Thursday, September 17, 2015

Casino Royale (2006) | Story

Plot Summary

James Bond earns his Double-O number, but risks losing his soul.


I always want to give Jason Bourne the credit for Casino Royale, but that's not fair. The Bond series has a history of letting itself get super bloated and crazy before paring back to Fleming-like realism. It happened after You Only Live Twice, it happened after Moonraker, and it happened after A View to a Kill. In all likelihood, the movie after Die Another Day was always going to be a smaller, more serious movie.

But even though Die Another Day grossed more than twice as much worldwide as The Bourne Identity (released the summer of 2002; Die Another Day came out that Christmas), Bourne was clearly the better movie and got people thinking about what a real spy movie should look like.

Eon Productions had had the rights to Casino Royale since 1999, but I guess the timing had never been right to make it as a Brosnan movie. Brosnan was 49 when Die Another Day came out and no one wanted him to overstay his welcome like Roger Moore had, so when it was decided to replace Brosnan with a younger actor, it must have seemed like the right time to adapt the first Fleming novel and reboot the whole thing. And however indirect Bourne's influence may have been, Casino Royale certainly competes with it in terms of tone and sheer action.

The novel is obviously a huge influence, but there's also some speculation about the name of Alex Dimitrios' wife in the film. It's never mentioned onscreen, but the credits list her as Solange. Fleming used that name in "From a View to a Kill" as well as "007 in New York." In "From a View to a Kill," Bond is simply fantasizing about hooking up in Paris and imagines meeting a Frenchwoman named Solange, but the woman in "007 in New York" is actually a friend of his who's in a relationship with a bad guy. She may not have directly inspired the Casino Royale character, but I can see why the filmmakers borrowed her name.

How Is the Book Different?

The film follows the book's plot pretty closely, but adds a lot of stuff at the beginning to make Bond more invested in Le Chiffre's defeat. In the novel, he's called in on the mission just because he's the Secret Service's best card player. That works just fine, but it's even stronger to have the card game be the climax of an investigation that Bond's been working on for a while. That means changing some things about how Le Chiffre lost his employers' money, but it also gives the movie the chance to put in big action set pieces that weren't in the novel.

Even in the part of the story that's directly from the book, there are some significant changes. Instead of Bond's assistant, Vesper has a more important role as the MI6 accountant who decides how much money is going to get thrown at this endeavor. Then there's the switch of the card game from the novel's baccarat to the more popular, but way less classy Texas hold 'em.

The biggest change though is the questioning of Mathis' loyalties. It's left ambiguous (and resolved in Quantum of Solace), but once Bond suspects Mathis, he never doubts the man's guilt. In the book, Mathis is a wonderful character and indisputably a good guy. It's important to Bond's character arc in the movie that he doubt Mathis' allegiance, but it still hurts every time I see it.

Moment That's Most Like Fleming

More than any other movie in the series to this point, Casino Royale drops the jokes. There's humor in it, but it's real-person humor, not quips. Since Dr. No, the Bond films had always taken a light-hearted approach to espionage, though Dalton and Brosnan each added layers to that. Dalton undermined his jokes with a self-deprecating delivery, while Brosnan was explicitly stated to be using humor to cope with his job. Daniel Craig is doing neither of those things. He relaxes around attractive women, but the rest of the time he's deadly serious.

That seriousness fits well with the themes of Fleming's novel, which are adapted nicely to the movie. The film doesn't deal with them in exactly the same way, but there's still a character arc for Bond where he questions his life as a cruel, emotionless spy and then comes to terms with it.

Moment That's Least Like Fleming

I'd argue that the movie deals with Bond's character arc better than the novel does. The book has Bond flirt with the idea of abandoning the Secret Service and his relationship with Vesper is really just something for him to hold onto when the rest of his world seems to be falling apart. In the film, Vesper isn't a distraction, but a vital part of what's pulling him away from MI6. It's her - not Le Chiffre's torture - that makes Bond question his life. "You do what I do too long," he tells her, "and there won't be any soul left to salvage. I'm leaving with what little I have left." And what little he has, he's offering to her.

The real, least-Fleming moment comes much earlier in the film, but it's related. Bond begins the movie with a childishly willful attitude towards M. That changes by the end of the movie as a result of his character growth, but it's a disposition that the literary Bond never would have dreamed of expressing, even when he thought M was wrong.

Cold Open

Casino Royale lets us know right away that it's breaking formula. There's no gun barrel before the teaser, first of all, and then the teaser is in black-and-white.

We're told that we're in Prague and Bond is waiting in the office of the MI6 section chief for that area. Apparently, the chief has been selling secrets to the enemy and M has sent Bond to put a stop to it.

The chief laughs about this at first. He clearly doesn't respect Bond and muses that if M was really bent on killing him, she would have sent a Double-O. He even states that he'd know it if M had promoted Bond to that level. "Your file shows no kills, and it takes..."

"Two," Bond interrupts. Smash cut to a brutal fight in a bathroom between Bond and the section chief's contact.

The implication is clear. Bond hasn't yet been promoted to Double-O, because he's just now earning it with this mission. From here, the teaser jumps between the two scenes; contrasting the ferocious murder of the enemy contact with the cold-blooded assassination of the traitorous chief. That's another thing the movie has in common with the novel, where Bond reminisces about the two murders that got him his number. They're unrelated missions in the book, but one was an emotionless sniper shot while the other was close and messy.

The chief obviously knows Bond from before this meeting. He tells Bond, "We barely got to know each other," suggesting that Bond has been stationed in Prague for a short time. Probably, I imagine, on assignment from M to investigate the chief.

Bond murders his boss and then we get one last cut back to the bathroom. It looks like Bond's won his fight, but there's a little life left yet in the enemy agent, who draws a gun on Bond. As he does, the camera moves us inside the gun barrel looking out as Bond pivots and shoots and the blood comes pouring down the screen. This may be a different sort of Bond film, but it's still a Bond film.

Top 10 Cold Opens

1. GoldenEye 
2. Casino Royale
3. The Spy Who Loved Me
4. Moonraker
5. Thunderball
6. On Her Majesty's Secret Service
7. A View to a Kill
8. Goldfinger
9. The Man with the Golden Gun
10. The Living Daylights

Movie Series Continuity

Since it's ostensibly a reboot, there's not much movie continuity in Casino Royale. Really, the only clear connection is M, played again by Judi Dench and tying this movie to the Brosnan ones. For that reason, it's hard to accept Casino Royale as a hard reboot.

Bond also wins a 1964 Aston Martin DB5 from Dimitrios, which feels like continuity, but can't be. It's clearly a reference to 1964's Goldfinger where the car first appeared, but there's no way that Casino Royale takes place before Goldfinger or that this is the story of how Bond got that vehicle. For one thing, the Casino Royale DB5 has a left-hand driver seat, but that's a relatively small issue compared to trying to make the Brosnan movies lead into Craig's which then loop back around as a prequel to Connery's. It just doesn't work.

The only theory that makes any amount of sense (just barely) is that "James Bond" is indeed as much a code name as 007, but that in addition to the name, MI6 is also implanting memories. Not only of Bond's wife, but also - as we'll see in Skyfall - of his childhood. There's no good reason for MI6 to be doing this (they'd have to have a similar program for Moneypennies, by the way, and the CIA would as well for Felixes), but if we foolishly insist on a continuity for the whole series, this has got to be it.

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