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Two Views from the Hotel Splendide

Analysis of Casino Royale, the Novel and the Film

[Casino Games] Casino Royale (1953), a novel by Ian Fleming.
Casino Royale (2006), 144 mins, directed by Martin Campbell.

By Ian Dunross
September 23, 2007

This essay contains spoilers of both the novel and the film.

1

Powered by the heavily marketed restart of the James Bond franchise, Daniel Craig debuts as a barely sentient 007 with a bowl haircut in Casino Royale, the 21st film in the series. Personally, I think the film should’ve been titled Hot Nights in Montenegro: The Spy Who Played Texas Hold ‘Em Poker. The film delves into a long sequence on this game and, as far as I could tell, suggests that Texas Hold ‘Em is the official national past time in Montenegro. Nevertheless, you’ve got to hand it to the filmmakers for addressing the fact that there is indeed intrigue in the world of Texas Hold ‘Em and that the popularity of the game, which has reached global frenzy, can no longer be ignored in a Bond film.

[Image of Texas Hold 'Em] There must be some international law administered by the U.N. that declares all conscious beings must play the game. For everyone, so I’m told, plays Texas Hold ‘Em—even your pets and, yes, even pale craggy Double-O agents. I myself haven’t had the opportunity to sit at the poker tables until finally, about two weeks before Casino Royale was released, somebody showed up at my door with a court order, and I was forced to play Texas Hold ‘Em at an Indian casino in Lincoln, California. There is no doubt that the popularity of the game, along with a 75 bajillion dollar marketing campaign, ushered the new 007 film into public consciousness with aplomb.

Yet, despite all the hype, Bond was not really back—instead, considering the amount of Sony products used in the film, it was the consumer electronics giant that was back to showcase its new product line. Call me cynical, but when a film is thrust into the world with excessive promotions—on TV, radio, the Internet, billboards, public restrooms, paper towels, and baby diapers—to proclaim that “Bond is Back!,” I expect to see James Bond, especially a Bond promised by the filmmakers as the definitive portrayal of Ian Fleming’s character, to be solid and outstanding. The Bond in the film, however, is so remote from Fleming’s intention. The discrepancy forces me to remember the Hotel Splendide in Fleming’s Casino Royale, where the literary Bond, near the beginning of the novel, is seated at the writing table by the window, gazing at the sea. I imagine myself standing next to him, looking at the view. Whereas Fleming’s Bond admires the beautiful day and the small waves whispering on “the long shore and the fishing fleet from Dieppe string out towards the June heat-haze followed by a paper-chase of herring-gulls” (23), I see something entirely different. I long to see the tranquility of his view; but I see in the distance two contrasting entities, the novel and the film. Above all, the film is a vacuous adaptation of the novel; it’s an ambitious mess at best, fraught with a deep lack of flair, coherence, and the inability to connect on any level.

2

The thesis of the filmmakers is that the film Casino Royale is the story of Bond’s origins, a reboot of the character so to speak, showing the origins of Bond. As Claude Brodesser reports in Variety in September 2005:

The vitality of actioners like Universal's two "Bourne" films as well as the mockery of pics like "Austin Powers," are forcing the Bond group to mull a rethinking of the format. One possible scenario would borrow from "Batman Begins," by going back to Bond's origins. "Casino Royale" is meant to be far more than an update of Bond; it's the revelation of the ur Bond—one going on his first mission, without any baggage.

During the rewriting phase of the Casino Royale script, screenwriter Paul Haggis supports Brodesser’s supposition, claiming that "‘We're trying to reinvent Bond. He's 28: no Q, no gadgets’” (Stax). Not surprisingly, the approach is echoed by director Martin Campbell: "In the new film, Bond is essentially starting out in his career and has just recently become part of the double-O section” (“Martin Campbell directs 'Bond'”). Several months later, during a press conference in France for The Legend of Zorro, Campbell states the premise again, only this time he supports Haggis’ vision of a youthful agent by emphasizing that the new Bond “will be ‘between 28 and 32’ years of age” (“Campbell on Casino Royale”).

Well, this business about an origin story is nothing new. It essentially derives from the Bildungsroman, a type of novel that traces the development of a youthful main character in the passage from childhood to maturity and culminates in the achievement of self-fulfillment.1 It started with K.P. Moritz’s Anton Reiser (1790) and includes classics such as Somerset Maugham’s Of Human Bondage (1915) and D.H. Lawrence’s Sons and Lovers (1920). But don’t expect adaptations of these works any time soon. Let's not get that optimistic. For now, Hollywood is focused on the origins of characters from pop culture, and the Bond makers have joined this grand march. Thus, in the spirit of Batman Begins, Spider-Man, the Star Wars pre-trilogy, The Fantastic Four, and other recent super-hero origin films, Casino Royale attempts to explore the coming of Bond, the beginning of Bond, the formation of Bond. The producers seem to suggest that “Bond” is some sort of super-hero statehood that the novice un-Bond will need to achieve. But to borrow a phrase from T.S Eliot’s Prufrock, we’re left with “an overwhelming question”—do we really need a Bond-Begins story? Then again, it’s futile to ask; for the origin story is the latest trend in Hollywood, and it’s only a matter of time when we see Adrien Brody as Arvid in Head Of The Class: The Early Years.

[Richard Maibaum] As they boarded the origin-story train, the Bond makers were essentially revisiting an endeavor they undertook about twenty years ago. In 1986, during the development of The Living Daylights, producers Albert R. “Cubby” Broccoli and Michael G. Wilson took a crack at “turning back the calendar and introducing a much younger, much less self-assured Bond,” culminating in a collaboration of a screen treatment with the late Bond scribe Richard Maibaum. Although a bold, innovative idea at the time, it carried an unsettling aspect. The treatment, which was eventually shelved, contained “‘some very good things in it,’” Maibaum recalled in an interview in 1987; but Cubby Broccoli “‘felt the audience doesn’t pay to see James Bond as an amateur’” (“The Making of The Living Daylights” 54).

At this point, leaping time and space, we fade from Maibaum’s book-lined study in Southern California to the grim Georgian building of Eon Productions in London, circa 2005. With Fleming’s Casino Royale now retrofitted into an origin story, the Bond makers were so touched by their own cleverness that they had overlooked one complication—the novel has nothing to do with the origins of a young Bond but is simply the first in the series of 007 novels. We are introduced to the personality of Bond—his likes and dislikes, his thoughts on his profession, his thoughts on love—to which we gain insight into his character. “‘He’s a dedicated man,’” explains Vesper Lynd’s chief during the mission briefing. “‘He thinks of nothing but the job on hand and, while it’s on, he’s absolute hell to work for. But he’s an expert, and there aren’t many about’” (59).

