NO TIME TO DIE, the 25th and latest Bond film debuts this month. My rewatch of all of the movies now gets to Daniel Craig’s first appearance. The “blond Bond” was revealed to the world in 2006. How could they reinvent Bond for the post-911 era? Spoilers ahead…
In 2004 I went to see LAYER CAKE in the cinema. The advertising campaign left me cold, but after watching a behind the scenes documentary where writer/director Matthew Vaughn explained what he was trying to do with the film and the look and feel he was going for, I decided to give it a shot.
And what a good film it was. Once scene in particular caught my attention, and there are slight spoilers for that film in the next sentence. At one point Daniel Craig‘s character has to shoot someone. He does, but the sequence following this is a montage where he deals with the psychological impact of the murder.
I loved the sequence, and while there is little “Bond-like” about it, I remember sitting there thinking: this guy could be James Bond. And I was right. Of course I told no-one at the time and can’t prove it. But I thought it. I said it. Trust me.
When Daniel Craig was announced as Bond some people lost their minds a little. These “fans” were terribly upset that Bond could be blond and wrote into their favourite newspapers to complain.
A website grew around the controversy claiming Daniel Craig Is Not Bond. And when the official announcement was made with Craig arriving at the press conference by speedboat on the Thames, the crazy tabloid baiters were keen to point out that the real Bond wouldn’t have worn a life jacket. Even at the press conference, they asked about his hair. Fun times.
The gritty black and white pre-title sequence demands your attention immediately. A middle-aged gentleman returns to his office at night and Bond is waiting for him. The short scene crackles with tension as Bond has been sent there to deal with this British traitor.
This is intercut with a brutal flashback where we see Bond in an astonishing fight with a goon in public bathroom.
We learn that the traitor knows Bond and is unworried because the agent doesn’t have double-0 status – because you need two kills for that. Bond shoots the traitor. Of course, we realise that Bond now has two kills. He will now become a double 0 agent. It’s a reboot, done with style.
Bathroom fight ends as the goon, seemingly unconscious, tries to shoot Bond. Our hero turns and shoots and blam – we are the gun barrel. And Chris Cornell‘s theme kicks in.
Welcome to the new Bond. Buckle up.
YOU KNOW MY NAME
The theme tune didn’t thrill me at first, but I did like that the song was about the character of Bond. Of course the song grew on me – it’s one of my favourites.
The main titles are also a departure, with Daniel Kleinman creating a wonderful opening full of highly stylised graphics riffing on the four suits and decks of cards, including representations of some of the forthcoming action scenes. Very stylish and very classy.
I didn’t breathe for the first ten minutes of the film. Of course, that’s hyperbole. But it’s a fact that I didn’t blink once. For Bond pursuing the free-running bomber (Sébastien Foucan) from the gambling arena through the jungle, the building site, the sickness inducing punch-up at the top of the crane, the raid on the embassy, the nose-break, the throwing of the bomber through the window, then the stand-off in the courtyard – was absolutely brilliant. It’s simply one of the best sequences of the franchise.
Bond breaks many rules in the opening sequence, betraying his impulsiveness, recklessness and disregard for authority and procedure. He’s a loose cannon. And his first scene with Judi Dench’s returning M highlights this. The tension between M and Brosnan in GoldenEye was fantastic (“sexist misogynist dinosaur”) and this scene echoes that too. Except this time M is worried she promoted this young Bond too soon.
Le Chiffre is the name of the villain from the source novel and is played magnificently by Mads Mikkelsen. His scar and blood-weeping eye make him visually memorable (remember, disfigurement means evil, right?) but his low key and deeply sinister performance is perfect, especially against this new less-than-polished Bond.
Le Chiffre is a banker, a money man, who invests huge sums for his various clients, usually making profits for everyone. He meets with an African revolutionary (Isaach de Bankolé) at the start and is entrusted with loads of cash. We also get a glimpse of a mysterious man (Jesper Christensen). More about him later.
Bond, having hacked M’s laptop, has traced a message on the bomber’s phone to a hotel in the Bahamas, so heads there to investigate. And we even get a bit of Spy Time as he works his way into the security room of the hotel to find the person at the other end of the phone. He then charms the receptionist in order to find out that man’s name.
Bond joins residents for a card game where the phone man Dimitrios (Simon Abkarian) is playing and soon wins the pot – and the man’s car (Aston Martin DB5, of course). He also charms Dimitrios’ wife Solange (Caterina Murino).
Just when you think Bond is going to spend the night with her, she reveals her husband is on the last plane to Florida, and Bond is immediately gone (although he does order Solange a lovely meal!)
Bond tails Dimitrios to a museum in Florida to pass a bag to another goon. Soon, Bond has Dimitrios stabbed and left sitting like an exhibit himself. But the goon has gone.
