NO TIME TO DIE, the 25th and latest Bond film debuts in April. It will be the last to star Daniel Craig. My marathon rewatch of all the movies now gets to his first appearance. The “blond Bond” was revealed to the world in 2006. How could they reinvent Bond for the post 911 era? Spoilers ahead…
In 2004 I went to see LAYER CAKE in the cinema. And what a good film it was. There are slight spoilers for that film in the next sentence. In one scene Daniel Craig’s character must shoot someone. He does, but the sequence following this is a montage where he deals with the psychological impact of the murder.
I loved the sequence, and while there is little “Bond-like” about it, I remember sitting there thinking: this guy could be James Bond. And I was right. Of course, I told no-one at the time and can’t prove it. But I thought it. Trust me.
When Craig was announced as Bond some people lost their minds a little. These “fans” were terribly upset that Bond could be blond and wrote into their favourite newspapers to complain.
The gritty black and white pre-title sequence demands your attention immediately. A middle-aged gentleman returns to his office at night and Bond is waiting for him. The short scene crackles with tension as Bond has been sent there to deal with this British traitor.
This is intercut with a brutal flashback where we see Bond in an astonishing fight with a goon in public bathroom.
We learn that the traitor knows Bond and is unworried because the agent doesn’t have double-0 status – because you need two kills for that. Bond shoots the traitor. Of course, we realise that Bond now has two kills. He will now become a double 0 agent. It’s a reboot, done with style.
Bathroom fight ends as the goon, seemingly unconscious, tries to shoot Bond. Our hero turns and shoots and blam – we are the gun barrel. And Chris Cornell‘s theme kicks in.
YOU KNOW MY NAME
The theme tune didn’t thrill me at first, but I did like that the song was about the character of Bond. Of course, the song grew on me – it’s one of my favourites.
The main titles are also a departure, with Daniel Kleinman creating a wonderful opening full of highly stylised graphics riffing on the four suits and decks of cards. Very stylish and very classy.
I didn’t breathe for the first ten minutes of the film. Of course, that’s hyperbole. But it’s a fact that I didn’t blink once. For Bond pursuing the free-running bomber from the gambling arena through the jungle, the building site, the sickness-inducing punch up at the top of the crane, the raid on the embassy, the nose-break, the throwing of the bomber through the window, then the stand-off in the courtyard – was absolutely brilliant. It’s simply one of the best sequences of the franchise.
Bond breaks many rules in the opening sequence, betraying his impulsiveness, recklessness and disregard for authority and procedure. He’s a loose cannon. And his first scene with Judi Dench’s returning as M highlights this, and leaves her worried that she has promoted him too soon.
Le Chiffre is the name of the villain from the source novel and is played magnificently by Mads Mikkelsen. His scar and blood-weeping eye make him visually memorable (remember, disfigurement means evil, right?) but his low key and deeply sinister performance are perfect, especially against this new less-than-polished Bond.
Le Chiffre is a banker, a money man, who invests huge sums for his various clients, usually making profits for everyone. He meets with an African revolutionary (Isaach de Bankolé) at the start and is entrusted with loads of dollars. We also get a glimpse of a mysterious man (Jesper Christensen). More about him later.
Bond, having hacked M’s laptop, has traced a message on the bomber’s phone to a hotel in the Bahamas, so heads there to investigate. And we even get a bit of Spy Time as he works his way into the security room of the hotel to find the person at the other end of the phone. He then charms the receptionist in order to find out that man’s name.
Bond joins residents for a card game where the phone man Dimitrios (Simon Abkarian) is playing and soon wins the pot – and the man’s car (Aston Martin DB5, of course). He also charms Dimitrios’ wife Solange (Caterina Murino).
Bond tails Dimitrios to a museum in Florida to pass a bag to another goon. Tonight is the unveiling of a new super plane, and they are about to blow it apart before it leaves the ground. Le Chiffre’s plan is simple. Bet on the plane’s failure, invest the African revolutionaries’ money, and everyone profits.
Bond’s airport chase is sensational. He pursues this new bomber on foot across the tarmac, then uses aeroplane steps to leap onto the bad guys truck. There is a Stagecoach/ Raiders of the Lost Ark/ Licence to Kill style fight on, in, hanging off and falling off the truck as baggage trucks, buses, and police cars are destroyed. Bond succeeds in stopping the truck before it hits the super plane, but the goon still has the trigger switch. Bond had managed to remove the device from the truck and attach it to the back of the goon’s trousers. Ouch.
The composer returns for the fourth time and the score is excellent – full of huge exciting set pieces and smaller beautiful moments. It is one of his best. Yet not my favourite.
Having lost so much in Miami, Le Chiffre has organised a high stakes card game at Casino Royale in Montenegro. So Bond is sent there to take part, to win, and to keep the villain from succeeding.
On the train, Bond meets Vesper Lynd (Eva Green), who is responsible for the money he will gamble with. The dialogue in this scene is great, and all credit to Neal Purves, Robert Wade and Paul Haggis. The story and the dialogue are just so smart.
MATHIS, VESPER AND THE PERFECT BOND
The local contact is Rene Mathis played by Giancarlo Giannini, and his quietly amusing performance compliments those of Craig and Green. I’d suggest that a cocktail of Vesper’s smart humour and assertiveness, Mathis’ knowledge and dogged determination and Bond’s blunt and brutal efficiency combined would make an awesome 00 agent. Sadly Bond doesn’t have all those characteristics yet – and a shadow would soon fall over both these characters, pushing Bond towards another aspect of his future personality – cold, untrusting and unemotional.