To be noted well: the Bond we meet in Fleming’s Casino Royale is an expert—not a fledgling agent. Closing their eyes to this fundamental characterization, the filmmakers abandoned what would have been an interesting character to see on screenan individual with painful recollections of how he earned his license to kill, an individual with bits of existential burnout that would only haunt a mature secret agent. Even in the early part of the novel, we realize something is not quite right with the character. As he walks to the casino in the morning sunlight, he is disturbed by his surroundings: “Against the background of this luminous and sparkling stage, Bond stood in the sunshine and felt his mission to be incongruous and remote and his dark profession an affront to his fellow actors” (31). Say what you will, but this is not the reckless young agent struggling to find his path in life that the Bond makers would have you believe. Fleming’s Bond is a tired warrior—tired of the cold isolation in his life as he senses the wide gulf between the joyous bright world of the casino resort and the dark reality of his dangerous profession.

[Photo of Daniel Craig] In contrast, the filmmakers offer us, in the pre-credits, a young rookie agent who has yet to earn his Double-O status. At least that was the intention. It seems, during pre-production, the filmmakers lost courage to pursue an in-depth origin story with a very young actor, and what we end up seeing on screen is a profound compromise with a highly improbable  “young” Craig-Bond—the guy’s pushing 40 for crying out loud and masked, oddly enough, by a pallid haggard mug that gives the impression he is at least several centuries older than his actual age, born at some time in the reign of Henry V. The most ridiculous aspect of this film is how remarkably unrealistic this bit of casting is. Newborns are not fooled by it. The preschoolers on my street have questioned why someone was pulled from a retirement home to play a young 007. Is it even medically approved to do such a thing? Wouldn’t the rigorous film schedule strain such an elderly man?

I could go on, for the questions from the toddlers are remarkable; but let us agree on one thing: there is no shame in looking old, but an actor disrupts the illusion for his audience when he plays a role more than a century younger than his actual appearance. This Craig-Bond would make a great guest star in, say, a Star Trek reunion where geriatrics such as Shatner, Nimoy, and Stewart have been around since Lincoln’s inauguration. In any case, the pre-title sequence is meant to take place in the past because, well, it’s shot in black-and-white (the standard visual cliché). It serves as a prologue to a character arc that, presumably, will unfold throughout the film, tracing how this Craig-Bond undergoes the age-old passage from innocence to experience. Or, in Martin Campbell’s banal words, “‘by the end he becomes the Bond we all know and love’” (Silberg).

The prologue unfolds abruptly, lasting about 5 minutes and ending before the audience can fully comprehend what has happened: the Craig-Bond exchanges a few lines with some guy (whatever his name) but the sequence is built on an editing style that cuts back and forth from their conversation to a scene that depicts an even more previous event wherein the Craig-Bond beats up and shoots a Eurotrash hoodlum in a public restroom. That’s as far as the origin aspect goes. We’re left to assume that the Craig-Bond is always preoccupied with beating up enemy agents in public restrooms, which is apparently enough to impress his boss M to grant him the license to kill, although we never learn how or why he was motivated to join the service.

Sadly, it’s hack filmmaking. Chris Nolan spent about an hour presenting Bruce Wayne’s past in Batman Begins; you’d think Martin Campbell and company would do something similar, depicting Bond’s youth, his solitude from losing his parents in a climbing accident, his involvement with the Royal Navy and his recruitment to the British Secret Service, and how or why he develops into a connoisseur of fine living. There is enough material in Fleming’s You Only Live Twice concerning Bond’s background, in the guise of an obituary from M (150-152), to use as the basis for the character’s origins. In other words, if you’re going to make an origin-of-the-hero story, then do it sincerely.

As it is, the filmmakers landed the cushiest jobs. They were actually saved from having to develop a solid story, eliminating the need for an intricate background to the Bond character. It would be the equivalent of making Chekhov’s The Cherry Orchard by discarding the details of the characters and all the arduous dialogue and just show the audience a cherry tree for two hours. So really, there’s not a whole lot to the pre-title sequence, not even a nifty stunt as in previous Bond films. It segues quickly into the title credits, where the dreadful song of Chris Cornell accompanies the cartoon-like graphics of playing cards.

[Image from OHMSS Title Credits] Ah, the traditional Bondian title sequence. Watching Casino Royale, we long for the main title designs of past Bond films. Where have they gone, the innovations in those title credits of yesteryear? Where have they gone, those silhouetted nude women, those striking images of spy and gun motifs, and the enigmatic title songs? In previous films, the union of the main title design and song conveyed the essence of the James Bond films, an amalgam of stunning images of beautiful women and high sophistication.

For some reason, with Casino Royale, the filmmakers opt for a graphic style that is reminiscent of crude cartoon animation. Moreover, the imagery is engulfed in saturated shades of red, a color scheme found at many Cuban restaurants throughout West Palm Beach. The title song also becomes increasingly annoying, emphasizing that it’s best to “Arm yourself because no one else here will save you.” It gives the impression that the new 007 had snapped and wanted to attack customers at the local hardware store with an Uzi. The sequence ends with the image of the Craig-Bond, his pale mug blown up on the big screen as he confronts the audience with the beady lifeless eyes of a reptile. It is chillingly laughable, as if something had gone awry with the CGI effects, forcing the computers to attempt to morph the actor into a gecko. Designed by Daniel Kleinman, who has rendered striking titles for the last four Bond films, the title credits for Casino Royale is a remarkable endeavor in kitsch. It makes the cartoon Deputy Dawg a profound work of genius.

3

What follows is familiar territory for the forty-something old franchise: the title credits fade and we’re back to the bright, colorful hyper-reality of a Bond film. During the making of the film, much was made about the new approach—something about using gritty realism, which involves a “stripped down” style that harks back to the spirit of the Fleming books. Yet the filmmakers have trotted into this territory in the past. In The Making Of Licence To Kill, producer Michael G. Wilson describes the direction of the series under Timothy Dalton’s reign as “‘closer to the Fleming style’” (14). He essentially repeats the idea for GoldenEye in a 1995 Cinescape article, “The Spy Who Came In For The Gold,” wherein the producer “promises that the film will be faithful to the Connery-Dalton approach to 007” (Gross 22). Even Martin Campbell envisioned GoldenEye in the same style, as he states in The Official GoldenEye Collector’s Magazine: “‘We wanted to preserve the old Bond-style character and the nature of his life—casinos, fast cars—but we tried to make the shooting of it much grittier’” (53).

