Happy 10th anniversary, Daniel Craig. The sixth incarnation of 007 took his bow in November 2006, following months of ungenerous and spectacularly wide-of-the-mark criticism of this new ‘James Blonde.’ With their previous movie having reached an apex of silliness not seen since Moonraker, the Bond producers realised that they needed to reboot their franchise along earthier, grittier lines (much as they had done in 1981 after 007’s much-mocked journey into space, with the determinedly down-to-earth For Your Eyes Only).
The newly arrived Bond films had at their centre a conflicted, tortured interesting hero whose actions had brutal, real world consequences. Pierce Brosnan’s final Bond outing in 2002, Die Another Day with its video-game CGI and invisible Aston Martin was an empty, heartless spectacle by comparison. It was time for a reboot. Fortunately for Barbara Broccoli and Michael G Wilson, they had finally got their hands on the one Ian Fleming novel that had eluded them since the Bond rights went their way: the all-important first book, Casino Royale.
Director Martin Campbell’s 2006 film version completely re-energised the Bond franchise (as his own GoldenEye had done in 1995), and sent the series off in a bold new direction. However, if we want to be a bit more exact about it, it was one specific scene that marked the fork-in-the-road where the Bond movies evolved from one thing into something quite different: the train journey to Montenegro when he first meets Vesper Lynd (Eva Green). This pivotal Bond Movie Moment is an extraordinary melange of pithy zingers, psychological complexity, and baffling non-sequiturs, during which Craig’s blunt tool of an assassin took human form.
Still the Sexist Misogynist Dinosaur
With the pyrotechnics, crane-jumping, and tight turquoise swimming trunks of Act 1 out of the way, the plot is fully in motion and Bond is dispatched to a ‘high-stakes poker game at Casino Royale in Montenegro,’ to take the recently cash-starved money launderer Le Chiffre to the cleaners and recruit him into MI6 as an informer. The train snakes through the countryside and James Bond reclines in his seat, taking in the scenery and enjoying some peace, quiet and a large whisky. His solitude doesn’t last long: out of the blue, a beautiful young woman sits down opposite him full of purpose. “I’m the money.”
“Every penny of it,” is Bond’s response, all but winking and double-lifting his eyebrows. This then, is still the Bond of old; the one who suggested that pretty young Plenty O’ Toole was probably named after her father. The same chap who, all but twenty seconds after meeting Brazilian operative Manuela, has untied her gown with the line, “how do you kill five hours in Rio if you don’t Samba?” Earlier in Casino Royale, Judi Dench’s M gets the measure of Bond in the presence of his latest conquest’s tortured, strung-up corpse. “I would ask you if you could remain emotionally detached, but that’s not your problem, is it, Bond?”
At this stage it’s that same cavalier, non-committal bachelor that we see persisting with his usual box of tricks. “Your boss must have some influence. I’ve never seen so much go out the door so quickly,” states Vesper. “Or quite so stylishly,” responds Bond. By this point in 1979, Bond would be leaning over the table stroking her hair from her face, but to his slight consternation, Vesper remains unmoved, dispassionately musing “I suppose you’ve given some thought to the idea that if you lose, that our government will have directly financed terrorism?”
We cut to later in the evening once Bond and Vesper have finished their supper. The fact that they are drinking Château Angelus 1981 leads one to conclude with confidence that this is not a train from any British rail networks, which tend to carry a far more restrictive wine choice of ‘Fruity Red’ or ‘Dry White.’ The scenes are edited together by a shot of the train passing through a station – in 1977, the train would almost certainly have been entering a tunnel.
Shall We Up The Blind?
Poker is central to the plot of Casino Royale and Bond and Vesper’s first meeting is an appropriately obfuscating sequence of raises and calls. “In poker you don’t play your hand, you play the man across from you,” asserts Bond, and so the playing begins. He backs up his boast about being able to ‘read people’ by deconstructing Vesper in a manner most unchivalrous. “Your beauty is a problem. You worry that you won’t be taken seriously (and so overcompensate) by wearing slightly masculine clothing and being more aggressive than (your) female colleagues, which gives (you) a somewhat prickly demeanour and, ironically, makes (you) less likely to be accepted and promoted by (your) male superiors.”
