James Bond, the British MI6 agent created by author Ian Fleming, is the star of pretty much the world’s most commercially successful movie franchise. Since 1962 the character has headlined 23 feature films, not including two rogue productions in 1967 and 1983; at the time of writing a 24th is in production. Together the films have grossed more than US$6 billion dollars for MGM/UA and, when that studio partially collapsed, Sony Pictures. It is an impressive achievement that all 23 films have been produced by the one production company, EON Productions (standing for ‘everything or nothing’). The company was set up by producers Albert R. Broccoli and Harry Saltzman, and later by Broccoli’s daughter Barbara and her husband Michael G. Wilson.
The James Bond formula has served the franchise remarkably well over the decades; however it has always faced a regular creative dilemma. There is a pressure with each succeeding sequel to top its predecessor. There is a perceived need for more drama, more stunts, more exotic locations, better gadgets and visual effects – and over a series of films the technology can overwhelm the characters. What starts as a heightened but still headily believable action-adventure gradually transforms into something more akin to science fiction.
As a result the franchise has regularly had to undergo a sort of ‘reset’ process. After the elaborate excesses of 1967’s You Only Live Twice, the 1969 sequel On Her Majesty’s Secret Service delivered a more down-to-Earth Bond with fewer gadgets and more believable abilities – not to mention a previously unseen fallibility. After Bond was sent to space in the Star Wars-centric Moonraker (1979), For Your Eyes Only (1981) sent him on a much more grounded mission of revenge.
The most significant resetting of the James Bond formula came with Casino Royale, a 2006 production – and the 21st in the series – that not only reset the style of the franchise but rebooted it entirely, returning Bond to the early days of his career and demonstrating how he became the suave yet cynical spy with whom audiences were familiar.
So with an understanding of this regular ‘reset’ process, it’s worth beginning the story of Casino Royale with its predecessor: 2002’s Die Another Day, directed by Lee Tamahori.
Die Another Day was the 20th film in EON’s run, and its release coincided with the 40th anniversary of the franchise. As a result no expense was spared in making it the largest-scale and most extravagant Bond film possible. The plot was a typically complicated affair regarding a North Korean general having plastic surgery to re-invent himself as a British billionaire, only to invest in an orbital weapon that could destroy the land mines in the Korean de-militarized zone and allow for a North Korean invasion of South Korea. James Bond, played for the fourth time by Pierce Brosnan, was teamed up with a glamorous American spy played by Halle Berry. Bond’s trademark gadgets were at their most outlandish and science fictional, culminating in an invisible car.
In all honesty it was a bloated mess of a film, with a confused storyline, unbelievable plot elements and technology, and a 49 year-old star who was beginning to look a little too weary and tired in his role. It was still an enormous international hit, grossing more than $400 million dollars worldwide, but at the same time it was also remarkably expensive; at an estimated $140 million, it was easily the most expensive Bond film of all time.
It was also becoming clear that the grand spectacle and camp tone of James Bond was falling out of favour. In the same year, 2002, Universal Pictures released The Bourne Identity: a tightly edited, edgy action-thriller directed by Doug Liman and starring popular actor Matt Damon. It was not as popular as Die Another Day, grossing half as much money, but it also cost less than half as much to make, and seemed to be the action movie everybody was talking about in 2002. ‘When Matt Damon and Mr Greengrass and The Bourne Identity came on the stage,’ admitted Brosnan, ‘you could just feel the shift. The whole thing had gotten more muscular,’[i]
At the same time, real life was beginning to get in James Bond’s way. Just over a year before Die Another Day’s release, terrorists hijacked four passenger jets on 11 September 2001 and crashed them into the World Trade Center and the Pentagon. For the critical US movie-going audience, espionage and terrorism were suddenly not easy subjects for popular entertainment. ‘September 11 happened,’ said Michael Wilson, ‘and it felt inappropriate for the films to continue down that fantastical path. So we decided to move to a more serious Bond.’[ii]
The decision was made to rejuvenate James Bond entirely, by showing his origins for the very first time. There had never been a James Bond story – not on film, nor in print – that explained where the character had come from or how he had become the hardened, cynical agent with whom audiences and readers were familiar. A young Bond could be edgier and more fallible, and storylines could be developed for him that matched the more serious, darker tone that popular entertainment appeared to be adopting. ‘The script being developed,’ said Martin Campbell, ‘was an original story in which James Bond isn’t the character we know today but someone younger and more screwed up. Pierce was getting on for 49 or something, and clearly too old to play the younger Bond so they decided to go in a different direction.’[iii]
The new direction caught Pierce Brosnan by surprise, since he had already been approached about extending his initial four-film contract and had agreed to return for a fifth. Brosnan said: ‘Michael and Barbara said they’d re-thought the character and were putting it on hold and we said goodbye. And that was it. Alright. You were a good Bond. So that’s how it went down that time. And that certainly dug into the solar plexus of life, just because it was pretty gut-wrenching and because it had been somewhat heralded that I was coming back.’[iv]
Despite the intended new direction, a new screenplay was obstinately refusing to pull together – until an unexpected opportunity dropped into Wilson and Brocolli’s laps.