This business about gritty realism, then, is nothing new; but the careful viewer will notice that Casino Royale differs from the previous gritty Bond films in that it was released in 2006. Yes, the new 007 film contains the hard edges that were presented in the other better gritty Bond movies, but Casino Royale has the profound distinction of being a more recent gritty Bond film than the others and therefore was readily available to be seen at a theater at the time of its release, which we must admit is an indisputable advantage over those older, better gritty Bond movies that were no longer shown in theaters.

I also suspect that the PR department misunderstood the real intention of the filmmakers: any so-called stripped-down version of Bond was nothing more than a special code for the intention to make Daniel Craig as the most shirtless agent in MI6 so he can flaunt his muscular frame (in the film, he removes his shirt more often than his predecessors). It does make me wonder if Fleming would have wanted as many scenes where the secret agent discards his shirt to show that he’s a hairless, albino, muscular guy obsessed with body wax. Indeed, I have no doubt that Fleming’s desire, above all, was for his hero to be depicted with superspy-chisled abs; but I have a feeling the British novelist wouldn’t have wanted them presented so frequently in this film.

And therein lies the problem: despite Martin Campbell’s insistence that “The book was the only template we went by” (“Casino Royale Director Martin Campbell”), this film has little of Fleming’s Casino Royale, if my questionable knowledge of the book is to be trusted. It might just as well have been based on the 32nd edition of Mastering Accounting Research for the CPA Exam. For all the talk about gritty-back-to-Fleming realism, there’s very little of it. Unlike the literary character, we meet a robotic Bond in the film, a demi-Terminator who can fall quite a distance from a construction crane without spraining an ankle and emerge from an intense car crash without serious injuries. His face, oozing with blood from a fight in a stairwell, is mysteriously healed when he returns to the gambling table only moments later. Not long after the villain Le Chiffre bashes his testicles with a knotted rope, the Craig-Bond is ready to bed Vesper Lynd (Eva Green), the bean counter assigned to accompany him to look after the treasury funds of the British Secret Service.

[photo of Martin Campbell] In his second film for the series, Martin Campbell directs Casino Royale about as artfully as a razor commercial. Sure, there have been wonderful razor blade commercials that depict the improvements in razor technology, but these “technical” sequences are usually marred by an unidentified freshly shaved guy with square jaws who stares at himself in the mirror while an anonymous woman suddenly appears from behind, touching his chin. Likewise, in Casino Royale, the narrative tone and structure are inconsistent. We sense that Campbell, nervous and hesitant about how to approach the film, ended up using various elements. Part serious spy film without dazzling gadgets and part superficial travelogue with a melodramatic romance in sunny pleasant destinations, the film achieves neither. It attempts to have both big glossy blockbuster action sequences (the jetliner scene in Miami, for example) and small moments of grim brutality (the fight in the stairwell and the Craig-Bond’s torture).

The film also struggles to include emotional moments by trying to depict complex characters (hence the back story of Vesper); yet the film resorts to awkward product placements within the dialogue (witness Bond’s reference to his Omega watch during his first encounter with Vesper) or fails to depict dramatic events by relying on dialogue (uttered by M or Rene Mathis) to summarize them. In this muddled process, the film never achieves a solid engaging narrative because, just as one element begins to unfold, another comes into play.

Yet this does not mean that Casino Royale isn’t worth watching. On the contrary, it’s the most delightful stupid movie I’ve seen since The Island of Doctor Moreau (the Brando version, which is the Amarcord of stupid movies). Its inanity obviously derives from the wretched screenplay by Neil Purvis, Robert Wade, and the overrated Paul Haggis. As an adaptation, it does not improve any shortcomings of the book (it even leaves out essential thematic elements, as we will discuss shortly), but offers the weakest plotline in the series. The entire film is essentially summarized when Vesper and the Craig-Bond agree that Le Chiffre must be bankrupted. Other than that, the film has almost no plot: after an hour or so, we expect the film to lead to the villain’s main scheme—a major plot point that will cause imminent danger, forcing the British Secret Service to stop with urgency. But the narrative never moves toward a single definite plotline; it essentially relies on random happenings based on characters saying things like, “There is a terrorist in the Bahamas.” Then the film shifts to the Bahamas. Or “There is a poker game in Montenegro.” And, sure enough, a poker game is held in Montenegro. It all makes for an avant-garde approach to narrative film that would be impossible to achieve with a solid, well-crafted screenplay.

[photo of street in Madagascar] Early in the film, we find the Craig-Bond in Madagascar, where he’s in pursuit of a bomb-maker who just happens to be a parkour virtuoso. Of course, an extended chase unfolds, which forces the Craig-Bond to rent a bulldozer from the local Avis so he can destroy a construction site. The bulldozer, played superbly by Rosie O’Donnell (who lost weight for the role), steals the scene by out-acting Daniel Craig. It simply demolishes the construction site without hesitation and coolly hands the secret agent some explosives so he can blow up the Nambutu embassy. It is a spectacular explosion, killing a bunch of government soldiers and destroying a stack of People magazines in the passport waiting room.

Mission now accomplished, the Craig-Bond returns to London and, in the nature of reckless youth, breaks into M’s apartment to confront her with humanity’s everlasting question, “You want me to be half-monk, half-hitman?” With these words, the film reveals its true essence: this is not a 007 spy film; it is really a philosophical drama. Not just any philosophical drama but a philosophical time travel tale in the spirit of Slaughter House Five. Hence, Judi Dench (a fine actress who really should know better) returns as M, the first leader of the British Secret Service to break the space-time continuum by reappearing in a Bond-Begins story after bossing around a mature established 007 in the last four Bond films. (Don’t ask me how the leader of MI6 can defy the laws of space-time; I’m just reporting what I saw).

[Diagram of Time Funnel] This time travel theme brings a complex “intellectual” approach to a 007 story, one that intertwines the life of M—a person unstuck in time—with the experiences of the novice Craig-Bond, a man just starting out in life, though he’s almost 40. So philosophically complex is the film that Martin Campbell and his cohorts were dumbfounded: “It doesn't make any sense in the timeline,” the director explains in an interview for SuperHeroHype.com. “We simply said that you got to suck that up, because you can't really change Judi Dench at this point, she's just too good. We did discuss it, because there's no logic to it, of course, but we just thought she's so perfect in the role” (“Casino Royale Director Martin Campbell”).

