Of all the James Bond books, Casino Royale happened to be the first one I read when I was in high school. I remember it was a boring summer, and after watching one of Roger Moore‘s outings (which I remember to be Moonraker), I wanted more. I also remember choosing it because it was the first of the series, and besides it wasn’t thick enough to overwhelm me.
Imagine my surprise then, when instead of the rather comical, space age type story I was expecting, I instead got a very intense, very serious story about a secret agent whom, while passionate about his work, was conflicted between it and the mutual attraction developing between him and British Treasury official Vesper Lynd. Deciding to pursue a quiet life with Lynd, a twist evolves when Lynd admits she is a double agent and commits suicide in order to spare him, leaving a note assuring him of her love. Bond is hurt and humiliated, but reveals later still his genuine feelings for her.
I was astonished at the difference, nay, contrariness of the movie and that precious book. Needless to say, I was also hooked. From sunup to sundown I couldn’t get enough of the suave, sophisticated but deeply hurting James Bond, whom with singleness of purpose pursued his enemies, while at the same time maintaining the cosmopolitan manner of a man of leisure. A nonchalant demeanor, wrapped in tailored suits and elegant fittings, belying the burning anger of a man who so wanted a quiet but complete life, with the woman he loved, but was robbed of this by monsters.
The difference, needless to say, from the movies is shocking, but that’s not to say I didn’t enjoy the James Bond of Moore, Timothy Dalton and Pierce Brosnan. Albeit different as night is to day, they were still entertaining.
Of course I approached this with trepidation. Didn’t they promise things would be different with Dalton and Brosnan? Isn’t that the same said for every James Bond movie? That all the gratuituous product placements, women as playthings, cliche upon vomit inducing cliche be finally put to an end? Could they pull it off? Would they even dare to, considering those movies made so much money anyway? I had already consigned to forever knowing who the real James Bond is, and that we may never see him on the celluloid screen.
Suffice to say, it does. After I watched it the first time, it took a while to sink in. So long actually, that it didn’t dawn on me immediately. However, after a day or two, I realized it’s true.
Casino Royale has managed to finally bring to life the James Bond I knew and idolized in my youth. The delay in realizing this took awhile, primarily because of the years that have passed, the lowered expectations from the other films, and many little nuances. First of all, James Bond is a Bentley man. Specifically, a blown (supercharged) Bentley, specially constructed for him. At the Casino, he and the protagonists played Baccarat (something like Lucky 9), instead of Texas Holdem Poker. And finally, Bond was tortured using some form of electricity, while in the movie a less sophisticated, but more obviously painful manner was used.
While poker seems out of place in the beautiful and suave Bahamas Casino, I suppose this is a concession due to its popularity. Bond also drives an Aston Martin DB9 (I am very serious about Bond’s cars so I pay attention to even this), but this is alright, inspite of the fact he merely succeeds in turning it over. I much enjoyed watching the dramatic scene where US Agent Felix Leiter bails him out of his initial loss to Le Chiffre by advancing him money “courtesy of Langley”, but in the movie (I think), Leiter gives him the money at the table, and not via the dramatic moments in the movie. The torture scene in this one was far more affecting. In fact, it was so good, I pity Pierce Brosnan’s own torture scene in Die Another Day which is comparably hilarious.
The most anticipated scenes to me, remain the ones wherein Craig displays the raw anger and hurt Ian Fleming‘s Bond feels, which drives him to his almost self destructive pursuit of SMERSH. Here, Craig delivers, but just. In scenes like these, Timothy Dalton would probably be best, delivering the cold “The bitch is dead.” line as only he can. That is where I think there is irony.
Brosnan, Dalton (and maybe) Moore are all capable actors, but all of them had the rotten luck of bad timing. Their Bonds were insincere adaptations of the real Bond I knew and loved. It would have been great to see Dalton display that pain, or Brosnan realize how good he looked in a suit in that delicious moment in his hotel room where Lynd left one for him to wear.
Casino Royale is a triumphant return to the real James Bond. I celebrate its arrival for that, and even more so at the fact that all the previous silliness has come to an end.
Pic of Bentley from James Bond’s Cars