The podcast that has helped me get through the last few months, replacing the sports-related shows that would usually be earning my listens, has been The Rewatchables on the Ringer network. It has given me a much-needed escape on a near-daily basis. The premise is awesome for movie lovers like me: take a classic, break it down category by category, and talk about how great it is. As a long-time column writer in sports/entertainment, I enjoy taking cool visual or audio concepts and trying to replicate them in written form. So, during a recent replay of Daniel Craig’s first Bond movie, I thought it would be fun to do my take on the Rewatchables, called the Rewindables, which borrows in tribute many of the same categories that make the podcast so perfect for me. The following is a discussion of Casino Royale.
Most Rewatchable Scene
Option A: The Chase in Madagascar – My goodness what a way to kick off the movie. Craig put one of his many stamps on the franchise when he showed us what Bond looked like in relative youth, first starting out with his license to kill. The cool factor was toned down slightly in favor of a more rugged version, athletic enough to keep pace with a Parkour wizard who happened to be in possession of something that Bond was after. The scene surely tops the list of most aesthetically engaging action set-pieces in Bond film lore. In ten minutes, Bond and the Madagascar(an?) took a foot race from the ground to the extraordinary heights of a massive crane, then back down again, with the scene hitting its climax via one of the ultimate Bond moments that surely gets mentioned among enthusiasts who get together and have conversations about it: surrounded by six (ish) guards, he shoots both Master of Parkour and a large gas tank, which exploded to allow him an escape. This has to be the frontrunner for most rewatchable scene, even though it happens in the first 20-minutes of the best emotionally acted, most genuine Bond performance ever.
Option B: The Save at Miami Dade – Another terrific action scene, highlighted first by a silent knife duel in the middle of a crowded terminal, won by Bond of course but in memorable fashion given the subtleties required to pull it off so well. 2006 Daniel Craig made 007 seem like a super soldier who could run like a cheetah, a trait again put on display in a chase, this time trying to catch a key chain bomb before it blows up a gas truck. Emphasizing the influence of the early 2000s Jason Bourne series on Royale, Bond wins another slick fighting sequence with confined movements (in a moving vehicle’s front seat). I would say that scenes like this exemplify one of the two primary things that makes me prefer Craig’s first take on the character above all the rest in 50 years of Bond: it was a fresh concept, Bond as cool and relatable but also a total badass.
I watched this movie with my dad a couple of years before he died. I had seen every previous Bond film with him and all of the Brosnan-led movies with him in the theater. My love of movies comes courtesy of my father, and though we weren’t always on the same page in the final decade of his life about cinematic tastes, this one we agreed on. He always had a soft spot for Connery, but on this we were in agreement: Craig was “The Man” here. I got a nice flashback to that conversation (I think it was Christmas ’09 or the weekend of the Ryder Cup in 2008) while rewatching on this occasion.
Option C: Getting Too Emotionally Attached – This is part action scene, part dramatic interlude. The fight scene in the stairwell while Vesper watches on and tries to stay out of the way is every bit as intense in hand to hand combat as it is in the desperation feel offered by their descending the steps, often rather harshly. It is what follows immediately, however, that earns this powerhouse combo passage into such formidable competition for the award: Bond trying to shake off the emotional and physical wounds just endured with an award-winning expression and a double straight cocktail, then moments later comforting a terrified Ms. Lynd in just the kind of tender moment that his superiors at MI:6 want him to avoid. It is a psychologically diverse sub-ten-minutes. You wonder if they went so far into the development of his super spy psyche – that ultimately informs the cooler-than-cool nature of the character in the other films – knowing that they may have only had one shot to tell this Bond origin story in the way it was told in Royale. This was Bond at his most raw…
Option D: Poison; Shaken, Not Stirred – …well, actually maybe this was Bond at his most raw, sweating profusely as his body began to shut down from a lethal chemical agent. Craig truly painted his masterpiece in this movie, didn’t he? His near death portrayal never fails to suck you deep into the fiction on replay. Such is the advantage, I suppose, of plucking Bond from a more character-driven stage. It’s too subjective to properly compare the various actors who have played 007, but just in terms of the range of emotions this movie takes you through, all spear-headed by the leading man including the visually stunning action set-pieces, I think this is the most nuanced and versatile Bond we have seen to date. This is the part of proceedings when I readily admit to believing Royale is in a league of its own among the film series; everything else competes for the top of the second tier until proven otherwise. That he proceeds to best Le Chiffre, the villain who poisoned him, in the deciding hand of a high stakes poker game, is made all the more satisfying by way of the pulse-racing emergency immediately preceding the card game’s climax. The scene even features a classic Bond one-liner (“That last hand, it nearly killed me.”). Applause.