When EON Productions made Dr No in 1962, its deal covered all of Ian Fleming’s novels and stories with two exceptions. The first was Thunderball, which Fleming had adapted from a TV proposal with a producer named Kevin McClory. An agreement was reached with McClory, and he and EON co-produced a Thunderball movie in 1965.
The second was Fleming’s original James Bond novel, Casino Royale. The book had already been adapted for television in 1954 and its rights had been independently sold to Charles K. Feldman. When Feldman failed to reach an agreement with EON to co-produce a film adaptation, he went ahead by himself and produced a spoof comedy based on the novel in 1967.
Through a series of studio buyouts, by 1999 the rights to Casino Royale were held by Sony Pictures. At the same time a complex set of contradictory licenses and rights agreements were preventing Sony from producing a feature film based on the Marvel comic book Spider-Man. Sony appeared to have the movie rights to Spider-Man, yet so did MGM. A solution presented itself: MGM handed over its claim to Spider-Man, and Sony signed away the rights to Casino Royale in return.
Making the choice to adapt Casino Royale was an easy one for EON Productions, however Wilson and Broccoli still had to convince their new studio partners at Sony Pictures, which had purchased MGM in part to gain the rights to James Bond.
Broccoli recalled: ‘Michael and I of course were partnered with Sony for the first time and Amy Pascal who’s the head of Columbia Pictures was initially really excited that she was going to get a Bond movie… and then we sat down with her and explained our plans! “We’re going do another Bond; it’s not going to be Pierce; we’re going back to Casino Royale; there’s a 20-minute card game in the middle of the movie; he falls in love; she betrays him; she commits suicide; he gets beaten…” To her credit though, although she had to get her head around it, she was fully behind us; she backed us 100 per cent.’
‘Amy said, “Well, it’s good that we’ll have Q in it.” We said, “No there’s no Q.” “So we’ve got the Moneypenny scenes.” “No – there’s no Moneypenny either!”’[v]
Casino Royale’s screenplay was written by Neal Purvis and Robert Wade, writing partners who had also written or co-written the screenplays for The World is Not Enough and Die Another Day. ‘Casino Royale gives you the opportunity for a proper arc to his character,’ said Purvis. ‘He changes from the beginning to the end. He’s very young, raw, out of control almost.’[vi]
When Casino Royale entered development Purvis and Wade were already some distance into scripting a spin-off feature film script starring Jinx, the American spy played by Halle Berry in Die Another Day, with Stephen Frears (Dangerous Liaisons, The Queen) in discussions to direct. ‘At that stage there was no discussion of the approach, but we had all really enjoyed crafting a fairly down-to-earth espionage picture in the Jinx project and this was obviously going to be in the same vein.’[vii] Purvis and Wade’s shift over to Casino Royale came at an opportune time: the Jinx project abruptly collapsed when EON Productions failed to reach an agreement with Halle Berry over her salary.
