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007: Best Of Daniel Craig – Casino Royale

Spectre Review Series, Best Of Daniel Craig, Casino Royale

To mark tomorrow’s release of Spectre in the UK (yes, on a Monday – weird), myself and fellow Movie Moron contributor Adam Mason have been discussing the most critically acclaimed and derided movie of each Bond actor. For our review of Casino Royale, we’re pleased to welcome back former Bond joint-reviewer DalmatianJaws! Turns out you do only live twice. All three of us will be dissecting Daniel Craig’s Bond debut, here’s the original trailer:

DNWilliams: Alright, alright, alright: new Bond, new era. The first reboot of the series. What did you guys think of Daniel Craig as Bond prior to seeing the film? Adam, I’m assuming you weren’t keen on the casting.

Adam Mason: Initially I rallied like a pro. There were placards and street marches. I wanted Clive Owen. But, Craig has impressed me since, despite having only one good film out of three.

DalmatianJaws: CLIVE. OWEN?! Ugh!

AM: Yes.

DNW: Clive Owen was the more obvious choice. I’m quite glad they didn’t go with obvious in the end. If they did, you’d never have the opportunity of being surprised.

AM: He’d be fantastic.

DNW: He’d be what you expected.

AM: Yes, fantastic.

DJ: I can’t stand him. He’s a slightly better actor than Gerard Butler.

AM: That’s harsh! He was basically a rogue Bond in Shoot ‘Em Up, which was terrific.

DJ: WHAT.

AM: YES.

DJ: I thought DN and I had different tastes. Wow.

AM: This is going to be a fun chat!

DNW: Clive Owen’s death scene in The Bourne Identity is a brilliant piece of acting.

DJ: He’s alright in Children of Men too, which is one of the best films of a decade I think.

AM: That film is outstanding. One of my personal top ten.

DNW: Yeah, Children of Men is great.

AM: Out of curiosity, who would you two have chosen?

DNW: Like I said, I’m glad they went with Craig. It was inspired. There are other actors who conform to the shared vision we all have of Bond a little more than Craig initially appears to, but I think most of them would have brought less to the table. Owen would have worked, but he wouldn’t have been a revelation. Christian Bale is very Bondlike in Batman Begins, he would have been a great pick if he weren’t Bruce Wayne. Ultimately though – and this is probably going to sound mad, especially considering my praise of Craig and the fact that I think all three of his entries are varying degrees of solid, I kind of wish they cast Henry Cavill.

AM: I don’t think I’ve seen anything he’s in.

DNW: He hasn’t been in very much. He had a bit part in Stardust, he was Theseus in Immortals and he’s been cast as Superman for Man of Steel. But he was also in the running for Bond around the time of Casino Royale and, like Dalton before him, his youth worked against him. Which is even worse than Dalton’s missing out on having a long stretch, because if ever there was an opportunity to introduce a very young Bond, it was Casino Royale.

DJ: Here’s the thing, though…my favourite Bonds are not pretty. Lazenby, Dalton, Moore are all supposed to be handsome. Craig and young-Connery are not pretty in the least. They are good looking in a rugged way, not a pretty-boy way. Brosnan gets a pass.

AM: Craig does a LOT of pouting in these first two movies and that drives me up the wall.

DJ: Quantum, yes. Because the script was written by apes with their fingers cut off.

AM: That’s very poetic. My opinion of that film involves more scat.

DJ: Okay, so I’ll be the first to step up to the firing line and tie on a blindfold…I adore Casino Royale. I think it’s hands down the best Bond film I’ve ever seen, far and away. Newborn baby = no time to see Skyfall.

DNW: I almost felt that way prior to seeing Skyfall. Casino Royale is brilliant.

AM: Oof. I feel outgunned now.

DNW: You should have felt that way already, Adam. Who doesn’t like Casino Royale?

AM: I remember leaving the cinema and shaking my head, asking those around me, ‘where was Bond?’ There are parts that are great, but the whole just doesn’t hold together.

DJ: I walked out thinking ‘Finally, Bond is a real character.’

AM: To me, this always feels like three movies slapped together half-heartedly. Film one: Stop That Plane! Film two: Casino Royale. Film three: Venetian Apocalypse. It didn’t do anything it said it was going to do – there was no depth, no great reveal – he was the same guy at the start and the end.