Winner in my opinion: Bond Wins Stairwell Fight, Cleans Up, Shows Heart (The chase through the streets of Madagascar is incredible, but what separates this movie from others in its genre is the emotional weight it carries)
Given to the principal players whose careers peaked with the movie in question, the Apex Mountain award winners for Casino Royale are as follows:
Daniel Craig – 1A with Sean Connery to many, and the outright best Bond to date in the eyes of folks like myself. Further viewings of Skyfall, which I have still only seen just the one time in the cinema but that currently holds the highest critical score among Craig’s Bond films, are needed I suppose, but Royale is a candidate in my opinion for one of the Top 25 most rewatchable movies of my lifetime, so I would call the 2006 movie Crag’s apex (although his most viewed Bond portrayal was during the intro to the 2012 London Olympics, when he shared screen time with her majesty, the Queen).
Martin Campbell, director – Though not a name that immediately jumps to mind, Campbell has a solid IMDB profile, having been at the helm of Brosnan’s first foray into Bond and an underrated late ’90s classic, The Mask of Zorro. Critically, Royale holds a 95% rating on Rotten Tomatoes; commercially, it made $609 million against a $150 million budget. Part of the Apex Mountain exercise is to ask yourself, “When you think of this person, do you think of this movie?” Unquestionably, that has to be the case for Campbell and Royale.
Mads Mikkelsen – He has some similarities to Campbell in being successful but not a huge name. You could almost call him a candidate for the “That Guy” award given to the actor who you know from certain movies but cannot readily identify his name; in fact, let’s go ahead and give him the nod there. Here, he is rock solid as Le Chiffre, a memorable Bond villain who bleeds tears. His performance does not jump off the screen or anything, probably earning some extra credit merely by association with Craig’s “rising tide lifts all ships” dynamic, but Royale was Mads’s highest profile role. His 2012 Cannes Film Festival Best Actor award would mean more to him, but fans of the big screen most associate him with Le Chiffre.
“Bond Girls” – Eva Green is tremendous and arguably up for Apex Mountain, as well, but she has been nominated for a Golden Globe for another role. Nevertheless, she is so formidable, verbally dressing down Bond and standing up to him with her own brand of confidence and charisma. At the right moment in history, Green helped reshape the perception of women in Bond movies. Her screen presence and chemistry with Craig combine for some of the most affecting scenes in franchise lore. She just took it to another level and the concept of the “Bond Girl” has greatly benefited from it.
I flirted with putting the Bond franchise on Apex Mountain, but there are too many variables to make that statement without far more thought put into it than I have thus far given.
Best “Heat Check” Performance
Awarded to the actor/actress who makes the most of limited screen time to add real value to the overall presentation, the only other candidate besides what I consider to be the obvious winner is Giancarlo Giannini as Mathis, the friend turned supposed foe most prominently featured in the casino scenes in Montenegro. Judi Dench as M is the choice clearly. She exudes “this is a powerful woman you don’t want to mess with” and makes the movie about 10% better. Green could come back to the franchise at Dench’s age and play a version of M.
I think it would be safe to say that Craig and Royale elevated the franchise, financially and otherwise. It was bankable previously, but the 2006 edition started the momentum that peaked with Skyfall earning a worldwide box office haul of over $1 billion. Critically, there are many Bond films that have enjoyed immense success, but this stripped down, visceral version plays right to my tastes as a big screen enthusiast. I mentioned the more psychologically engaging scenes in the rewatchable category; I left off that list the interrogation, the “whatever is left of me, all I am, I’m yours,” and the Vesper’s demise scenes which themselves represent the extra emotional touches that set Royale apart. The legacy of the movie is that it humanized Bond while simultaneously showcasing him at his physical, ass-kicking zenith, creating a template for further character reinvention in the decade and a half since and setting a new standard for the franchise to live up to as we go deeper into the 21st century. It’s a gem.