007 Cinema Dossier: Casino Royale (2006)

Posted in What's Streaming? by - November 12, 2020
007 Cinema Dossier: Casino Royale (2006)

“I’m sorry. That last hand… nearly killed me.”

Casino Royale not only introduced a new 007 in the form of Daniel Craig (more on that in a moment or two. But it was the closest to the source material it was based on since, arguably, From Russia With Love. Producers Michael G. Wilson (who continues his cameo work in this film) and Barbara Broccoli wanted to bring a darker, grittier edge to the franchise. One reflective of other films at the time, as well as the original novels. They turned to screenwriters Neal Purvis and Robert Wade (as well as Paul Haggis) to adapt the original 1953 novel. The film then serves as an origin story for James Bond (that iconic torture scene? In the book).

For the first time, on screen, we would see how James Bond earned his 00 status, and his first assignment as such. The film follows the original novel fairly closely, though updated for the era. And it expanded to include some dazzling set pieces, locations and stunt-filled action (overseen by Gary Powell). The story would see Bond find himself in a high-stakes round of Texas Hold ‘Em poker (no longer chemin de fer as it was in the novel). He uses the game to capture Le Chiffre, who serves as the private banker to a group of terrorists. A group that will be very familiar to Bond fans, Le Chiffre may owe the group some money after some reversals of fortune.

Introducing a new 007 is always difficult (as of this writing I hold out hope for Idris Elba, who I think would make a marvelous Bond). The internet when it comes to such things, can be a vile place with everyone attempting to cite their ‘expert’ and ‘informed’ opinion. And the biggest stickler they had with Craig was the color of his hair. Bond can’t be blonde, he doesn’t look like that!

Well, if we’re going to get really technical, he hasn’t really looked like any of the actors who have portrayed him. At least not as originally written by Ian Fleming. In the opening description of Bond, he is described as looking a bit like the actor Hoagy Carmicheal. He also has a scar on his right cheek (something NONE of the screen incarnations have had). It troubles me as well that those who were up in arms over the casting would cite Roger Moore as their favorite. Moore, was as charming as he was and as fun as his films could be. But his interpretation was not a true reflection of the character (though For Your Eyes Only came closest for him).

The internet was ablaze with vitriolic discussion of Craig’s casting. So I went back and re-watched Layer Cake to see what I thought of his performance and presence.  I was convinced and more than happy to give him the opportunity. So they’d won me over on that count right away. And lets be honest, none of the actors in any Bond film have really looked like Fleming’s original conception of the character. So no one should really get their noses out of joint over the casting of a fictional character.

The production brought on Martin Campbell as director. He’d previously introduced Brosnan as 007 in GoldenEye and seemed like a solid choice to reinvigorate the franchise as he had done before.

With Craig signed, they only had to round out the cast, Mads Mikkelsen took on the role of Le Chiffre. Judi Dench returns as M (Bond’s only familiar cinematic returning character) with Tobias Menzies as her assistant. The film introduces Bond’s friend French service agent, Mathis (Giancarlo Giannini). Meanwhile Jeffrey Wright took on the role of the man who is one of 007’s closest friends in the book series, Felix Leiter. The lovely Eva Green became Vesper Lynd, one of the most iconic of the literary Bond girls. And that’s simply because of who she is and what the character means and becomes in the Bond world.

The film shot, as would be no surprise for a Bond film, shot internationally, including shoots in Venice and Lake Como in Italy. They also shot in the Czech Republic, the Bahamas, the UK, and of course, the 007 Stage at Pinewood. The international flavor permeates the film. And the blunt instrument that is Craig’s Bond (as well as the literary one), travels from place to place. He works his leads, and he slowly transforms into the 007 we will recognize by film’s end.

In fact, that same thought process was applied to the film’s score, the fourth for David Arnold. The film waited until the end of the film to play Monty Norman’s famed and iconic James Bond. How do you score a James Bond film without The James Bond Theme? Arnold rose to the task, delivering a powerful score that would introduce a variety of beautiful motifs. That score would also incorporate the film’s theme, You Know My Name. Performed by Chris Cornell, the track was written and produced by Cornell and Arnold. (As a troubling side note, this was the first Bond soundtrack, when released, that did not have the title track on the album. Cornell wanted the song to be his, and wanted to feature it on his album instead).

In fact, the entire production was aware that 007 was not the character we knew when the film began to introduce him. Daniel Klienman created the titles sequence. And this time, he did not include any undressed or half-dressed women, as most sequences before this had.

Behind the scenes, while new actors were joining the series, familiar hands were helping steer the ship. Bond film stalwart Peter Lamont returned as Production Designer. He gives the film what perhaps is the most realistic look of any of the 007 films. Meanwhile, Lindy Hemming continued her exemplary costume work. She put Bond in other clothes besides a suit and tux (something that also hearkens back to the original novels. James has an affection for Sea Island shirts, both long and short), and she makes him look dangerous, restless, and cool all in one.

Stuart Baird comes aboard as the film’s editor, keeping the pace moving, while Phil Meheux served as Director of Photography. Both of their efforts make the film shine. And with an almost two and a half hour runtime, the images, story, and sound completely involve the audience. They make the film, and Craig, all the more electrifying.

There are few gadgets featured in the film, but two Aston Martins make an appearance. Bond wins the classic 1964 Aston Martin DB5 in a card game, and while on assignment, the MI6 gives him the new Aston Martin DBS V12.

Time came to promoting the film ahead of its release date of 17 November, 2006. And the poster campaign featuring photography by Greg Williams with Tommy Gagotta serving as Creative Director. They gave us a washed out grey background with Bond caught mid-stride, tie undone, Walther P99 in hand walking towards camera. And while I do miss the days of the art of the painted poster, the image is striking and suggestive of exactly what to expect of the 007.

Gambling on a new 007, and a darker, more literary story paid off for the producers. The film went on to be the highest-grossing Bond film to date. It also earned Craig a BAFTA nomination for his portrayal of Bond, a first for the series.

All of which would guarantee that James Bond Will Return (in two short years). It’s something that the filmmakers promised as The James Bond Theme plays over the closing credits.

Thanks again to my own personal Q Branch, DK Canada. They outfitted me with the information I would need for this mission, most noticeably with their books. These books Bond By Design: The Art of the James Bond Films, James Bond: 50 Years of Movie Posters, and the James Bond Encyclopedia.

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TD Rideout has been a movie fan since the moment he first encountered Bruce the Shark in 1975. As passionate about cinema as he is popcorn movies, his film education is a continuing journey of classics new and old. He is at his most comfortable with a book, a drink, his partner and his dog.
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