Published Dec 04, 2012With the later Brosnan Bond installments having a commercialized staleness that inevitably comes with reiterating a concept to the point of self-satire, the decision to reinvent the franchise and establish a new timeline unrelated to the preceding films was both necessary and welcome. And seeing as the last 007 mission to receive both critical and commercial praise was GoldenEye, which similarly reinvented the franchise in a post-Cold War political climate, Martin Campbell, the director of that film, was brought back to help Daniel Craig—the blonde Bond—jump into the intimidating role with an entirely different, more tortured and vulnerable, approach.
It proved to be just what the series needed, presenting deeper thematic complexity with a more character driven, realistic, approach to the larger than life action. Even the pre-credit sequence eschewed the standard whore-y chase sequence for a low key, black and white, retelling of Bond's first dabble with taking a life, something far more disturbing and heavy than any other 007 film might imply.
It set the stage for a story about lost innocence, wherein Bond falls in love with British treasury agent Vesper Lynd (Eva Green) while trying to defeat terrorist financer Le Chiffre (Mads Mikkelsen) at a high stakes game of poker. Intended to recoup the finances lost after a financially motivated attack on a Skyfleet airliner at a Miami airport fails, the poker hands and occasional stairwell battle take up most of the action, with the rest of the story focusing on Bond and Lynd's blossoming romance.
This subtler approach to the material, showing a more impulsive and less confident Bond wear his emotions closer to the surface, gave the narrative a dramatic heft rarely present in the series leading up to that point. Similarly, Vesper Lynd's guarded, intelligent, disposition was a rarity for a series keen on depicting women as either femme fatales, or weak, stupid bimbos.
And since Casino Royale works as a character introduction and an origin story of sorts—explaining Bond's cold, calculated and smooth Playboy presentation—the tragedy of it all is inevitable.
While ballsy—taking a testosterone-fuelled series and reinventing it with an entirely emotional arc—this 21st Bond film works on a devastating dramatic level, making human what was previously a garish martini-drinking cliché. It also set the stage for the deconstructionist, impeccably assembled and intensely choreographed Skyfall.
Casino Royale screens at the TIFF Bell Lightbox as part of the Shaken, Not Stirred: Bond on Film retrospective at 2:45pm on December 8th, 2012 & 7pm on December 30th, 2012. (MGM / Sony)