...thought it might be fun to look through the screenplay of the forthcoming James Bond movie, CASINO ROYALE.
You know, the Bond film that reboots the whole damn franchise? The one that casts LAYER CAKE’s Daniel Craig as James Bond? You can CLICK HERE to find some behind-the-scenes footage from the movie.
Before reading this script, I wasn’t sure what to think about this project. I found the notion of a Bond reboot compelling, not entirely necessary – and potentially very dangerous. Beginning the franchise anew brings with it so much baggage, and so many expectations, the undertaking seemed both an inconceivable and thankless job.
Having read the script, I’m still not sure what to think. Many of its elements are quite successful, but they're not enough to overshadow what doesn't work. If I had to guess, I’d say “this reboot” was ill-advised. In the hands of an artist, perhaps it could work. But CASINO ROYALE is directed by Martin Campbell (GOLDENEYE, the ZORO movies), who I find a capable…but rarely inspired…filmmaker.
The script is surprising in many ways, but it was also disappointing. The James Bond character has been dramatically refined, yet some of the same issues plaguing the franchise (blah, uninteresting villains) persist. The action has been dialed down – brutal, hand-to-hand combat now preferred to gargantuan set pieces. The smartness of this decision hinges solely on how the picture is directed in terms of tone and subtext.
CASINO ROYALE is very immediate. It does not “feel” like a BOURNE movie, as some have feared. However, its intimate scope and emotionally driven plot certainly do evoke BOURNE sensibilities. This is a more twisty & turny kind of Bond…it’s sometimes hard to know who to trust and who to doubt, who to turn to and who to kill.
More on all of this below.
But, before we go on…
THERE ARE MAJOR SPOILERS BELOW THIS POINT!!!
DO NOT PROGRESS FURTHER IF YOU WISH TO REMAIN UNSPOILED ABOUT CASINO ROYALE!!!
THIS IS THE LAST SPOILER WARNING. TURN BACK NOW OR FOREVER HOLD YOUR PEACE!!!
WHO WROTE THIS?
Neal Purvis and Robert Wade (THE WORLD IS NOT ENOUGH, DIE ANOTHER DAY, STONED), and Paul Haggis (CRASH).
WHAT’S IT ABOUT?
A bad guy named Le Chiffre is, essentially, a banker for terrorism around the world. Bond thwarts a particular bomb plot, causing money problems for Le Chiffre, who launches an ultra-high-stakes card game to reclaim his lost fortune. Bond infiltrates the game in an effort to bring down Le Chiffre. It’s “gamble against terrorism!”
WHAT DO YOU MEAN BY “REBOOT”? THEY’RE STARTING OVER?
Yes – they’re starting over.
We meet a Bond who is nowhere near as experienced or refined as previous incarnations of the character.
For example, we see this Bond actually earn his “Double 0” status – via two assassinations which go down in a pre-title sequence. One “0” for each person dropped = “00”. We even see Bond’s “007” ID being forged in the bowels of MI6 as part of the film’s opening titles.
This Bond isn’t used to killing…but it’s part of his job. There’s no glory in it for him, though – he’s haunted and even distracted by the ugliness of death. More on this element later.
Also, the universe he inhabits is much more…I hesitate to use the word…”realistic” than it was before; the story is grounded in a far less stylized world than previous Bonds.
SO, HOW “REAL WORLD” IS THIS NEW BOND?
M: When they analyzed the stock market after 9/11, the CIA discovered there had been massive shortings of airline stocks. When the stocks hit bottom on 9/12, someone made a fortune.
Or…when nearly everything is going wrong that can go wrong with Bond’s mission…
M: Christ I miss the Cold War.
GONE is nearly any visage of over the over-the-top action sequences we’ve come to expect from James Bond movies. There are a few large-scale set pieces, but they feel a tad derivative. They’re fine enough, but they’re oddly familiar.
An elaborate chase through (and around) a crowded airport has a DIE HARD sensibility. Bond chasing a bomber onto the scaffolding of a construction site evokes the Statue of Liberty sequence from REMO WILLIAMS: THE ADVENTURE BEGINS. Are these familiar because we’re conditioned to expect bombastic shenanigans from Bond movies…and anything less is jarring? Or, is the over-the-top nature of (many of the) previous films, in actuality, a critical component of this concept’s personality? Is Bond, simply, too closely associated with excess to divorce itself from it?
