The best scene in the history of Daniel craigThe soon-to-be-retired James Bond era has no action, no guns, no choppy or choppy martinis. It takes place on a train, in a dining car, at a table where Bond is about to meet the accountant in charge of firing him millions of dollars for a game of high stakes poker in Montenegro. In the Vesper Lynd walks (Eva Green), who sits down and says, “I am the money. Bond then engages him in a haughty flirtation, in which they argue over the ridiculousness of his poker plan and guess precisely why each thinks the other is an orphan. Typical foreplay.
It’s a powerful, witty, smoky little scene loaded with Green and Craig’s natural chemistry. And that’s one of the many reasons Casino Royale, realized by Martin campbell (of Golden eye) works so brilliantly. Dark romantic, gritty, and filled with talented supporting players, the 2006 film was a tough refresh for the franchise, presenting Craig in supreme style. In retrospect, now that No time to die—His last chapter as Bond — has come out, we can say with certainty that Casino Royale is the best Bond film of the era of Craig.
The film opens with Bond as the new 007, finally getting his license to kill and taking on a big mission: playing in a game of high stakes poker against Le Chiffre (Mads Mikkelsen), a desperate terrorist in search of money, whose wickedness is dramatized by a serious case of hemolacria, an illness that makes him cry with blood. Vesper follows the journey, holding the purse strings in case Bond needs more cash to hold on in the game or in case she needs to unplug the whole operation. It’s the nascent will of Vesper and Bond that ties the film together, their failed dialogue and traumatic bond more exciting than any action sequence.
But that said, Casino Royale is full of explosive and memorable action sequences, opening up to a black-and-white brawl in the bathroom between Bond and a henchman who Bond suffocates in a sink. Then there’s the hugely impressive parkour chase scene featuring Sébastien Foucan, a sequence of about seven minutes in which Bond pursues the character of Foucan on a construction site in Madagascar. Foucan is sleek and agile, climbing incredible heights and leaping from massive cranes. (Craig said the crane scene had changed his life for the better: “When I started Casino Royale I was afraid of heights. And after that, I wasn’t. The scene also shows the kill-at-all-cost mentality of the new 007; when Foucan does the impossible and rushes through a skinny crack in the wall, Bond follows by simply crossing the entire wall. Craig’s Bond was sleek enough to slip into elite circles, but was rough around the edges; a little hurt, a little vulnerable, but still ready for a fight.
But even with all that Craig brought to it, Casino Royale was a great case where everyone around Bond was just as interesting, if not more interesting, than him. Mikkelsen alone is one example, a brooding villain with a constant frown, whose idea of torture leans toward BDSM. Once his minions take hold of Bond, Le Chiffre takes his (naughty!) Revenge by stripping Bond and repeatedly hitting his balls, a franchise first. In real life, Mikkelsen and Craig both wanted the Bond Age scene to be even more “brutal and crazy”, before Campbell gently stopped them in their tracks, reminding them of the limits of Bondworld cinema.
Within those limits, however, Campbell found a way to fulfill the challenge of presenting a new Bond to the world, a difficult task in an increasingly precarious film industry. With each cycle, a new star needs to be carefully chosen and checked, wrung out to make sure it (and it looks like it will always be a he) can carry the decades-old franchise into the future. Given that Craig made subsequent payouts to billions of dollars at the box office, it’s now clear that he was the right fit for the job. But its run would have worked if the first film hadn’t worked, holding the promise of a new era to watch. Vesper may have been the money in Casino Royale, but, in reality, it was Craig from the start.
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