4

We now move to the next major random event in the film: the sequence in the Bahamas. M realizes that the Craig-Bond never bothered to read The Complete Idiot's Guide to Spy Missions because he disregards orders and heads for the Bahamas. Upon arrival at a beach resort, he is ogled by two supermodels. This is a phenomenon I had heard just before I vacationed in the Bahamas last year: in the islands, young gorgeous bikini-clad women, seemingly out of nowhere, would appear and throw boundless affection at the first pale craggy guy they see. Sad to say, it never happened to me, even though (to prepare for the trip) I kept myself indoors for weeks without sunlight just to get that right amount of pallor. Perhaps if my complexion had been a tad paler, or if I had blotted just a few more artificial crags into my mug, things would have been different. Well, perhaps Van Damme can explore the phenomenon and report back to me.

[photo of Beach in Bahamas] At the beach resort, the Craig-Bond’s investigation leads him to a wild pleasure-seeking woman with dark hair. I would have suspected Lindsay Lohan, but the Craig-Bond encounters Solange Dimitrios, a woman who has a vague memory of being married. The Craig-Bond notices her riding a white horse on the beach, either mesmerized by her beauty or distracted by the horse’s backside; however, he restrains himself, because he does not want to be taken for a voyeur. Besides, there is still the philosophical time travel theme to deal with: as the leading man of the film, the Craig-Bond has got to pull the bulk of the weight, so to speak, and offer more “depth” to the story. He therefore wins the Aston Martin DB-5 (although Q had given it to him in 1964’s Goldfinger) in a poker game from Solange’s goofy terrorist husband, Alex Trebek Dimitrios. With the classic car now in his possession, the Craig-Bond is ready to meet women with improved confidence.

What could be more revolting than the reptilian Daniel Craig attempting to pick up women in a Bahamian beach resort? Well, that would be Solange herself (played by the dependably wooden Caterina Murino) accepting his offer. Astounded by his own eloquence, though unsure of what he is actually saying, the Craig-Bond manages to impress her. She is an extraordinary woman, one who has the ability to look at him without laughing (in his view, a wonderful trait in a woman). For her part, she is courageous enough to spend the evening with him, a man who has raised her curiosity, since until this moonlit evening, she had never seen one of the oldest living human beings on the planet who isn’t a member of the Rolling Stones. Yes, she sees past his aged scaly mug and, rather quickly (for such romantic moments are only dictated by the urgency of an idyllic love), they retreat to the hotel suite.

Surprisingly, the encounter is rather chaste, a mere roll on the carpet, which we can only assume is all that Grandpa Craig-Bond can handle. Pleased with his performance, he makes for a hasty departure, the camera abruptly moving to the next scene to suggest that nothing really happened between them. This Craig-Bond is a fictional mess: he’s supposed to be youthful and reckless; yet he doesn’t take the time to enjoy such romantic moments. We’re left with the feeling that the previous Bond actors would not have hesitated to bed the woman. In a bizarre moment, just before he leaves the suite, the Craig-Bond calls room service and orders Beluga caviar and champagne for the woman—and for a novice Bond, a rough Bond who hasn’t yet transformed into the dashing Bond we all know, he seems knowledgeable about such luxuries. It’s probably not what the filmmakers wanted to leave me with, but it does somehow stick in one’s mind.

[Photo of Miami Intl Airport] Back to the plot: realizing they didn’t have one, the filmmakers shift the setting to Miami, so the Craig-Bond can disrupt a terrorist plan to blow up a new jetliner. Right away, he goes berserk at the airport. What kind of fly has bitten our hero? He commandeers a tanker truck to chase the bad guy, causes another explosion for Martin Campbell to film, all the while creating pandemonium as fire trucks, police cars, and ambulances clog the runways. Personally, I think there is a solid reason for his violent streak (and it provides Daniel Craig with the opportunity to play the subtext of the script): I suspect he had a difficult flight to Miami. It most likely began with a 12-hour delay on the tarmac at the Bahamas airport. He probably had the middle seat in coach and was stuck between two fat businessmen who took over both armrests and snored throughout the flight. Moreover, if his seat was positioned over the engines, his eardrums were almost shattered even before he had a chance to taste the tiny particles of stale peanuts. A toddler was also kicking the back of his seat, and the in-flight movie was Basic Instinct 2. He must be congratulated for ardently expressing customer dissatisfaction. He must be saluted for his unabashed method of demanding better customer service. You’ve earned it, my good friend, Mr. Craig-Bond. You’ve earned the accolade.

5

Meanwhile, life in the Bahamas loses its tranquility. Solange is discovered dead in a hammock, which is fine because her stupid performance had become tiresome; but M and the Craig-Bond survey the crime scene, hopeful that the film will now transform into a cool episode of CSI: Miami. Alas, no such luck. The film suddenly moves to Montenegro, the birthplace of Texas Hold ‘Em poker, where the Craig-Bond finally enters the fabled Casino Royale to battle the villain Le Chiffre at the poker table. Although Fleming’s novel is set primarily in the northern coast of France, Montenegro is an inspired choice, offering an abundance of ideal locations for a Bond film. According to the encyclopedia, Montenegro is a mountainous state in the Pacific Northwest and Great Plains regions of the United States. It boasts the Glacier National Park, the site of the Battle of Little Bighorn, and three of the five entrances to Yellowstone National Park.

No! Hold on! I am looking (and I blush to admit) at the entry for Montana.

[Map of Montenegro] Let me amend that: Montenegro, as we all know, has the ideal location of being somewhere in Europe. There is always something to see and do in this exotic country, especially if you are fond of playing Texas Hold ‘Em poker. In the film, however, Montenegro is a place with only one building—the casino resort—surrounded by heavy wooded areas. This may be true, for all I know. But we never quite feel that Montenegro is a tourism wonderland, which I’m sure is the intention of the filmmakers. Instead, the thick forests suggest that Montenegro is a popular destination for bold travelers who enjoy the opportunity that, if their rental car breaks down, they can be attacked by wild boars and foxes.2

Nevertheless, the best time to visit Montenegro (so I’m told) is next Thursday but not next Tuesday, because the casino staff has a day off. The entire nation is also difficult to visit during the Festival of Texas Hold ‘Em, a weeklong celebration wherein poker players from around the world gather in Montenegro to be chased along narrow streets by angry bulls. In this exciting event (and I swear I’m not making this up), a horde of bulls is released every hour in the country and culminates in a rodeo held within the casino, where the poker enthusiasts ride the bulls while playing Texas Hold ‘Em. A longtime tradition, the festival does have the drawback of making the entire country inaccessible during the stampedes—which is why the filmmakers (this is true) were forced to shoot the casino sequence in Prague.