The mysterious text message which started the investigation is the password to allow the goon access behind security at Miami International – and we realise this is Le Chiffre’s plan. Tonight is the unveiling of a new super plane, and they are about to blow it apart before it leaves the ground. Le Chiffre’s plan is simple. Bet on the plane’s failure, invest the African revolutionaries’ money, and everyone profits.
Bond’s airport chase is sensational. He pursues this new bomber on foot across the tarmac, then uses airplane steps to leap onto the bad guys truck. There is a Stagecoach/ Raiders of the Lost Ark/Licence to Kill style fight on, in, hanging off and falling off the truck as baggage trucks, buses, and police cars are destroyed. Bond succeeds in stopping the truck before it hits the super plane, but the goon still has the trigger switch. Goon presses the switch and boom, he explodes. Bond had managed to remove the device from the truck and attach it to the back of the goon’s trousers. Ouch. And the ever so slight smile on Bond’s face at the goon’s plight is funny.
The score, by David Arnold, returning for the fourth time is excellent – full of huge exciting set pieces and smaller beautiful moments. It is one of his best. Yet not my favourite.
Back in the Bahamas, M has arrived to chastise Bond. Solange has been killed – it is a mystery who did it (after all, her husband is still sitting dead in that Florida museum). M also implants a tracker into Bond’s neck. Keep him on a short leash.
Having lost so much in Miami, Le Chiffre has organised a high stakes card game at Casino Royale in Montenegro. So Bond is sent there to take part, to win, and to keep the villain from succeeding.
On the train, Bond meets Vesper Lynd (Eva Green), who is responsible for the money he will gamble with. The dialogue in this scene is great, and all credit to Neal Purves, Robert Wade and Paul Haggis. The story and the dialogue is just so smart.
MATHIS, VESPER AND THE PERFECT BOND
The local contact is Rene Mathis played by Giancarlo Giannini, and his quietly amusing performance compliments those of Craig and Green.
I’d suggest that a cocktail of Vesper’s smart humour and assertiveness, Mathis’ knowledge and dogged determination and Bond’s blunt and brutal efficiency combined would make an awesome 00 agent. Sadly Bond doesn’t have all those characteristics yet – and a shadow would soon fall over both these characters, pushing Bond towards another aspect of his future personality – cold, untrusting and unemotional.
I don’t really play cards, but luckily the games played in the Casino Royale go beyond watching people silently holding cards. The Casino sequences allow us to see Bond and Le Chiffre face each other behind the civility of the card table.
The writers dispel any fears that the game could get boring by interspersing the card action with intrigue, Le Chiffre fooling Bond with a fake “tell” (tricking James into thinking he had a nervous gesture whenever he had a poor hand of cards), Bond being poisoned and almost killed, and a frightening staircase fight when the very upset African revolutionaries appear to demand their money from Le Chiffre.
The writers dispel any fears that it could get boring by interspersing the card action with intrigue, Le Chiffre fooling Bond with a fake “tell” (tricking James into thinking he had a nervoius gesture whenever he had a poor hand of cards), Bond being poisoned and almost killed, and a frightening staircase fight when the very upset African revolutionaries appear to demand their money from Le Chiffre but instead meet their fate at the hands of the new 00 agent.
THE IMPORTANCE OF VESPER
It is Vesper who orders a custom tuxedo for Bond – his first. He takes quiet pleasure in checking himself out in the mirror.
It is Vesper who gives as good as she gets. It is Vesper’s breakdown in reaction to the staircase violence that has Bond care. Note his protectiveness as they sit fully clothed in the shower.
She is the one who brings him back to life with the defibrillator in his car (gadget!). He even names his improvised vodka martini after her.
Bond: Vodka martini.
Barman: Shaken or stirred?
Bond: Do I look like I give a damn?
A NEW ACQUAINTANCE
As the infuriated and humiliated Bond starts to lose it, and strides after Le Chiffre with a butter knife, he is stopped by another player – a Felix Leiter from the CIA. He has been at the game for reasons like Bond, but realises Bond is a better player. He offers Bond his gambling money – the two agencies working together. The brilliant Jeffrey Wright is so effortlessly cool here.
Bond ultimately wins the money. Game over. Well, not quite. And it is here that some mysterious spy shenanigans start that still confuses after all my viewings of the film.
Vesper leaves to report in. Bond suddenly suspects Mathis as a double agent. Vesper is grabbed off the street and Bond pursues.
CAR ROLL RECORD
Bond zooms after Vesper’s kidnappers but must swerve suddenly as they have left her lying in the road. The stunt is spectacular and the car rolls 7 times. A world record!
Bond is pulled unconscious from the car, and his tracking implant cut out. (How’d they know about that?)
TO THE RIGHT
In a smart adaptation of the torture scene from the novel, Bond is naked and tied to a wooden chair which has had the seat cut out. Why, many of us asked. Then wished we hadn’t. For Le Chiffre wants the password to access Bond’s casino winnings, and by twanging a big old knotted rope under the seat, is giving Bond’s double 0‘s a battering. Screaming in pain, Bond tells him that the itch in his balls is to the right!