Martin Campbell was contracted to direct Casino Royale. He had made a striking impression on James Bond already, having directed Pierce Brosnan’s Bond debut Goldeneye in 1995. Despite having turned down multiple offers to return to the franchise, Campbell agreed to direct Casino Royale: as a franchise reboot it gave him the opportunity to put his personal stamp on the series in a much more adventurous way than with Goldeneye. At the same time it enabled him to oversee the adaptation of one of the most famous Ian Fleming novels of all time. ‘The only think you can’t use from the book,’ said Campbell, ‘it was written in 1953 [and] was set against the Cold War. It fact, it was the first one that involves Smersh, and we’ve obviously had to change that.’[viii]
As the film neared production, their screenplay received a rewrite from Academy Award-winner Paul Haggis. ‘Paul made the dialogue… fizz,’ explained Purvis and Wade in an online interview. ‘Due to circumstances beyond our control we were never able to do a polish – a shame after two year’s work on the project. He did the polish – and did a good job. He’s also a nice guy. So we can’t complain.’[ix]
‘I thought they were idiots to bring Casino Royale to me,’ said Haggis, ‘but I loved the idea of taking that character and really investigating him, asking the same questions of Bond you would ask of anybody else.’[x]
‘They trusted me,’ he added. ‘And then I had a director in Martin Campbell who wouldn’t change a word of my script. And it was just the best experience of my life. I just had so much fun playing with those conventions, taking Bond and asking real questions about him: what’s it like to be an assassin? What’s it really like to be an assassin? Do you shoot a laser from the moon or something and say some smarty line? I don’t think so. You know, you get in close with a knife – a dagger or something – and you kill somebody, you get blood all over you, and no matter how much you’ve wrapped your soul in Teflon, somehow that will affect you forever and it scars you.’[xi]
The Casino Royale screenplay marked a significant departure from earlier James Bond scripts, something noted by regular composer David Arnold – who had composed the orchestral score for three of Pierce Brosnan’s four Bond films and who would continue composing for Casino Royale and its sequel Quantum of Solace. ‘As I was reading through the script what struck me about it, which was very refreshing, was that the fact that people had conversations in the film that lasted more than 10 seconds without something blowing up. Obviously it had great dialog – sharp, witty, erudite, smart – and great story structure. Dialogue still felt funny where it needed to and wasn’t forced and stupid, it didn’t feel silly, it’s a more mature film in a lot of ways.’[xii]
Eight actors auditioned for the role of Bond, including Daniel Craig, Henry Cavill (Man of Steel), Goran Visnjic (ER) and Sam Worthington (Avatar). ‘We tested them the same way all James Bond candidates are auditioned,’ said Campbell, ‘with a scene out of From Russia with Love. It’s the one where 007 comes into the hotel room, takes his jacket off, takes his gun off, runs a bath, senses someone in his room, goes across the terrace, sees the Bond girl, sits down and has a sexy conversation with her. That scene has got all the elements of Bond; from the clean, economical movements to the seduction technique.’[xiii]
Daniel Craig emerged as the early favourite with Campbell, Wilson and Broccoli, and was ultimately offered the part. The 37 year-old actor had started his career in British television before performing a growing range of roles in feature films including Elizabeth (1998), Lara Croft: Tomb Raider (2001), Road to Perdition (2002) and Layer Cake (2004).
Craig performed his audition on a short break while shooting the science fiction thriller The Invasion, and immediately had to return to Baltimore to complete that film – his co-stars none the wiser as to his potential new role. ‘I was on my own,’ said Craig, ‘so I went out alone to have a drink and celebrate. Of course, I couldn’t very well start telling people in the bar “I’m James Bond!” They probably would have thrown me out, or called the hospital to collect me.’[xiv]
In one interview Craig admitted: ‘I don’t think I would have taken the role if it had been a continuation of Bond as we knew him, it just wouldn’t have interested me. There have been a lot of incarnations of Bond, and the role has changed a lot. As far as I was concerned, the script I got was an actor’s piece, so I was absolutely into doing it.’[xv]
Craig was signed onto the role on a three-film contract worth a rumoured £15 million pounds.
The announcement of Daniel Craig as the new James Bond was predictably met with widespread interest. It was also confronted by derision from some Internet quarters and even aggressively negative grass-roots campaigns to have Craig fired from the role before he started.
‘It was so ridiculous,’ said Craig’s co-star Mads Mikkelsen, ‘when the press were going on about Daniel Craig being blond, it was hard to take it seriously. The only thing he could do was focus on the work – everybody knew he was going to be a fantastic Bond.’[xvi]
In one interview Craig said: ‘Some of the stuff that’s been said is as close to a playground taunt as you’re going to get. “You’ve got big ears!” Fucking hell! But ask anyone who’s been bullied, they know it hurts. It’s not right. There’s a part of me that would love to turn around and shove it up their arse.’[xvii]
The role of the film’s villain, terrorism financier and gambler Le Chiffre, was played by Danish actor Mads Mikkelsen.
‘It was confusing,’ the actor recalled, ‘I had a meeting first, then a casting, and I was all ready to do the torture scene with Daniel. And there was so much going on around us, people running in and out, and then someone said “great having you on board.” And I didn’t move, and then they said “go away, I don’t want to see you, you got the job.”’
‘Daniel was standing next to me and he said really quietly, “all right – tell me your secret, because I went to five castings – who did you fuck?”’[xviii]
Casting the film’s female lead proved more difficult. When shooting commenced in Prague in March 2006, the role of Vesper Lynd remained vacant. The media had no shortage of potential names, including both Angelina Jolie and Charlize Theron. The role ultimately went to French actress Eva Green – then fresh from the set of Bernardo Bertolucci’s youth drama The Dreamers. Green accepted the role without hesitation: ‘I didn’t have to really think twice when they offered me the part. I just think it’s a fantastic love story.’[xix]
Much of the production’s cost was recouped before shooting even began, thanks to a then record-breaking number of commercial endorsements and product placements. ‘I got very astute at being able to see it and make sure the product placement was done more discreetly,’ said Campbell, ‘but it won’t go unnoticed that every terrorist in the world has a Sony Ericsson phone.’[xx]
‘The fact is,’ said Daniel Craig, ‘we couldn’t afford make the movie unless we had that product placement. It’s there and we’re very grateful that it’s there because otherwise the film couldn’t be what it is.’[xxi]
Casino Royale begins, rather unusually, with a sequence shot in black and white. A corrupt MI5 operative is confronted in his office by Bond, and during their conversation the scene flashes back to Bond murdering the man’s contact in a public restroom.