DJ: As for the “three movies” thing, I can understand that critique, but I think it’s only because of the distinct setting changes that line up with the major act breaks.

DNW: I always think that saying Craig isn’t Bondlike in Casino Royale is a really, really hollow criticism. And the Venice segment of the film is by far my favourite.

AM: It doesn’t make any sense! In fact, whole swathes of this movie make no frakking sense at all!

DNW: It makes plenty of sense, but we’ll get to that.

DJ: The painfully obvious third act works because of the chemistry of the leads and the extra-long middle portion that actually sets up a REAL RELATIONSHIP between Bond and a woman for the first time in the franchise.

DNW: It’s also the best shot segment of a pretty uninterestingly photographed movie.

DJ: The directing is a bit meat and potatoes, I’ll give you that. But give me that a thousand times over before giving me the shaky-cam of Quantum. It is well edited though.

AM: Agree with that, aside from the poisoning sequence. But back to the romance: I just didn’t buy it. It felt more forced than usual, because he HAD to fall in love.

DJ: You’re wrong. And Santa is real. End of discussion!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!

DNW: More forced than usual, Adam? Are you SH*TTING me?

DJ: HAHAHAHA

AM: Nope, my good sir.

DJ: DN and I on the same side!!! This feels dirty somehow. More forced than On Her Majesty’s Secret Service where it’s all just one lame set-up for a random drive-by shooting in the final moments?

AM: About the same level of force. I like how it develops in the book, because you get a sense that Bond is highly inexperienced and he falls for Vesper because he thinks he should.

DJ: Book to movie comparisons are a tricky thing. Not having read a single sentence of Ian Fleming, I can tell you it doesn’t come off that way to me or anyone else I’ve spoken with.

AM: Yes, and I promise not to be ‘that guy’ who keeps whining about it. Okay, let’s get cracking. The opening I like.

DNW: I love that they decided to open in black and white.

Skyfall, Best Of Daniel Craig, Casino Royale
AM: Yeah, love the style, love how the gun barrel comes in at the end.

DNW: It’s a good way to open, especially with the brutality of the death in the bathroom.

DJ: Yep! I think it’s the first time that it’s perfectly clear that it’s a gun barrel. That opening black and white scene is inspired. They pour SO MUCH character development into just a few moments, it’s utterly fantastic screenwriting.

DNW: It’s a real mission statement sequence. They want you to take notice of how intense Bond’s business can be, and that murder is a serious part of it. The brutal killing is nicely intercut with Bond having a polite conversation with his CONSIDERABLY easier second kill.

DJ: Totally agree. The juxtaposition of the two things is like a great flavour combo, salty and sweet. They contrast so much that it tells you TONS of story without a single line of dialog. LOVE it.

AM: The only thing they didn’t touch on is that the MI6 guy has a family – there’s a shot of them as he dies – and Bond doesn’t react to it.

DJ: Wouldn’t his lack of reaction be the point?

AM: Maybe, but it seems like the picture was just put there for the audience to see.

DJ: They took the time to get a close-up of it, and show Bond’s (lack of) reaction – I can guarantee on a film of this level it was very intentional. Maybe not as effective as they’d have liked, seeing as how you rolled your eyes at it, but definitely intentional.

DNW: It does just go to emphasize what the entire point of the sequence is – Bond is killing people. And from here on in will be responsible for deaths on a regular basis. From random thugs to government types, misanthropes to family men.

AM: On the whole, it’s a good setup for the film. Character, starkness and gun barrel. Just thought I’d raise the family photo as weird.

DNW: It’s a thread that gets called back to later when Vesper asks him if it bothers him and he says ‘I wouldn’t be very good at my job if it did.’ He’s training himself to be as detached as possible because it’s a prerequisite of being a 00.

DJ: Yep, which is why the Vesper storyline is so powerful and works so well. Again, contrasting flavours, my favourite trite and overused analogy of this chat session.

AM: Fair enough. I concede my point. Opening title thoughts?

DNW: I’m not a lover of the Chris Cornell song. It’s just not my genre, but it works as a Bond theme. I do like the title design though, I think that it’s great that they took the iconography of the playing cards and just went nuts with it. It’s visually cohesive in a way some Bond titles tend not to be, imaginative and apt.

AM: It’s imaginative, I just don’t like it. Rather like most of this film, really.