[photo of coastal town] The film does not present a detailed depiction of the novel’s setting. The filmmakers lightly touch upon the casino resort and its vicinity but there are no concrete references to, or any detailed depictions of, Royale-les-Eaux, the Hotel Splendide, and the quiet coastal town as described by Fleming. This is another gaffe in the film. The filmmakers have already taken great liberty to update the story for a contemporary audience, so why not take the extra step to accurately adapt the landscape of the novel? As indicated by the novel’s title, the setting is central to the story. Fleming uses the casino resort to underscore the theme of impermanence.

According to the novel, the resort began as a small fishing village and rose to fame during the Second Empire. But turbulence is life, Fleming seems to say, and despite the grandeur and the powerful wealth of these casino resorts, they have their rise and fall: “Deauville killed Trouville, so after a long period of decline, did Le Touquet kill Royale.” Years passed and, in 1950, a syndicate in Paris renovated Royal-les-Eaux, painting the casino in its “original white and gilt” and decorating the rooms “in the palest grey with wine-red carpets and curtains.” Meanwhile, “the two main hotels, the Splendide and the Hermitage, were prinked and furbished and restaffed” (30). This renovation prefigures Bond’s existential reconstruction near the end of the novel, when he is compelled to harden himself after his world collapses from the betrayal and death of Vesper. (We will discuss this aspect of the character later in this essay.)

Ever the gambler, Fleming, according to his biographer John Pearson, “had always been hamstrung by his curiously complex attitude to money, his deep fear of poverty, his innate Puritanism, and had never in his life managed to make the great gesture of an all-or-nothing throw at the casino” (The Life of Ian Fleming 237). In Casino Royale, Fleming unleashes his awed fascination for gambling and, as a result, one of the distinct characteristics of the novel is the presentation of casino life as metaphorical for an aspect of the so-called human condition. From the very beginning of the novel (in perhaps the most celebrated opening passage in Fleming fiction), we are first introduced to the casino at Royale-les-Eaux, rather than the protagonist James Bond, which signals that the setting is, in one sense, one of the main characters: “The scent and smoke and sweat of a casino are nauseating at three in the morning. Then the soul-erosion produced by high gambling—a compost of greed and fear and nervous tension—becomes unbearable, and the senses awake and revolt from it” (1). What are we to make of this?

[Casino Photo] Well, for Fleming, the atmosphere of the casino is an entrance to an existential landscape, the focal point to which the human passions of greed, fear, hope, and anxiety converge. Built on the dualism of gain and loss, the casino also transforms into a metaphorical battleground where each struggles to overthrow the other. “The long game was launched,” Bond reflects as he sits across from Le Chiffre, and the “enigmatic cards would be burnt or defaced, a shroud would be draped over the table, and the grass-green baize battlefield would soak up the blood of its victims and refresh itself” (70). And could it be that beyond Le Chiffre’s immediate goal of winning at baccarat is his determination to reinforce his presence in the world? Likewise, apart from the goal of his mission, is Bond’s determination to win also a reflection of his intense desire for ascendancy, the desire to reinforce his uniqueness as an individual? In a moment of defeat, Bond receives additional funds from Felix Leiter, his CIA ally, but his hubris becomes apparent. It’s not so much about the mission as it is the glory of winning, the feeling of triumph, and to appear glorious in the eyes of others:

Then he set his mind to sweeping away all traces of the sense of complete defeat which had swamped him a few minutes before. This was a reprieve, but only a reprieve. There could be no more miracles. This time he had to win—if Le Chiffre had not already made his fifty million—if he was going to go on! (79)

In the course of a single moment, the pendulum of luck swings over to Bond, and he wins the game. The present moment (so transitory, so fleeting) eludes us completely: for Le Chiffre, what promised to be victorious only a moment ago is now erased in the next instant. His defeat is not only humiliating; it throws the villain into insignificance, into powerlessness, into the death of his presence. He rises quietly from the table and the spectators “looked at him curiously and rather fearfully as if he carried the smell of death on him. Then he vanished from Bond’s sight.” (89). This is the darkness beyond the romantic thrill of the casino life and, for Fleming, a reflection of a greater struggle—the struggle of the individual against others throughout life. In this shadow play of warring egos, the individual struggles to maintain his own self—that drop in the vast ocean—a little longer, but finds adversaries everywhere and lives in perpetual conflict.

The challenge for the filmmakers was to present these thematic elements visually. This takes us back to Martin Campbell, to his self-congratulatory remark about using Fleming's book as the template for the film. An odd chap, this Martin. He raves on about an adherence to Fleming but none of these novelistic ideas are conveyed to the screen. Where is the visual representation of these passages? Where, in this lengthy film, do we see—through Bond’s eyes—the casino life with its throng of human passions? Where, in this film, is the important role of Royal-les-Eaux, its history of renovation, its symmetry to the impermanence of life? No, they have no place in this film. In Martin Campbell’s Casino Royale, the Craig-Bond enters the casino and sits at the poker table but we never see the moody atmosphere of Fleming’s casino world. Sure, there are the guys in tuxedos and women in evening dresses; but I question Campbell’s decision to replicate a dull soap opera set, or to make all the characters appear as if they had been buried in a pet cemetery and returned, undead. Ironically, Campbell does a better job of capturing Fleming’s casino world in his first Bond effort, GoldenEye. In that film, there are lingering shots of Bond’s entrance, and we feel the majesty of the casino, its long presence through time, and the immense grandeur of the casino floor showcasing all the different gaming tables to suggest the impermanence of gain and loss and the opposing duality at the center of human conflict. When he sat down to plan Casino Royale, Campbell apparently forgot everything he knew about Fleming’s fictional world.

6

[Photo of Count Von Count] One of the frustrating things about the film is that once we reach the gambling sequence, it practically reaches a dead end. Of course, we are treated to an extended high-stakes poker game; but watching it is about as thrilling as attending an entomologists’ convention on horseflies. Nevertheless, you’ve got to praise the filmmakers for attempting to make the sequence interesting: the Craig-Bond is somewhat nervous about the card duel, and who wouldn't be, when Le Chiffre (Mads Mikkelsen) shows up as a treacherous rat who has mysteriously adopted the accent of Count Von Count, the vampire muppet in Sesame Street. His sinister persona suggests a ruthless terrorist and, in a dramatic twist, well, that's what he turns out to be. The filmmakers couldn't quite handle the suspense.

