DRAMA, WHAT ELSE IS “DIFFERENT” HERE?
CASINO ROYALE’s treatment of violence.
This is an extremely violent script, but the violence is neither glorified nor sanitized.
A great deal of blood is specified; death is not pretty. Reference is made to
disposing of the bodies…the carnage resulting from 007’s shenanigans is a plot
An effective sequence finds Vesper in the shower after a brutal fight in which she
and James killed a bad guy. She has blood under her fingernails and can’t get them
clean. In shock and disbelief, she just sits down in the shower, naked. Blankly…far
away. Bond comes into the bathroom, notes her torment. He helps her wash the
blood from her hands (he’d cleaned his own hands earlier), then holds her closely.
Not sexually – just closely – together in the “warm rain.”
Death in this newly defined Bond world is a grim necessity and inescapable reality.
It'll be quite interesting to see how it’s handled on-screen…in both execution and
Also of note: A great deal of “nudity” is specified. Not gratuitous nudity, though.
Bond is stripped naked for a torture scene involving testicles and a carpet beater,
and there’s also “comfort” nudity – the kind of nudity shared when two people are in
love (Bond and Vesper).
WHAT DO WE LEARN FROM THIS STORY THAT WE’VE NEVER LEARNED
At one point, Vesper sizes-up James in a way he does not dispute. She tells him he’s
an orphan, who didn’t come from money (which caused problems for him at school),
who only succeeded via the charity of others…hence the chip on his shoulder. I don’
t believe this has been conveyed in previous films…if I missed something, please
accept my apologies and feel free to correct me in the Talkbacks below.
WHAT DOESN’T WORK IN THE SCRIPT?
BAD GUYS are still stereotypically one dimensional. Like this one!
A great deal of effort was clearly expended on developing the 007 character into a
personae (Producers? Writers? Studios?) felt would be more accessible to modern
audiences. So, why not throw multi-faceted villains into the mix as well? Why not
really craft CASINO ROYALE into something unusual? Give our newly defined Bond
some nicely realized big bads to face?
But this doesn’t happen. There’s not a single moment of evilness, nastiness,
cunning, deviousness, or wicked “bad guy” conversation that tells us these
antagonists are any more challenging, any more special, any smarter, or any more
unusual than the endless rabble of jerks we’ve seen in countless other Bond movies
(or other cinema in general). Alan Rickman’s Hans Gruber (in the first DIE HARD
movie) had a level of charisma and intellect that made him both compelling and
daunting. Such a character would quite nicely with this new Bond…but no one even
remotely similar can be found. This is new Bond –vs- super-clichéd, Euro-trash
baddies, straight up.
BOND THE RENEGADE. Another shortcoming is the script’s over-reliance on a truly
tired conceit: Bond as a semi-renegade who M is constantly irritated by, doesn't
100% trust, but tolerates in order to get “X” job done. We’ve seen this shtick before
in Bond, and we’ve seen it elsewhere. This kind of notion is a one-off at best, and
should not be hammered in again and again. The script writers are trying to make
007 stories more plausible…yet advancing such a tired gimmick stretches
plausibility to the breaking point.
DIALOGUE. There are some wonderfully written dialogue sequences that would
require a few pages to accurately recount. Some smart, sharp, witty writing between
Bond and Vesper in particular. But we also have to suffer through rather desperate
attempts at coolness and wit. Examples:
SOLANGE: Why can’t nice guys be more like you?
BOND: Then they’d be…bad.
Eeeeeewwww. There are also a few “bad guy” exchanges that Mike Meyers will
likely embrace with giddy glee – they’re that clichéd.
LE CHIFFRE: Oh, but you are wrong! Because even after I have slaughtered you and
the girl, your people will still welcome me with open arms!
This dude deserves to be shot on the merit of that line alone.
WILL THIS MOVIE BE ANY GOOD?
CASINO ROYALE is not the disaster some have feared. It is certainly uneven, and
sometimes it’s uninspired. But it succeeds wildly in two unexpected areas: 1) This is
an affective drama/love story, and 2) It successfully molds Bond into a new
character, a new type of man – into someone I really liked. Although, I’m not sure this
man should be called “James Bond”.
Which points to an interesting question: Who is James Bond to us? What does he
mean? Will the masses embrace such a radical re-definition of an established
cultural icon? Or, will they kick him to the curb – desiring someone tried and true?
To me, “classic” Bond embodies the qualities we all wish we could possess. He’s
cool, capable, confident, attractive, driven, smart, and fearless – but he’s not
indomitable, not unbreakable, and not without compassion, gentility, and love.
If this is assessment is correct (which it may not be), will anyone out there want to be
this new Bond? My hunch says, “No.” Why would we aspire to be insecure,
uncertain, a little crazed, a lot frustrated, and quite lonely and sad? The new Bond is
a great character, and may well work on the level of a John Carpenter anti-hero, but I’
m guessing audiences’ heads will explode in spectacular, gooey unison when they
realize how little of the Bond they know is recognizable in this new incarnation.
The “drama” in this story could work quite well if the film makers care enough, and
are brave enough, to play it for all it’s worth. Real people (tired people) in a visceral
world of deceit and ultra-violence, simply trying to find normality (and peace) could
play quite nicely if performed honestly, and helmed bravely.
But this needs to go all the way…and needs to be strong…if it’s going to work. By
“all the way”, I mean a hard R rating . Uncompromising. Unforgiving. Shock us. Put
us into the world Bond and Vesper inhabit - the world they want to abandon. Make
us want them to find something better.
Then…this might be very cool. Anything less could play as desperate, frustrating,
awkward, half-assed, and even cheesy.
In the end, such mammoth changes were completely unnecessary – they aren’t
required to bring a franchise a healthy shot of adrenaline or freshness. J.J. Abram’s
MISSION: INPOSSIBLE III is a perfect example of this: The movie simply shifts M:I's
focus to its characters, instead of starting from scratch. It gives emotional resonance
to the action we’re watching – instead of settling for mere spectacle. These
differences are often simple and subtle, but they are profound, and fall nicely in line
with what this new Bond could have been.
We’ll see whether we end up shaken, stirred, or both, on November 17...