If this is the case, perhaps it’s “too soon” for CASINO ROYALE?
WHERE DO THEY GO IN THIS MOVIE?
Prague. Pakistan. Uganda. London. Nassau. Miami. Alps. Montenegro (where the Casino Royale is located). Venice.
WHAT ELEMENTS OF “CLASSIC” BOND ARE RETAINED?
During Bond’s first kill, there is a shot looking OUT through the barrel of the gun held by his prey. Bond spins and shoots his victim…shooting “us”. The iconic “gun barrel”…Bond spinning to shoot at the camera…and the resultant flow of blood we know as the franchise’s graphical intro is now implied to be the James Bond’s first “0”…his first kill.
Monty Norman’s Bond theme music is referenced in the final moments of the script.
007 does introduce himself as “Bond, James Bond.” Once…unexpectedly.
Bond’s tuxedo. But he’s not used to Tuxedos; it’s a big moment for the character when he gets one. He likes the way he looks in it; sizes himself up proudly in the mirror…spinning back to check himself out again…to make sure he looks as good as he thinks he does. He seems almost…proud. There’s a “working class” quality to his reaction…someone who isn’t used to having nice things suddenly has something nice.
WHAT SURPRISED YOU THE MOST ABOUT THIS SCRIPT?
Its humanity. In many ways, this feels like a drama that is also a spy movie.
For better or for worse, this James Bond is a very human, extremely flawed, and utterly sympathetic character. There is no stoicism here, no square-jawed resolve. He’s lost, and alone. M is implied to be a mother figure for him, as well as a safe-haven - though neither is clearly stated. And Bond could use a little help, because CASINO ROYALE sends him through the ringer – physically and emotionally – over and over again.
This Bond is barely holding himself together. He seems like something of a cannonball…bouncing from adventure to adventure, place to place…as if looking for something bad to happen to him. One scene finds Bond marching towards a villain (and his henchmen) with a knife palmed from a dinner table; he’s going to take on three armed men at once with one shitty knife. The narrative describes how Bond knows this is suicide, but he’s doing it anyway.
Bond has enormous difficulty being close to anyone; he’s also a bit cynical. When trying to pick-up the hot wife of a man he’s observing, the woman indicates that her husband would be too upset if she went with Bond.
SOLANGE: I’m afraid I’m not that cruel.
BOND: Perhaps you’re just out of practice.
But, deep down inside, Bond truly, deeply wants to connect with someone. He simply has too many doubts, too much fear, is plagued by too much insecurity, and wears too much armor for this to happen. He systematically pursues attached (or married) women because he feels it’s cleaner…more base. VESPER LYND breaks through all of this – becomes someone for whom Bond is willing to leave behind the only world he’s ever known.
VESPER: You love me?
BOND: Enough to quit and float around the world with you, until one of us has to get an honest job. Think it will have to be you, I don’t think I know what an honest job is.
The final quarter of CASINO ROYALE is a love story. It’s a story of two people who are trying to leave an uncertain, violent reality they're simply unable to cope with any longer. They want to look for something new; they want to build something new.
CR’s emotional arc is about Bond learning that the greatest strength of all is not one’s ability to kill…and not keeping the people who care about us at bay. It's allowing ourselves to trust - and to love. Alas, it’s also about the potentially disastrous consequences of doing so. The plotline here is quite nihilistic…and almost cruel…in its treatment of Bond. It repeatedly condemns his bitterness and paranoia as weaknesses to be discarded, then turns around and reinforces (and even justifies) his misgivings in very painful ways. When we last see Bond, he’s more angst ridden, more bitter, and less trusting than ever before. And, again, he is very much alone.
BESIDES THE CHARACTER DRIVEN DRAMA, WHAT ELSE IS “DIFFERENT” HERE?
CASINO ROYALE’s treatment of violence.
This is an extremely violent script, but the violence is neither glorified nor sanitized. A great deal of blood is specified; death is not pretty. Reference is made to disposing of the bodies…the carnage resulting from 007’s shenanigans is a plot point.
An effective sequence finds Vesper in the shower after a brutal fight in which she and James killed a bad guy. She has blood under her fingernails and can’t get them clean. In shock and disbelief, she just sits down in the shower, naked. Blankly…far away. Bond comes into the bathroom, notes her torment. He helps her wash the blood from her hands (he’d cleaned his own hands earlier), then holds her closely. Not sexually – just closely – together in the “warm rain.”
