We are approaching the end of the Bond film viewing with the arrival of Daniel Craig. And from the very beginning of this film we are made aware that this is a very different Bond to what we saw previously.
The opening scenes are shot in black and white and show the back story of how James Bond got his licence to kill. A grim reminder that James Bond is a killer, that’s what he is paid to do. The opening scene establishes Daniel Craig’s Bond as a man who can kill someone in close contact through physical violence, or shoot them dispassionately. This Bond hearkens back to Timothy Dalton and to Sean Connery; there is none of the sharp-suited gimmickry of Roger Moore or Pierce Brosnan.
Even the opening credits are different. “Where are the naked women?” Husband asks. Indeed, there are no women in the opening credits, just guns, cards and a trail of stylised cartoon corpses. The theme tune, “You Know My Name” by Chris Cornell, definitely has Bond theme cadences and is possibly the rockiest tune we’ve heard since “Live and Let Die”.
Judi Dench has survived the personnel changes between the films to remain in the role of M. And she’s not happy with Bond. Again. “In the old days when an agent did something that embarrassing they had the decency to defect. God I miss the Cold War.” She has Bond tagged with a microchip like he’s a tom cat prone to straying (well…) so she can keep track of him.
Bond is on the track of a shadowy figure called Le Chiffre, banker to dictators and terrorists who we meet as he collects $100 million in cash from a rebel army in Uganda. Bond is tracking Le Chiffre through his contacts in a series of exotic locations: Prague, Madagascar, the Bahamas (always popular for a Bond film), Miami, Montenegro, Lake Como and Venice in Italy. (In actual fact, Montenegro was filmed in the Czech Republic, Madagascar was filmed in the Bahamas, and Uganda – surprisingly – was filmed in the UK.)
It’s the little things that give away character, and I noticed in the scenes at the ritzy hotel in the Bahamas, Bond holds the door open for a maid with a trolley. It’s a small gesture but it’s there. And so is a whole lot of product placement. I don’t recall this being so obvious from previous films (apart from the major promo for Perrier in Goldeneye) but in this one there are regular products turned around to show the label to the camera. (And look out for that publicity hound Richard Branson in a cameo at Miami Airport, along with one of his planes.)
Another nice gesture, and an indication of how much things have moved on since Die Another Day, is another re-enactment of the woman-coming-out-of-the-sea scene, but this time with Bond as the object of the gaze – the gazee not the gazer. (I have several female friends who get a faraway look in their eye whenever they think of this scene.) I wonder if somewhere along the way, someone realised that women also watch Bond films.
Bond’s female counterpart in this film is Vesper Lynd – played with assurance by Eve Green (looking gorgeous in a 1920s aesthetic). Vesper is a woman whose character was created in a book (Casino Royale is based on a novel written by Ian Fleming) and so she walks and talks like a fully developed character with her own back story, unlike many other women in Bond films who were created in two dimensions from the minds of some teenage-minded man-boy.
Vesper is from the British Treasury and she is the guardian of the $10 million that Bond is playing with in a high stakes poker game against Le Chiffre. Bond and Vesper have a lovely spiky attraction – he presents her with a dress to wear to the poker game, she presents him with a tailored dinner jacket to wear to the poker game. (Another nice touch is seeing Bond checking himself out in the mirror in said new jacket.) Although that lovely dress is ruined when Vesper sits in the shower to wash away the horror of seeing Bond doing his job and despatching some would-be killers with cold efficiency. Bond sits in the shower with her to console her. This is quite a different reaction he had to seeing the body of Mrs Dimitrios, the woman he seduced in order to find her husband and kill him. “They tortured her before they killed her,” M tells him, while he stares dispassionately at the corpse of the murdered woman.
Now you’d think that Le Chiffre is the villain of the piece, and indeed he is an unpleasant character and the torture scene with the chair is quite brutal to watch. But Le Chiffre answers to someone else, and that someone is not identified in this film.
There’s no film epilogue to this review to avoid *spoilers.