‘If you want to do something quite different,’ said cinematographer Philip Méheux, ‘and turn everyone around, do something in black and white! People are so used to seeing all these stunts and everything in colour, and we go right into a scene of black-and-white with very little stunt work.’[xxii] The sequence was inspired by classic spy films of the 1960s such as Sidney J. Furie’s 1965 thriller The Ipcress File, and shot in studio and on location in Prague. To give the scenes as authentic a look as possible Méheux shot using actual black and white film, rather than stripping the colour in post-production.
Bond’s conversation with the corrupt agent is shot in a very dark, atmospheric manner. Conversely, his violent altercation with the contact is about as violent and brutal as a James Bond film has ever been. ‘I watch that bathroom scene and I wince,’ recalled Craig. ‘All my knuckles split, my hands were in bandages after it. And I had a fight double – Ben. I did the bits that hurt, and he did the bits that really fucking hurt.’[xxiii]
What makes the fight scene so disturbing is the way that Bond kills the contact. Not with a gun, or a violent blow to the head, but by drowning the man’s head in a sink. Bond’s blank expression as he waits for the man to stop twitching is particularly disturbing. Craig’s pale blue eyes give the character a cold, icy quality that his predecessors all lacked.
As Bond staggers off it turns out his victim is not dead. He suddenly lurches back to his feet, gun in hand. Bond spins around and shoots him cold dead in a shot seen from inside the barrel of the man’s pistol: without warning, we’ve suddenly hit the famous gun barrel opening of every Bond film since From Russia with Love. ‘The idea,’ said opening titles designer Daniel Kleinman, ‘was to explain what the gun barrel represented and how it came to be: it was Bond’s first kill.’[xxiv]
Since From Russia With Love the opening titles have been one of the most iconic elements of the James Bond films. By today’s standards they seem almost interminably lengthy, running for several minutes, backed by surreal imagery of guns, political symbols and naked women. The visual imagery was originally designed and directed by Maurice Binder. Since his death in 1991 they had been designed by Daniel Kleinman.
Most Bond films utilised a popular singer or music group to perform a song over the opening titles, whether it was Tom Jones singing “Thunderball”, Duran Duran performing “A View to a Kill” or Madonna singing “Die Another Day”. For Casino Royale, the chosen performer was American singer Chris Cornell.
‘I was in Prague with Barbara and Michael,’ said composer David Arnold, ‘and we were discussing who it should be. I felt that it should be a male. It felt like it needed to be someone who almost knew the sound of how Daniel’s James Bond looked. My conversations with Daniel kind of led me to the idea of masculine music.’[xxv]
It was Sony Music head Lea Vollack who suggested approaching Chris Cornell. The rock musician had gained fame as the lead singer of rock groups Soundgarden and Audioslave, and Vollack hoped a high profile soundtrack assignment might bolster his popularity as a solo recording artist. Cornell said: ‘I thought that the title Casino Royale would make for an extremely boring rock lyric, and the first question I asked was “what’s the title of the movie” because I was telling my wife, literally, “I’ll write this in five minutes if the movie title is as good as I hope it will be”. And it wasn’t. It was Casino Royale.’[xxvi]
Cornell travelled to the film location in Prague to meet with David Arnold and discuss the potential direction Casino Royale’s theme song could take. The final song, “You Know My Name”, was co-written by Cornell and Arnold – who inserted its melody throughout the film’s orchestral score.
Daniel Kleinman took his visual cues from Cornell and Arnold’s song. The titles to Casino Royale abandon the traditional – and arguably sorely outdated – imagery of naked women in favour of stylised renditions of violent knife and gun fights. It is a resolutely masculine, sharp set of titles that both follow on from the blunt violence of the film’s prologue and further establish Daniel Craig’s version of James Bond.
Following the titles we are provided with a second prologue, this time establishing the mysterious Mr White – the representative of an unnamed criminal organisation – and Obanno, an African warlord looking to invest his illegal earnings via White’s masters.