Daniel Craig, who is accustomed to working with giant rodents (he starred with the rat-like Rhys Ifans in Enduring Love), becomes insignificant throughout the casino scenes. Seated at the poker table, stone-faced, bleary-eyed, and with disheveled hair, the Craig-Bond looks as if he had spent the last several nights at the dog pound and discovered a used tuxedo at the side of the road. Or perhaps somebody smashed his face with a bag of marbles, leaving the agent with a stunned countenance. Or perhaps he’s just had a lobotomy but never quite recovered. Either way, such a commanding presence enables him to be blown off the screen by a deck of playing cards. Martin Campbell, apparently aware of this problem, crams a short scene of the Craig-Bond getting poisoned from a drink to make him noticeable.

This is essentially a variation of the scene in the novel where Le Chiffre’s gunman sticks a pistol to Bond’s back. Fleming’s version is a taut engaging moment: Bond heaves backwards, tipping his chair so that it knocks the gunman’s hand. The scene also prefigures something of the debonair Bondian style that any of the previous Bond actors would have easily handled with panache: the back of the chair is splintered, with Bond falling to the ground; but he quickly recovers and, rather nonchalantly, brushes his hand across his forehead and quips to the spectators, “‘A momentary faintness’” (83).

[photo of Aston Martin DBS] In the film, the poison tidbit reminds us of one of those improbable schemes that Wile E. Coyote might try on the Road Runner. The Craig-Bond, now dazed and weakened, is on the verge of having a heart attack: he rushes back to the Aston-Martin and struggles to revive himself with a heart-booster stashed in the glove compartment. There’s gritty realism for you. Yeah, it’s good planning by MI6 to include heart-boosters in government-issued cars, especially a budget car such as a $340,000 Aston Martin DBS—you just never know when one of your agents will be poisoned at the poker tables. Although the scene is intended to be a suspenseful twist, it’s the kind of twist that might have worked in an episode of Hannah Montana, not in a film for thinking adults. Yet, still in all, it does contain a certain kind of subtlety, forcing us to realize the real intention of the Craig-Bond: he’s really feigning a heart attack to grab Vesper’s attention. Fortunately, it works because Vesper tries to assist him and is moved deeply by his suffering. It’s enough to make her fall for him, even though Daniel Craig’s performance in this scene is about as laughable as any of William Shatner’s hammiest moments in the Star Trek films.

I must admit that this poison scene has something charming about it. Allow me to explain: I've feigned cardiac arrest many times in the past, just to draw the attention of a beautiful woman. There was even one evening at a nightclub in South Beach when I stopped my heartbeat using arcane Vedic meditative techniques and was classified D.O.A at the emergency room. Yet not once did a woman—any woman—even attempt to get near me (except the fat elderly ER nurse). But in his first crack at the age-old “cardiac arrest” technique, the Craig-Bond wins the love of the chalk-white Eva Green. Perhaps it has something to do with their sickly anemic complexions, which is enough to establish a deep connection between them. In any case, it does give me hope that the "cardiac arrest" technique really works.

The casino sequence also introduces us to minor characters from the book, Rene Mathis and Felix Leiter, but both parts suffer from botched interpretations. Mathis, played by Italian actor Giancarlo Giannini, is drastically modified for the film. In the novel, he is a Deuxième Bureau operative who offers wisdom to lift Bond’s spirits during the agent’s recovery from the torture. In the film, it’s unclear who Mathis is because we never understand any of his dialogue during his lengthy 8-minute contribution to the film. His primary function seems focused on explaining the poker game to Vesper but he mysteriously disappears near the end. He can at least be proud that he has more screen time than Felix Leiter, who appears for about 5 minutes. Abandoning Fleming’s intention for this character, a Texan with a “mop of straw-coloured hair” that “lent his face a boyish look” (47), the filmmakers inexplicably cast Jeffrey Wright, a bland actor who looks more like a nerdy accountant than a CIA agent. It’s a superfluous part, serving only a minimal plot device: as in the novel, the CIA agent comes to the aid of Bond by offering additional funds when Bond loses all his money at the poker table. Unfortunately, by slashing the role's screen time, the filmmakers discard the relationship of Bond and Leiter as depicted in the novel.

The usual reading of the friendship: the camaraderie between the two men represents Anglo-American alliance. But something else is at work in these scenes with Leiter, and Fleming understates it through their interaction. They are, this American and Englishman, two dangerous agents, and their world is dark and violent. There are moments of celebration between them, in which the two visit a bar and drink hard, an obligatory element in the Fleming novels. In Casino Royale, Bond educates Leiter on the making of a proper martini, and the CIA agent remembers the ingredients in subsequent novels. Even in their initial meeting, as they acknowledge their roles in the mission, both men share a sense of relief to know that each is a source of support for the other. At the casino, Leiter informs Bond that

‘Anyway, I’m under your orders and I’m to give you any help you ask for. With Mathis and his boys here, there may not be much that isn’t taken care of already. But, anyway, here I am.’
‘I’m delighted you are,’ said Bond. (46)

In this friendship, they enter a moment of refuge from their dark world, but it is another aspect of the novel that is neglected in the film.

[photo of Scarlet Letter] Back at the poker table, Mads Mikkelsen’s Le Chiffre relishes being a spectacle by showing off his ability to shed tears of blood from his left eye. It is unclear if it’s a severe allergic reaction to the Craig-Bond’s cologne or just the side effect to the boredom of hosting the poker tournament. But we do learn that the name “Le Chiffre” is French for "The Number,” an alias that the villain uses because of his extraordinary ability to count in French. There was a time when he recited the French alphabet at the poker tables and gained the nickname La Lettre ("The Letter"). But it was only a matter of time when his fellow terrorists began calling him La Lettre Écarlate ("The Scarlet Letter") because of his habit of leaking blood from his left eyeball while he recited the French alphabet. Of course, many people were aghast because the name was a constant reminder of Demi Moore's film adaptation of the Hawthorne classic. Even worse, the villain’s concentration at poker tournaments was ruined when other players kept pressing him with questions about Moore's performance and whether she and her 25 percent post-consumer recycled plastic body truly conveyed the subtleties of the Hester Prynne character. Hence, based on the advice of his PR staff, the villain decided that the wisest course was indeed to use “Le Chiffre” for his alias.

Unfortunately, no amount of shedding bloody teardrops can save Le Chiffre from being the weakest villain in the series. He is essentially a stockbroker who, after a hectic day of struggling with the site map of the Charles Schwab web site, serves as a banker for unnamed terrorist organizations. There’s gripping suspense for you. If you ask me, the filmmakers are fighting an uphill battle to get audiences to really care if a stockbroker masterminds terrorist plots; but I’m just a longtime Bond fan, so what do I know?