Death in this newly defined Bond world is a grim necessity and inescapable reality. It'll be quite interesting to see how it’s handled on-screen…in both execution and aftermath.
Also of note: A great deal of “nudity” is specified. Not gratuitous nudity, though. Bond is stripped naked for a torture scene involving testicles and a carpet beater, and there’s also “comfort” nudity – the kind of nudity shared when two people are in love (Bond and Vesper).
WHAT DO WE LEARN FROM THIS STORY THAT WE’VE NEVER LEARNED BEFORE?
At one point, Vesper sizes-up James in a way he does not dispute. She tells him he’s an orphan, who didn’t come from money (which caused problems for him at school), who only succeeded via the charity of others…hence the chip on his shoulder. I don’t believe this has been conveyed in previous films…if I missed something, please accept my apologies and feel free to correct me in the Talkbacks below.
A great deal of effort was clearly expended on developing the 007 character into a personae (Producers? Writers? Studios?) felt would be more accessible to modern audiences. So, why not throw multi-faceted villains into the mix as well? Why not really craft CASINO ROYALE into something unusual? Give our newly defined Bond some nicely realized big bads to face?
BOND THE RENEGADE. Another shortcoming is the script’s over-reliance on a truly tired conceit: Bond as a semi-renegade who M is constantly irritated by, doesn't 100% trust, but tolerates in order to get “X” job done. We’ve seen this shtick before in Bond, and we’ve seen it elsewhere. This kind of notion is a one-off at best, and should not be hammered in again and again. The script writers are trying to make 007 stories more plausible…yet advancing such a tired gimmick stretches plausibility to the breaking point.
DIALOGUE. There are some wonderfully written dialogue sequences that would require a few pages to accurately recount. Some smart, sharp, witty writing between Bond and Vesper in particular. But we also have to suffer through rather desperate attempts at coolness and wit. Examples:
LE CHIFFRE: Oh, but you are wrong! Because even after I have slaughtered you and the girl, your people will still welcome me with open arms!
This dude deserves to be shot on the merit of that line alone.
WILL THIS MOVIE BE ANY GOOD?
CASINO ROYALE is not the disaster some have feared. It is certainly uneven, and sometimes it’s uninspired. But it succeeds wildly in two unexpected areas: 1) This is an affective drama/love story, and 2) It successfully molds Bond into a new character, a new type of man – into someone I really liked. Although, I’m not sure this man should be called “James Bond”.
Which points to an interesting question: Who is James Bond to us? What does he mean? Will the masses embrace such a radical re-definition of an established cultural icon? Or, will they kick him to the curb – desiring someone tried and true? To me, “classic” Bond embodies the qualities we all wish we could possess. He’s cool, capable, confident, attractive, driven, smart, and fearless – but he’s not indomitable, not unbreakable, and not without compassion, gentility, and love.
If this is assessment is correct (which it may not be), will anyone out there want to be this new Bond? My hunch says, “No.” Why would we aspire to be insecure, uncertain, a little crazed, a lot frustrated, and quite lonely and sad? The new Bond is a great character, and may well work on the level of a John Carpenter anti-hero, but I’m guessing audiences’ heads will explode in spectacular, gooey unison when they realize how little of the Bond they know is recognizable in this new incarnation.
The “drama” in this story could work quite well if the film makers care enough, and are brave enough, to play it for all it’s worth. Real people (tired people) in a visceral world of deceit and ultra-violence, simply trying to find normality (and peace) could play quite nicely if performed honestly, and helmed bravely.
But this needs to go all the way…and needs to be strong…if it’s going to work. By “all the way”, I mean a hard R rating . Uncompromising. Unforgiving. Shock us. Put us into the world Bond and Vesper inhabit - the world they want to abandon. Make us want them to find something better.
Then…this might be very cool. Anything less could play as desperate, frustrating, awkward, half-assed, and even cheesy.
In the end, such mammoth changes were completely unnecessary – they aren’t required to bring a franchise a healthy shot of adrenaline or freshness. J.J. Abram’s MISSION: INPOSSIBLE III is a perfect example of this: The movie simply shifts M:I's focus to its characters, instead of starting from scratch. It gives emotional resonance to the action we’re watching – instead of settling for mere spectacle. These differences are often simple and subtle, but they are profound, and fall nicely in line with what this new Bond could have been.
We’ll see whether we end up shaken, stirred, or both, on November 17...