Mr White was played by Danish actor Jesper Christensen. Despite knowing Mads Mikkelsen personally, and both working in the Danish film industry, the two actors had never previously performed together.
The opening act of Casino Royale jumps around a lot more than previous Bond films, moving from Prague to central Africa, to Madagascar, London, the Bahamas and finally Miami. It introduces not one antagonist for Bond but arguably three. Le Chiffre is a banker for White’s organisation (the sequel, Quantum of Solace, will name them as Quantum), who is attempting to profit from the money he is supposed to be investing by investing against a major international airline and then paying a terrorist to blow up one of their planes. White, of course, does not look kindly on Le Chiffre’s misuse of ‘company funds’, and when Le Chiffre’s bombing plot is spoiled Obanno naturally comes looking for his stolen money.
From White and Obanno’s meeting the film jumps to Madagascar, where Bond is tracking down Mollaka, a mercenary bomber-for-hire. For this sequence the Bahamas stood in for Madagascar, with a disused motel turned into a shanty town and an abandoned hotel in Coral Harbour transformed into a busy construction site. ‘In fact,’ said Michael Wilson, ‘the abandoned hotel is where we filmed the hotel rooms in Thunderball. It’s now part of a military base. On The Spy Who Loved Me we used the same location as a camera platform and had models and workshops.’[xxvii]
Mollaka was played by Frenchman Sebastien Foucan, co-creator of the extreme sport known as parkour, or free running. The film was his first performing role, with Foucan hired specifically for his skills running and vaulting up buildings and other obstacles. ‘It’s not just about running and jumping,’ said Foucan. ‘It’s about adapting yourself within your environment to overcome barriers to your physical progress. It’s all about free flowing movement. My character’s skill is that he can move swiftly to escape from Bond, so we tried to find a way to move fast and efficiently, rather than do stunt tricks.’[xxviii]
Bond’s fellow agent accidentally tips off Mollaka, sending he and Bond into a frantic chase that moves from shantytown rooftops to a massive construction site and finally to the embassy of the fictional country Nambutu. To my mind it is one of the finest action sequences ever staged for a motion picture, and it works as well as it does for a variety of reasons: the skill in which it is presented, the inventiveness and variety of the action, and most importantly the way that it uses physical action to express character.
Take one moment in particular: the building site is backed with half-constructed and assembled architecture. Mollaka sprints round a corner, reaches a fibreboard wall with a small open window above it, and deftly leaps up and through the hole. Bond, coming immediately behind, simply smashes his way through the wall. Bond’s spymaster “M” (played for the fifth time by Dame Judi Dench) will later chastise him for being an unsubtle and blunt instrument, but by that point we’ve already clearly witnessed it.
The construction site sequence took three weeks to shoot, under the supervision of second unit director Alexander Witt and based on storyboards by Martin Campbell. While the bulk of the chase was shot on location in the Bahamas, the Nambutu embassy scenes were actually shot on a purpose-built set in Modrany, back in the Czech Republic. It’s testament to the production team’s skills in blending the two locations that the audience doesn’t notice.
Using data from Mollaka’s telephone Bond goes against orders and heads to the Bahamas to find his paymaster. He identifies his target: a terrorist named Dimitrios. He then seduces his estranged wife to get more information and follows him all the way to Miami Airport – where Dimitrios has hired a man to blow up an airliner on Le Chiffre’s behalf.
Shooting on the Bahamas brought EON Productions back to Paradise Island, using the same beach as Thunderball more than 40 years earlier. Bond’s walking out of the ocean and onto the beach was a direct riff on Ursula Andress’ famous entrance in Dr No – a scene already copied in the previous Bond film Die Another Day with Halle Berry’s entrance in Havana. Casino Royale’s costume designer Lindy Hemming said: ‘It’s a joke between all of us that there is often someone coming out of the sea in a Bond film and I said “well, if someone is coming out of the sea, they have to look as sexy as Ursula Andress.” And he was every bit as sexy in that scene as the girls ever are.’[xxix]
The Bahamas scenes effectively re-establish several of Bond’s perennial traits. He demonstrates skill at cards in beating Dimitrios and winning his car. That car is an Aston Martin, a recurring car brand in several of the more popular Bond films. He easily seduces and beds Solange (Caterina Murino), Dimitrios’ wife. He also leaves her as soon as she’s satisfied his needs, thus establishing the fact that – for all of his suave, often wise-cracking exterior – he is a cold and relatively callous professional.
Gunther von Hagen’s popular science exhibit Body Worlds was loaned to the production for the Miami scenes. It was transported and erected inside a Prague mausoleum. ‘The extras arrived in fur boots and big parkas,’ said Hemming. ‘We had to strip them off and make them wear shorts, sandals and t-shirts to look like Miami tourists.’[xxx] The group of bodies playing poker was constructed by the Casino Royale props department and inserted into von Hagen’s exhibition.