Much like the villain in any Steven Seagal film, Le Chiffre leads a group of the local hoodlums, who, in my view, look no tougher than the cast of Men In Trees. It seems the Bond producers were confident with this bunch, especially when you’ve gathered extras that can replicate the menacing demeanor of Anne Heche, Abraham Benrubi, and that one guy with the thin beard who resembles one of the guitarists for Styx. As it is, the gang of cronies is loyal to Le Chiffre and never call in sick, even though the boss has an entirely boring scheme. Forget the usual superhypervillain plan for world domination. Forget about any scheme, for that matter, that will invoke suspense. Le Chiffre is nothing more than a wimp; a wimp who has lost his clients’ money; a wimp who arranges a high-stakes poker game in which he intends to win millions so he can pay his clients back before they kill him. The filmmakers surround Le Chiffre with only two dull outcomes: he will either be bankrupted at the poker table, or he will win the poker tournament and pay back his investors. You’ll find more thrills in a discussion of various growth funds for your 401(K) on CNBC. 

7

The Le Chiffre in Fleming’s novel is an altogether different character. His dossier paints a picture of a cunning paymaster of the communist-controlled trade union of Alsace. His background is sketchy, a man who appears from a state of nothingness: in 1945, suffering from amnesia and paralysis of vocal chords, he was essentially in an abyss—he was without name, without a past, and was discovered as a displaced person of Dachau D.P. camp in the U.S. zone of Germany. He continued to claim total loss of memory “except associations with Alsace Lorraine and Strasbourg whither he was transferred in September, 1945, on Stateless Passport No. 304596” (14). Hence, he adopted the name Le Chiffre (alias for “The Number”) based on his realization that he is “only a number on a passport” (14). The novel’s emphasis on the character’s loss of identity takes us to Fleming’s meditation on existentialism.

[Fleming-Satre Collage] The novel was written in 1952. I imagine Fleming at Goldeneye, his clifftop retreat in Jamaica, puffing clouds of cigarette smoke and clattering away on his typewriter by the silence of the sea. But looming over him was Sartrean philosophy, a dark cloud of disturbing ideas on anxiety, alienation, and nothingness. The philosopher’s first novel, Nausea (1938), as well as his magnum opus, Being and Nothingness (1943), transformed the diminutive Frenchman into “the most influential representative of twentieth-century existentialist philosophy” (Lavine 335). For the next decade or so, Sartrean existentialism was all the rage in contemporary philosophy. It was vogue to talk about Sartre—his ideas captivated artists, writers, social scientists, and political activists, as well as legions of college students who sat in cafés, dressed in black, and with obviously nothing better to do apart from brooding over gloomy thoughts in the philosopher’s name. Sartre’s philosophy also worked their way into popular culture; and even those “who have never read any of his works may be influenced, nonetheless, by Sartrean ideas that have trickled down to them from other sources” (Kamber 2).

I suspect Fleming, the serious book collector, an admirer of Rilke’s poetry and the novels of Thomas Mann, and who “read the avant-garde magazines and the literary journals and knew what was going on in the literary world” (Pearson 201), was familiar with Sartre’s ideas and dabbled with bits of existentialism, even as early as the writing of Casino Royale. It is, however, outside the scope of this essay to discuss Sartre’s thoughts in detail. Sartre will be mentioned only insofar as Fleming’s Casino Royale happens to express something very close to the spirit of Sartre’s thoughts.

It’s preposterous of the filmmakers not to dramatize the character details of Fleming’s Le Chiffre. The film Casino Royale was suppose to be innovative, a reboot of the series (as we have already discussed), so why not adapt the novel’s character-thematic details of Le Chiffre to create a compelling villain for the screen? They could have discarded references to World War II and made Le Chiffre a displaced person of, say, a Bosnian prison camp. As a result, with a very weak, uninteresting villain, the film loses a strong sense of conflict between the Craig-Bond and Le Chiffre. Moreover, the filmmakers never use the interesting parallel that Fleming sets with the villain and his hero.

In the novel, both individuals have been reduced to numbers: Le Chiffre, as we discussed, uses an alias derived from his stateless passport number; Bond, of course, has a Double-O prefix and inhabits a world of nearly anonymous figures designated by numbers or letters—for example, there is someone called Head of S, a chap called Number Two, and Bond’s chief is known as M. It’s a tell tale sign that Bond is thrust into an impersonal world when an individual is identified only by a number. Witness the conversation in Chapter 3, “Number 007,” between the Head of S and the man called Number Two, as they attempt to identify the agent assigned to destroy Le Chiffre. According to Head of S, M has the ideal secret agent for the mission:

‘Who is it?’ asked Number Two.
‘One of the Double O’s—I guess 007. He’s tough, and M. thinks there may be trouble with those gunmen of Le Chiffre’s.’ (20)

Why this element of impersonality? Doesn’t it occur to them that the agent in question has a name? Because we are estranged, Fleming seems to suggest, from institutions such as bureaucratized government. This is the Sartrean notion of alienation: as individuals, we’ve become small components for these vast impersonal entities that have a life of their own. We neither feel that we are part of these institutions nor can we comprehend their inner workings.

In Le Chiffre’s case, he arises from the state of memory loss, unaware of his past, and finds himself in the here-and-now. He suffers alienation from the past; indeed, he has no meaningful past and is forced to embrace his passport number from which to build his own self. Fleming implies that we can never depend on a solid foundation for the world. The external structures of authority—political, economic, intellectual structures—come and go, collapsing or weakening through time, and this instability provides nothing definite to structure the world. This invites us to reflect that we are shut out of history, that we no longer have roots in a meaningful past, and nor do we have a meaningful future before us. We are thrust here, in the present, where we have to contend with the enigma of the self. The actual existence of the individual becomes an issue: Le Chiffre is forced to take on the task of being someone, even if only a number identifies him.

[Book Cover] Fleming’s first biographer, John Pearson, dated the writing of Casino Royale in the winter of 1952, spanning from the third Tuesday of January to March 18 (223-224). It’s a curious novel, almost a novella and oddly structured with the last part concerning the shadowy, melancholic romance of Bond and Vesper; but the brooding thoughts of its author elevate the novel from the usual pop thriller. In Andrew Lycett’s biography, Ian Fleming, there is a dark image of Fleming that appears: in a state of moodiness and introspection, the author “would lean over the railing at the bottom of the garden” in his Jamaican home to “watch the sea, the waves and the stars” (179) for a long while, smoking and absorbing the melancholy. The melancholy certainly makes it way into the novel, in the guise of the haunting existentialist ideas of the time. But, sadly, the ideas never reach the 2006 film version of Casino Royale.