It’s a decidedly risky strategy if the goal was to impress. It also carries the whiff of retribution, a verbal backhand for not falling instantly for his irresistible charms. If so, then it is entirely in keeping with the character as written by Ian Fleming. In the novel, when Vesper is later abducted, Bond curses her as he chases her kidnappers. “This was just what he was afraid of. These blithering women who thought that they could do a man’s work. Why the hell couldn’t they stay home and mind their pots and pans and stick to their frocks and gossip and leave men’s work to the men.”
The Vesper from Fleming’s novel would most likely have ran from the table in tears. The 2006 model instead calls Bond’s bluff and raises the stakes. With a look that suggests that she’s relishing her comeback, she replies, “By the cut of your suit you went to Oxford or wherever and actually think human beings dress like that. But you wear it with such disdain, that my guess is you didn’t come from money and all your school chums rubbed that in your face every day, which means you were at that school by the grace of someone else’s charity, hence the chip on your shoulder. And since your first thought about me ran to orphan, that’s what I’d say you are.”
Her powers of observation do her credit. Later in the film, she buys Bond a new dinner jacket (in a delicious response to Bond’s gift of a head-turning dress), which she was able to have tailored from memory – “I sized you up the moment I saw you.” Look closely at Bond’s face on the train as she pulls apart the facade of his alpha-persona; having finally met his equal, his features relax in relief, the blessed relief of finally being known.
“I though that was quite a good line.”
But what a strange line about the suit. I had not until that point realised that one could wear a suit with disdain. I wonder, did Martin Campbell say before the take, “OK Dan, for the next shot could you try wearing that suit with a bit of disdain, love?” In the event, the best that Craig can manage is to look immaculately tailored, as one might in a bespoke Brioni two-piece.
Then comes what cinema historians of the future will maintain is the most shameless incidence of product placement of all time. “Rolex?” asks Vesper, drawing attention to his ludicrously expensive watch to make a point about Bond’s maladjusted psyche. “Omega,” he corrects her, and for a moment, you expect the Omega® website address to appear next to his face with a list of models and prices.
“Beautiful,” is Vesper’s verdict, though immediately afterwards, Eva Green appears to quietly gag in protest at her forced involvement in such corporate skullduggery. Product placement had been part of the Bond package since the 1960s, and in fairness the producers openly cite how much of the budget is helpfully supplemented by such deals – that is why Rory Kinnear’s Bill Tanner is seen drinking a rather incongruous bottle of Heineken beer while on duty at MI6 headquarters in Skyfall. Casino Royale’s Omega commercial takes the biscuit though, for its sheer unapologetic brazenness.
Vesper twists the knife one final time, making it clear in the process that she is not some trophy to be won or lost. “It wouldn’t be a stretch to imagine that you think of women as disposable pleasures rather than meaningful pursuits, so as charming as you are, I will be keeping my eye on our government’s money and off your perfectly formed arse.”
“You noticed,” Bond retorts; by this stage, the pair are enjoying a feed-line/punchline relationship. Curiously, Vesper and Bond have remained seated throughout the scene so how has she managed to steal an admiring glance at his backside? The inevitable conclusion is that at some point, presumably before the main course arrived, James Bond 007 had to get up to go for a wee (though Vesper’s counter-response, “Even accountants have imaginations” somehow makes her own little mot juste meaningless).
Daniel Craig’s opening act as James Bond introduced us to a brawny, determined, intelligent, fully armoured secret agent with a Terminator-like relentlessness whenever in pursuit of a quarry. However, there was nothing to make the audience believe for a second that he was even capable of such a vulnerable and human debasement as falling in love. The man we see at the film’s conclusion in Venice however, cradling his dead lover, his face wild and deranged, snorting with impotent fury is another character altogether.
The train scene makes this transformation from comic book superman to vulnerable, flesh and blood hero possible. One dinner with Vesper and her incisive intuition, and he is content to admit to being ‘skewered’: the first loosening of the armour. In the final scene, Bond’s armour is back on in the form of a navy blue Brioni three-piece suit: the transformation from eager MI6 officer into 007 is complete. It wasn’t the mission that changed him, though, but the girl he met on the train.
Extract from Casino Royale by Ian Fleming, published by Penguin.
What do you think was the most seminal moment from Daniel Craig’s ten years as 007? The opening scene from Spectre? The return of the Aston DB5 in Skyfall? Or are you going to stick your neck out and give Quantum of Solace the thumbs-up?
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