The writers dispel any fears that the game could get boring by interspersing the card action with intrigue, Le Chiffre fooling Bond with a fake “tell”, Bond being poisoned and almost killed, and a frightening staircase fight when the very upset African revolutionaries appear to demand their money from Le Chiffre.
THE IMPORTANCE OF VESPER
It is Vesper to orders a custom tuxedo for Bond – his first. He takes quiet pleasure in checking himself out in the mirror.
It is Vesper who gives as good as she gets. It is Vesper’s breakdown in reaction to the staircase violence that has Bond care. His protectiveness as they sit fully clothed in the shower.
She is the one too brings him back to life with the defibrillator in his car (gadget!). He even names his improvised vodka martini after her. (And later, her name is a significant password).
Bond: Vodka martini.
Barman: Shaken or stirred?
Bond: Do I look like I give a damn?
A SPECIAL RELATIONSHIP
As the infuriated and humiliated Bond starts to lose it, and strides after Le Chiffre with a butter knife, he is stopped by another player – a Felix Leiter from the CIA. He has been at the game for reasons like Bond but realises Bond is a better player. He offers Bond his gambling money – the two agencies working together. The brilliant Jeffrey Wright is so effortlessly cool here.
Bond ultimately wins the money. Game over. Well, not quite. And it is here that some mysterious spy shenanigans start that still confuses after all my viewings of the film.
Vesper leaves to report in. Bond suddenly suspects Mathis as a double agent. Vesper is grabbed off the street and Bond pursues.
TO THE RIGHT
In a smart adaptation of the torture scene from the novel, Bond is naked and tied to a wooden chair which has had the seat cut out. Why many of us asked. Then wished we hadn’t. For Le Chiffre wants the password to access Bond’s casino winnings, and by twanging a big old knotted rope under the seat, is giving Bond’s double 0’s a battering. Screaming in pain, Bond tells him that the itch in his balls is to the right!
Suddenly we hear a commotion outside of the room (Vesper is being held nearby). Someone comes into the room. Le Chiffre is shot dead in the head. It’s not just his eye weeping blood now.
Bond is recovering in a gorgeous lakeside clinic. Mathis appears but is zapped and dragged off by MI6 agents. Wait. Stop. What? He’s working with Le Chiffre? But that doesn’t make sense? Does it?
Vesper appears and seems so happy then the banker from the casino rushes up to get Bond to access his password to release his winnings. Password was, of course, VESPER. And so the British government get their money back.
Bond and Vesper than get frisky on his hospital bed. His double 0’s must have healed then.
TIME TO RESIGN
On a yacht entering Venice Bond emails his resignation to M. He is besotted with Vesper and they are now about to run off and somehow live in luxury with no discernible means of supporting themselves.
In their hotel, Vesper gets a text and decides to head out to get munchies for their trip. Bond realises she left her phone and looks at it, something is wrong. And then M calls wondering when they’ll get their money back.
Bond learns that the winnings are being withdrawn in Venice and realises that Vesper is up to no good. He spots a flash of red in the crowd and follows her. Vesper is handing her case to some bad guys when it gets all shooty.
THE HOUSE FALLS
The final action scene is when Bond chases them into an empty building. The huge yellow flotation devices that are holding the building afloat are riddled with bullets and the building starts to sink. Vesper is submerged in a rickety elevator and when Bond’s tries to release her she locks it and moves back. Her drowning convulsions are awful to watch.
We see the mystery man watching from nearby, before he walks off, carrying the case full of the casino money.
M then goes all Basil Exposition from Austen Powers by explaining that Vesper had been compromised when her boyfriend was taken and was used as leverage.
Bond replies with the shocking last line from the book:
Bond: … The Bitch is dead.
But M reminds him that Vesper left her phone for him to find – she obviously wanted to do the right thing.
We cut to another gorgeous Italian lake vista. A car pulls up, and a man gets out. It is the man from the start. The man who shot Le Chiffre. The man who watched Bond’s attempts to resuscitate Vesper.
His phone rings.
Bond’s voice “Mr White?”
White: “Who is this?”
Pop. White is shot in the leg. He painfully drags himself to the steps as Bond, impeccably tailored and carrying a huge gun stands over him. He switches Vesper’s phone off.
“My name’s Bond. James Bond.”
And as your Bond fan brain explodes at the closing line, David Arnold rips the remains of your head off with the dirtiest brassiest version of the Bond theme, used for the first time at the end of the film.
This is a wonderful, exciting, accessible reboot of the franchise. it is so totally unexpected that it still surprises. The producers excelled themselves and Martin Campbell delivered ANOTHER revitalisation of the movies after his success with GoldenEye.
The cast is excellent, the dialogue is delicious, and the action is breath-taking. The editing by Stuart Baird MAKES the action sequences.
For me, it’s not perfect. Even as a fan of the films, and of spy thrillers in general, the convoluted nature of the third act still frustrates me. When exactly did Vesper “turn”? Is Mathis bad? If so, WHY did Bond suspect him. Why did Vesper not just explain her predicament to Bond? Leaving her phone deliberately behind seems a bit weak? And why does she lock the elevator cage door and back off, to watch the new love of her life struggle to save her?
Even so. This film is a triumph and fans were wondering what would come next.
|Produced by: EON Productions
Presented By: Michael G Wilson and Barbara Broccoli
Director: Martin Campbell
Screenplay: Neal Purvis, Robert Wade and Paul Haggis
Composer: David Arnold
“You Know My Name” by Chris Cornell
Production Design: Peter Lamont, Simon Wakefield
Cinematography: Phil Méheux
Editor: Stuart Baird
London Premiere November 2006
Isaach de Bankolé