It is at the exhibition that Dimitrios hands over the bombing task to Carlos, a contracted bomber and last-minute replacement for Mollaka. Bond kills Dimitrios and follows Carlos to Miami Airport to stop his attack.
Original plans for the bombing involved an attack on a cruise liner, but these plans were abandoned when the idea didn’t generate enough ideas for an action sequence. Using an aeroplane instead allowed for a fast-paced punch-up in a fuel truck as it races along a runway.
The airport sequence was shot at Prague airport, with additional shots made at an air field in Surrey. Méheux applied extensive blue lights at both locations to give the scenes a similar look to Michael Mann’s 1995 heist drama Heat.
This blending of locations into single scenes or sequences was something Casino Royale did a lot during production. It is a remarkable feat of filmmaking that as viewers we never notice the changes. The blending of locations not only required careful planning and editing, but also an enormous number of digital effects. In pre-production Casino Royale was expected to contain 80 computer-generated effects; the final film included more than 550.
Bond returns to the Bahamas, where an unimpressed M reveals that Dimitrios’ employers tortured Solange for information and then killed her. It’s an interesting scene. Exploiting woman to gain intelligence is a relatively commonplace activity in Bond films, but in this case we – and Bond – are forced to note the consequences of this sort of activity. He exploited Solange, and in turn she was brutally murdered. It is an unexpected complication of the Bond formula, as if just for a moment the writers and director wanted to poke at a wound and remind the audience it’s supposed to hurt. Casino Royale contains much of the glamour and escapism that made James Bond such a popular screen character, but it also contains several moments that leaven or even puncture that illusion. It creates a far richer character as a result, albeit one a little more morally compromised.
Bond would be sent home in disgrace, except that he is MI5’s most talented card player. He is sent to the glamorous Casino Royale in Montenegro, accompanied by a British treasury agent named Vesper Lynd. Since the airliner was not blown up, Le Chiffre’s investments have resulted in a disastrous loss. To recover the missing funds before the world’s most dangerous terrorists and criminal overlords come looking for it, he has set up a high-stakes poker game with a US$10 million dollar buy-in. Bond is sent to gamble against him, ensure he loses the money, and then offer him amnesty with MI5 in return for information on the world’s terrorists.
Sourcing a location for the titular Casino Royale proved difficult. After attempts to find a location in Croatia failed, an old spa building in the Czech town of Karlovy Vary doubled for the Hotel Splendide and its attached casino. As the building was in a state of disrepair, a local preservation group collaborated with EON Productions to restore its façade in time for the Casino Royale shoot.
In Fleming’s novel Bond played Le Chiffre at baccarat. By 2006 that game had fallen out of favour, with popular culture leaning towards games such as poker. Casino Royale accommodated this change by altering the game to Texas Holdem Poker; the simpler rules made it easier for the audience to follow the action through the film’s three key gambling sequences.
Campbell deliberately varied the camera movements between the three gambling scenes, to better differentiate the specific drama of each scene – and to prevent the film from becoming boring.
Between rounds Le Chiffre returns to his suite, only to find Obanno waiting for him. When Bond and Vesper accidentally interrupt Obanno and his men in the hotel corridor, the encounter turns into a vicious gun and knife-fight down several flights of stairs.
The stairwell was a fully constructed four-story set, tailor-made to allow for better lighting through a series of false frosted glass windows. The scene used hand-held camera work to get as close as possible to the action. ‘It’s much more immediate and horrible when you get the camera right in there,’ said Campbell.[xxxi]
All of the action sequences in Casino Royale are carefully varied in terms of tone and content. The Madagascar chase was a dizzying exercise in brightly-lit athletics and acrobatics. The Miami sequence was a slick vehicular chase shot in cold, dark blues and blacks. Here we get a very close-quarter and extremely vicious fight. Bond gets badly cut up, Obanno and his men are messily killed, and Vesper – in another moment quite uncharacteristic of Bond films – is visibly traumatised by the whole experience.
Bond finds Vesper crouched under her hotel room shower, soaked to the skin while still dressed in her evening gown. He doesn’t say a word: he just sits down next to her under the water, comforts her and delicately sucks the blood off two of her fingers. It’s a strange and rather disturbing moment, on the one hand remarkably intimate and on the other weirdly creepy. It’s almost as if it’s the first time Bond has ever actually had to comfort someone, and the only way he knows how is to make vague and inappropriate sexual overtures. It is one of the film’s oddest and most striking moments.