Suddenly we hear commotion outside of the room (Vesper is being held nearby). Someone comes into the room. From Bond’s prone point of view on the floor an armed man comes in (wait, is that the mystery man from earlier?) and bang. Le Chiffre is shot dead in the head. It’s not just his eye weeping blood now.
Bond is recovering in a gorgeous lakeside clinic. Mathis appears but is zapped and dragged off by MI6 agents. Wait. Stop. What? He’s working with Le Chiffre? But that doesn’t make sense? Does it?
Vesper appears and seems so happy then the banker from the casino rushes up to get Bond to access his password to release his winnings. Password was, of course, VESPER. And so the British government get their money back.
Bond and Vesper then get frisky on his hospital bed. His double 0’s must have healed then.
TIME TO RESIGN
On a yacht entering Venice Bond emails his resignation to M. He is besotted with Vesper and they are now about to run off and somehow live in luxury with no discernable means of supporting themselves.
As they glide into down Vesper sees a man with an eye patch. She reacts. No idea why. It’s not just a mystery it’s just confusing.
In their hotel, Vesper gets a text and decides to head out to get munchies for their trip. Bond realises she left her phone and looks at it, something is wrong. And then M calls wondering when they’ll get their money back.
Bond learns that the winnings are being withdrawn in Venice and realises that Vesper is up to no good. He spots a flash of red in the crowd and follows her. (If that’s a vague reference to “Don’t Look Now” then it’s a mighty weird one!) Vesper is handing her case to eye-patch man when it gets all shooty.
THE HOUSE FALLS
The final action scene is when Bond chases them into an empty building. The huge yellow flotation devices that are holding the building afloat are riddled with bullets and the building starts to sink. Vesper is submerged in a rickety elevator and when Bond’s tries to release her she locks it and moves back. Her drowning convulsions are awful to watch.
Bond tries to revive her, but she is gone. And then we see Mr White watching from nearby, before he walks off, carrrying the case full of the casino money. Who the hell is he?
M then goes all Basil Exposition from Austen Powers by explaining that Vesper had been compromised when her boyfriend was taken and was used as leverage.
Bond replies with the shocking last line from the book:
…The Bitch is dead.
But M reminds him that Vesper left her phone for him to find – she obviously wanted to do the right thing.
We cut to another gorgeous Italian lake vista. A car pulls up, and a man gets out. It is the man from the start. The man who shot Le Chiffre. The man who watched Bond’s attempts to resuscitate Vesper.
His phone rings.
Bond’s voice “Mr White?”
White: “Who is this?”
Pop. White is shot in the leg. He painfully drags himself to the steps as Bond, impeccably tailored and carrying a huge gun stands over him. He switches Vesper’s phone off.
“My name’s Bond. James Bond.”
And as your Bond fan brain explodes at the closing line, David Arnold rips the remains of your head off with the dirtiest brassiest version of the Bond theme, used for the first time at the end of the film. A magical moment in the cinema watching this in 2006.
This is a wonderful, exciting, accessible reboot of the franchise. it is so totally unexpected that it still surprises. The producers excelled themselves and Martin Campbell delivered ANOTHER revitalisation of the movies after his success with GoldenEye.
The cast are excellent, the dialogue is delicious, and the action is breath-taking. The editing by Stuart Baird MAKES the action sequences.
The idea of having Bond start at the beginning of his career deserves a standing ovation on its own.
For me, it’s not perfect. Even as a fan of the films, and of spy thrillers in general, the convoluted nature of the third act still frustrates me. When exactly did Vesper “turn”? Is Mathis bad? If so, WHY did Bond suspect him. Why did Vesper not just explain her predicament to Bond? Leaving her phone deliberately behind seems a bit weak? And why does she lock the elevator cage door and back off, to watch the new love of her life struggle to save her?
Even so. This film is a triumph and fans were wondering what would come next.
For many, me included, I LOVED to hear that the next film would be the first in the franchise to continue the story like direct sequel. This promised a grand story arc. It also promised a new direction for this fresh Bond.
The next film would make LOADS OF MONEY. And yet it has many many haters.
But they are wrong.
Next time, I get to talk about my favourite Daniel Craig Bond Film.
Article first published on reelanarchy.
|Produced by: EON Productions|
Presented By: Michael G Wilson and Barbara Broccoli
Director: Martin Campbell
Screenplay: Neal Purvis, Robert Wade and Paul Haggis
Composer: David Arnold
“You Know My Name” by Chris Cornell
Production Design: Peter Lamont, Simon Wakefield
Cinematography: Phil Méheux
Editor: Stuart Baird
London Premiere November 2006
Isaach de Bankolé