DJ: I have a confession to make before both of you. I rarely remember Bond opening credits or songs. They all blur together after a while and I really don’t care about them that much. Casino Royale sticks out because it clearly reveals the gun barrel, but other than that I don’t remember much besides falling cards.

DNW: There are brilliant flourishes like the gun smoke being like wiry playing card designs and people breaking up into diamonds when Bond hits them. It could have been better animated, but the concept is solid. It’s also one of the only Bond opening title sequences to prominently feature Bond over faceless Bond girls. It ties into something Warren Ellis said about the movie:

In CASINO ROYALE, James Bond is the Bond girl. Look at the way they even show him emerging from the ocean like Ursula Andress. Sexual torture, too, if less creepy-glam than being stripped and painted gold. Vesper Lynd is Bond: never not in control, never without a plan, seducing to further her goals. She has to die so Bond can become her.

DJ: That is quite an insightful breakdown, actually.

AM: Warren Ellis is a very smart man and that makes total sense. After the titles, we get to meet our villain, Le Chiffre, played by Mads Mikkelsen.

DNW: Also, Mr White. Who rocks.

AM: He is good. Sinister and creepy. It’s a shame the actor doesn’t want to come back.

DJ: Mikkelsen is a great villain. I saw this before I saw Pusher or Valhalla Rising, he is such a GREAT actor, and so damn good here.

DNW: There’s a lot to like about his performance. He plays slimy and commanding really well, which is great, but for the rest of the movie he’s basically a man fearing for his life – literally gambling with it – and he plays that fear and desperation perfectly too.

DJ: Yep. And when he’s cornered he just turns vicious.

DNW: What do you guys think about the weeping blood gimmick?

AM: I still think the weeping blood is too much.

DJ: Weeping blood is so perfect. It’s like Nolan’s take on The Joker – still the Joker, just a bit dialled down. This is a physical quirk like Jaws’s teeth, but just a lot more subtle.

AM: But it doesn’t do anything. He gets stressed and cries blood. He has face periods.

DJ: He needs an “eye pad”.

AM: HAHA!

DNW: “Do anything”? Why would it need to do anything? It’s like Donald Pleasance’s scar as Blofeld or 006’s scar in GoldenEye. It’s just a little more involved. And it’s creepy.

Skyfall, Best Of Daniel Craig, Casino Royale
DJ: The eye blood doesn’t have a story point, it’s just a creepy atmospheric touch. It works WAY better than Robert Carlyle’s ‘I can’t feel anything’ physical quirk in The World Is Not Enough, which they throw away as ‘I can’t bang my girlfriend.’

AM: It’s an attempt to mark him out, but as a villain, crying generally looks silly no matter what colour the tear.

DJ: WHAT. Don’t agree.

AM: And he’s asthmatic. That just lessens him. If Mads weren’t so good, he’d be laughable.

DJ: The asthmatic thing is a bit unnecessary, I’ll grant you.

DNW: Darth Vader’s asthmatic.

AM: Darth Vader can crush your windpipe at 1,000 paces

Part 2 (Of 2) >

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7 Comments »

  • Sheridan Passell said
    Sheridan Passell

    I really like the structure of Casino Royale, how unconventional it is. And I enjoy that is it based around a card game and how that plays out.

    It has a great villain. As you say David, he’s slimy, he doesn’t just act slimy he literally looks slimy, there is often some sort of shiny slimy sweat on his face.

    Daniel Craig gives a strong acting performance, no doubt, and it’s certainly a success. For me he still isn’t quite Bond somehow, rather a really interesting spy. Bond went to Eton, Craig doesn’t have that air at all. When I hear the Bond theme, I never picture him, it’s always his predecessors.

    It’s a bit of a ‘screenwriters movie’ which I find offputting in places. Characters spout extremely accurate character analysis of each other in an unrealistic and far-too-convenient way.

    I partially agree with Adam about the romance, it doesn’t fully work for me. I don’t see the attraction between the two until very late in the story. She’s frigid, boring and hostile until after they are kidnapped, a long way into the film by which time he’s already smitten. Lazenby and Rigg had more chemistry with about 1/10th of the screen time.

    Part of me would have liked to have seen more ‘origin’ in this origin story. He starts out in the field. Should there have been an intriguing, daring half an hour of how he got there?

    Overall a very good movie anyway.