During the shoot Daniel Craig actually sucked blood off all four of Eva Green’s fingers, but in post-production it was decided the shoot looked too creepy, and so digital effects were used to remove two fingers and create a slightly less off-putting moment.
Back at the casino Le Chiffre manages to bluff Bond out of the game. A desperate Bond prepares to murder Le Chiffre rather than bring him into custody, only to be stopped by one of the other players – CIA agent Felix Leiter (Jeffrey Wright).
While the character of Leiter was invented by Fleming in the original Casino Royale novel, he proved to have remarkable longevity in EON’s movie franchise. He appeared in Dr No in 1962, despite not appearing in the novel on which that film was based, and subsequently turned up in seven other Bond movies. His last appearance before the Casino Royale film was in Licence to Kill (1989).
In this case Leiter was played by noted American actor Jeffrey Wright. Wright first gained fame on Broadway, where he was awarded a Tony for his performance in Angels in America. His first notable film role with in the title role of the biographical film Basquiat, which he followed up with a range of popular performances in Woody Allen’s Celebrity, Ang Lee’s Ride with the Devil and Shaft.
Wright provides a remarkably fresh angle to a character that, despite being played by a different actor in almost every appearance (only Wright and David Hedison ever played the role twice), has always seemed a fairly limited foil for Bond. Leiter has only ever existed as a mechanism to push Bond’s narrative forward, but at least in Wright’s hands he gets a fairly distinctive and appealing personality – one that he enhances and develops in Casino Royale’s 2008 sequel Quantum of Solace.
With the CIA’s funds Bond successfully defeats Le Chiffre at the card table. He celebrates his win with Vesper in the resort’s restaurant. She steps out and doesn’t return. When he follows, he sees her being bundled by men into a car and driven away. He gives pursuit, suddenly sees her lying on the road in front of him, swerves to avoid her and crashes his car. The car crash, which required Bond’s Aston Martin to flip eight times before coming to a stop, broke the world record for a stunt of its type.
When Bond wakes he is tied naked to a wicker chair and has his genitals beaten by Le Chiffre with a tied-off length of rope. It’s a highly unexpected scene: while it adapts a scene from Fleming’s novel, it’s not a scene one would expect from the confident, swaggering superhero version of Bond depicted in the EON films. It’s wince-inducing to watch, but also unexpectedly funny. Writers, director and actors have managed to make what could have been an appalling scene of torture into a genuinely entertaining scene. Even more unusual is that Bond does not escape this situation himself: he only survives because Mr White shoots Le Chiffre, and can’t be bothered to kill Bond himself.
Bond recovers from his injuries, wires through the casino winnings to its owners, pronounces his love for Vesper and resigns from MI5. They travel to Venice, and just after Vesper leaves their hotel room Bond is called by M: the money that was wired never arrived. Vesper has stolen it.
Here we enter Casino Royale’s second climax, as Bond follows Vesper through the city before engaging in a gunfight with her handlers – she was working for Mr White’s organisation all along – in a sinking villa. To ensure Eva Green stood out in the frame as Bond followed her through Venice, the costume department deliberately dressed the extras in muted colours. As the only person wearing red, Green was immediately more visible – even from a distance.
The villa interior was built at Pinewood studios. A complex mechanical rig allowed the set to both sink 20 feet into the water and tilt on an angle. Due to difficulty attaching lights to the moving rig, much of the scene was lit via enormous skylights in the set’s ceiling.
Exterior shots of the collapsing villa were created using a 25 foot tall model inside an outdoor water tank. Location shots using extras in Venice were composited into the shoots to complete the illusion.
This second climax does strain the film somewhat. It is an ultimately satisfying sequence, and ties up much of the plot rather neatly, but at the same time the film’s running length was already considerable. Adding the Venice sequences helps to increase that duration to an intimidating 144 minutes, making Casino Royale the longest James Bond film in the series. While the narrative requires the scenes to exist, one wonders if a few judicial cuts could have been made earlier in the film – particularly during Bond’s post-torture convalescence – so as not to strain the patience once events reached this point.
While the climax extends the film a little too far, the denouement is a pure delight. Mr White arrives at an unidentified lakeside villa, takes a call on his mobile phone and is promptly shot in the leg. As he struggles to reach the villa’s front door, his assailant calmly walks up from behind and introduces himself: ‘Bond. James Bond.’ The iconic Bond theme kicks into gear, and the film cuts to credits.
Daniel Craig is deliberately clothed in a blue variation of one of Sean Connery’s more noted James Bond costumes. The combination of the famous suit, the legendary introductory dialogue and the world-famous musical score announce definitively that James Bond – the James Bond with whom audiences have watched for more than four decades – has finally arrived. It’s a tremendously satisfying moment.