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  • gd smith said

    the weeping blood thing is basically a version of stigmata borrowed from Horror films. In the Hammer Dracula Christopher Lee weeps blood. It’s there to make the character seem like a sort of perverse Christ-like figure. Please stop comparing everything to Chris Nolan’s Dark Night films, they are not actually the be all and end all of cinema or even that original.

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    • dnwilliams said
      dnwilliams

      The string of Batman references has been unintentional, just felt they were worth mentioning due to being strongly influenced by Bond and in turn influencing the latest Bond movie. It’s interesting to me how these long-running franchises feed off of each other, there’s been a bit of give and take with Star Wars and Star Trek of late too.

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      • gd smith said

        I don’t think it’s so much a direct interplay between franchises as it is about pop cultural archetypes. Both Bond and Batman were influenced by Philip Marlow. In Bond’s case the idea of a moral man in an immoral universe doing his job and in Batman’s a gentleman who fights crime but never kills.

        With Skyfall you could just as easily say Harry Potter as the Dark Knight. An orphan enters a secret world hidden from ordinary folk within the bowels of London, is mentored by a wise parental figure who inspires trust in some, but is also under attack by others. A former member of that secret, world who’s real name cannot be spoken, is using his immense power to overthrow it. The mentor dies and there’s even a hagrid figure. But this isn’t because Skyfall is deliberately riffing on the Half Blood Prince or whatever, it’s because those ideas are common throughout pop culture. Nearly all superheroes are in some way orphaned, most have mentors. A few have comical or noble older characters who act as a scrt of surrogate uncle. The idea of the villain and hero being versions of each other is also old, Moriarty and Holmes.

        The ending of both the Dark Knight and Skyfall are not dissimilar to Silence of the Lambs, the Usual Suspects or even Saw. Pop culture is an interplay of all sorts of set ideas and influences. Nothing is original.

        What annoys me is when people call things rip offs or see stylistic similarities that aren’t really there. For instance Nolan favours close tight cross cut editing and no scene is ever allowed to just play out naturally, Skyfall allows scenes to flow. One is new school film grammar the the other old school. Personally, I prefer old school,

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        • dnwilliams said
          dnwilliams

          You’re right, you definitely find the shoulders of giants if you look at the feet of these massive characters; Batman is known for being heavily influenced by Zorro, for example. The Harry Potter comparison isn’t quite the same though – I understand your point, if you’re reductive enough there are points of comparison with a lot of heroic narratives, but Mendes has specifically acknowledged the impact that TDK had on his movie, just as Nolan noted the influence of Bond on his work. You definitely get Nolan-Joker vibes from Skyfall’s Silva and Q vibes from Batman Begins’s Lucius Fox, for instance, which is a case of the antagonists and secondary characters of these movies being approached with an intent to emulate something they appreciated in another picture, rather than generic Hero’s Journey type stuff focusing on the protagonist.

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          • gd smith said

            Well of course Mendes will acknowledge The Dark Knight, Nolan is currently the de rigueur maker of intelligent blockbusters to name check., But that’s different to saying that Silva is a version of the joker. For a start the Joker is reminiscent of loads of disfigured humorous villains including Doctor Phibes and the arc of his plan is not that far removed from Seven’s John Doe. There are others including, obviously, the comic book joker and ultimately Pan, god of mischief and panic. Nolan acknowledges a debt to Micheal Bay. Does this mean that the Dark Knight is a version of Con Air or the Rock? There are small traces of both in Nolan’s film. Sure, you can see little traces of the Dark Knight in Skyfall. But it doesn’t means it’s massively indebted and Q reminded me of the current Doctor Who more than Lucius Fox.
            lets be honest the difference between Batman and Bond is the difference between America an Britain. Batman is a cross between a wrestler, Zorro and a private detective. Bond is a cross between Biggles, a cad and a commando.

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        • dnwilliams said
          dnwilliams

          I wasn’t claiming Nolan and Ledger’s Joker had no influences of its own, merely that Mendes probably looked to that recent incarnation of the character as a benchmark for contemporary blockbuster villainy, in addition to looking back over the Bond canon and bringing back various traits of villains past.

          And I was saying that Lucius Fox was very much made into a Q figure in Batman Begins, borrowing the Q/Bond dynamic, not the other way around.

          Even taking influence out of the question, the commonality bears comparison. But the next review is the last in the series, so references of every kind will soon be at an end.

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