For the closing credits David Arnold played the Bond theme personally with an electric guitar. ‘It was my reward after working for 10 weeks, 17 hour days writing the score,’ he joked.[xxxii]
Despite the overwhelming success of Casino Royale, Martin Campbell declined an offer to return and direct its sequel. ‘It is always the same story,’ he said, ‘about Bond stopping a nutcase taking over the world and you can only blow up a control room so many times.’[xxxiii] The sequel, Quantum of Solace, was ultimately directed by Marc Forster, and took the unique step of being the first direct sequel in Bond movie history. The emotional ramifications of Casino Royale needed to be played out in a follow-up movie, and that this sort of sequel was required at all is testament to the unprecedented depth and quality that Casino Royale brought to the franchise.
Casino Royale is, to my mind, one of the very best James Bond films – and certainly the best film in the franchise since Sean Connery retired from the role. It is not a reinvention of the character, since in all of the most critical aspects Bond remains the same character that he was all the way back in Dr No. Instead it is a redefinition: a careful sculpting of a well-worn icon, removing the elements that time and fashion have left behind and revealing a leaner, more effective character underneath.
[i] Briggon Snow, “Pierce Brosnan interview”, MI6: The Home of James Bond, 18 August 2014.
[ii] Aubrey Day, “Decade’s best: Casino Royale”, Total Film, 6 October 2009.
[iii] Sandro Monetti, “James Bond reborn”, Daily Express, 8 July 2012.
[iv] Michael Hainey, “Pierce Brosnan on how it all began – and how Bond ended”, GQ, 22 August 2014.
[v] Aubrey Day, “Decade’s best: Casino Royale”, Total Film, 6 October 2009.
[vi] Quoted in “Film writers who ‘rebuilt’ Bond”, BBC News, 17 November 2006.
[vii] Quoted in “The HMSS Interview with Neal Purvis and Robert Wade”, HMSS, 2007.
[viii] Jeff Otto, “Interview: Campbell on Casino Royale”, IGN, 19 October 2005.
[ix] Quoted in “The HMSS Interview with Neal Purvis and Robert Wade”, HMSS, 2007.
[x] Scott Foundas, “Paul Haggis”, Film Comment, November/December 2010.
[xi] Quoted in “Paul Haggis – First Person, Casino Royale”, Groucho Reviews, 11 June 2014.
[xii] Quoted in “In conversation with David Arnold (2)”, MI6: The Home of James Bond, 15 April 2007.
[xiii] Sandro Monetti, “James Bond reborn”, Daily Express, 8 July 2012.
[xiv] Quoted in Casino Royale production notes, EON Productions.
[xv] Victoria Lindrea, “Daniel Craig: the reluctant Bond”, BBC News, 14 November 2006.
[xvi] Quoted in “Casino Royale: in quotes”, BBC News, 16 November 2006.
[xvii] John Naughton, “Against the odds: Daniel Craig on playing 007”, GQ, November 2006.
[xviii] Caroline Frost, “A Royal Affair star Mads Mikkelsen reveals how becoming Bond villain Le Chiffre was ‘an anti-climax’”, Huffington Post, 13 June 2012.
[xix] Quoted in “Casino Royale: in quotes”, BBC News, 16 November 2006.
[xx] Quoted in “Casino Royale: in quotes”, BBC News, 16 November 2006.
[xxi] Victoria Lindrea, “Daniel Craig: the reluctant Bond”, BBC News, 14 November 2006.
[xxii] Jon Silberg, “High stakes for 007”, American Cinematographer, December 2006.
[xxiii] John Naughton, “Against the odds: Daniel Craig on playing 007”, GQ, November 2006.
[xxiv] Neil Alcock, “Casino Royale: A tale of two Daniels”, The Incredible Suit, 3 September 2012.
[xxv] Quoted in “In conversation with David Arnold (3)”, MI6: The Home of James Bond, 30 April 2007.
[xxvi] Quoted in “Chris Cornell on Casino Royale”, MI6: The Home of James Bond, 21 December 2006.
[xxvii] Quoted in Casino Royale production notes, EON Productions.
[xxviii] Quoted in Casino Royale production notes, EON Productions.
[xxix] Quoted in “Casino Royale costume designer interview – Lindy Hemming”, MI6: The Home of James Bond, 9 December 2006.
[xxx] Quoted in Casino Royale production notes, EON Productions.
[xxxi] Jon Silberg, “High stakes for 007”, American Cinematographer, December 2006.
[xxxii] Quoted in “In conversation with David Arnold (3)”, MI6: The Home of James Bond, 30 April 2007.
[xxxiii] Sandro Monetti, “James Bond reborn”, Daily Express, 8 July 2012.