8

With a running time of 144 minutes, Martin Campbell’s Casino Royale is the longest film in the series. It provides the effect of an endless duration, and though it seems it will go on for another hundred years, it gives the impression that there is still another hundred waiting to unfold. I reached a point where I thought the film was coming to an end (it was illusory) but the plodding nature of the film, along with the lengthy footage of the poker game, kept me locked in its duration. Something within me (an innate intuition, perhaps) sensed that, while watching this film, existence itself accomplished a number of things; for example, continents shifted, new species of slugs appeared, and the known universe expanded another 95 bajillion light years. Fortunately, things do pick up at the casino sequence when the filmmakers rehash some elements from the book: Vesper is kidnapped, there is an explosion in the casino, and the Aston Martin crashes. The only question left is: should we leave the theatre and head on home to fix that closet door we’ve been meaning to fix? But before we can answer, the Craig-Bond is captured and tortured in a dim room.

Yes, Fleming's notorious torture scene finally makes it to the big screen, and it is disturbing to watch Le Chiffre strap the Craig-Bond naked to a chair, threatening and tormenting him mercilessly (something this villain probably learned from his mellow chess club days). The carpet-beater is abandoned for this version; Le Chiffre uses a knotted rope, whether you care or not. Just as in the novel, the Craig-Bond receives several whackings where no man should ever be whacked—yet the Craig-Bond isn't ready to talk, despite absorbing Le Chiffre's accent, not to mention his body odor. The scene isn't as tense as in the book: Fleming's Bond passes out in pain, not quipping wisecracks like the Craig-Bond. Moreover, the Craig-Bond seems to relish the conflict, urging Le Chiffre to beat him and, unintentionally, he comes across as a sadomasochist. The two men sweat and yell and it never occurs to them that they're missing the Texas Hold ‘Em championships on ESPN. If anything, the torture actually brings about a kind of primal male bonding experience between them. The only thing they fail to do is grapple each other in loincloths.

The novel’s torture scene is a pivotal moment, a sudden illumination for Bond: it awakens him to the uncertainty of good and evil and compels him to seek love, the only thing that holds meaning for him. There are several dialogue scenes in the book that depict this transformation (but they are unused in the film). Early in the novel, during dinner with Vesper, Bond expresses his views on killing with indifference:

‘I’ve got the corpses of a Japanese cipher expert in New York and a Norwegian double agent in Stockholm to thank for being a Double O. Probably quite decent people. They just got caught up in the gale of the world….It’s a confusing business; but if it’s one’s profession one does what one’s told. How do you like the grated egg with your caviar?’ (59)

Indeed, for Fleming’s Bond, this business of killing is nothing more than idle chatter over dinner. Bond’s nonchalance suggests the self-control of an individual with the keen understanding of his role as a secret agent. Call it stoicism, but clearly this is not the inexperienced view of an agent at the start of his Double-O career; rather, it's the credo devised by a mature individual in order to make the grim reality of his profession bearable.

[photo of Casino Royale British Pan edition] In the latter half of the novel, the agent who is recovering from the torture is no longer identical to the stoic nonchalant Bond we meet at the start of the novel. In angst, the transformed Bond tells Rene Mathis that he is unable to see himself clearly, that it is difficult to distinguish the difference between heroes and villains, that “‘when the hero Le Chiffre starts to kill the villain Bond and the villain Bond knows he isn’t a villain at all, you see the other side of the medal. The villains and heroes all get mixed up’” (134).  We are back to Fleming and his ventures into existentialism. Bond’s inner torment is the pain of the Sartrean existentialist who suddenly discerns that he is trapped in a world of things that are obscure, that are coiled in nothingness. Put another way, if the opposites of good and evil are interchangeable, if the role of the hero can be quickly transformed into the role of the villain, then life (human existence) loses its dimensions and becomes empty, like a cave.

Bond’s transformation becomes the dramatic centerpiece of the novel. It takes us to the exploration of an individual, to the enigma of the self. Bond, as a troubled spy, embodies the uncertainty of the self: he is difficult to describe in terms of his ideas, because they are different in each phase of his life. He can no longer be defined by a solid personal ideology. It reminds us that the individual is an uncharted path for a journey where the successive phases not only change but also erases the preceding phases. The destination of the road is unclear, but at least for Bond it comes in the guise of love. Without anything to structure the world, or at least his world, he retreats inward, into the self, to pursue his love for Vesper.

[photo of sunset at beach] The last part of the novel, which takes place in a quiet inn by a crescent-shaped bay, focuses on the romance, wherein Bond undergoes a great bit of struggle to decide to marry Vesper. In lonely brooding moments, he is surrounded by haunting images of nothingness—nothingness in the form of empty skies, Bond’s own solitude against the silence of dusk, and the vast sea: “It was nearly seven, and the sun had lost much of its heat. Before long it would sink beneath the further arm of the bay” (156). And moments later, after swimming alone, Bond lies on the shore and “gazed up at the empty blue sky and thought of Vesper” (157). In the morning, the nothingness continues to loom over him: Bond, alone on the beach, “stared up into the empty sky and saw the same answer there” (163).

What makes this part of the novel so readable is the dramatization of Bond’s brooding moments, of his struggle to decide. The difficulty of life choices is as old as Kierkegaard in existentialism: each of us suffers the anguish of indecision, a concept that Sartre reinterpreted and reworked into his thoughts, producing his famous notion that people are “condemned to be free”—free to choose what to be and what to do, and thus completely responsible to give meaning to one’s world. For Bond, the decision becomes final on that sunny morning on the beach: “That day he would ask Vesper to marry him. He was quite certain. It was only a question of choosing the right moment” (163). Yet his decision also reminds us by implication of something that Fleming doesn’t show: all choices, alas, are uncertain. How does one know that the correct decision has been made for a particular situation? Is there an answer to this question? And again, as Bond walks alone on the beach and makes the decision to marry Vesper, we sense something that we already know: life happens only once, and we cannot determine which of our decisions are correct for a given situation because there is only room in life for one such decision. In a transitory world, there will never be a second, third, or fourth life in which to compare various decisions.

Still, by choosing to marry, Bond arrives at the state of contentment, which seems to be the ideal and final stage: he comes to believe that it is futile to find meaning to his life through his profession, to struggle and fight against this or that enemy. Love is enough to confront all there is to live and he turns to Vesper, herself something of a mystery, a woman giving little of her real personality away by holding a “private room inside her which he could never invade” (157). Has Bond reached his final destination? If so, Fleming’s novel becomes something of a morality lesson. But the narrative suggests otherwise. In the final scene of the novel, Vesper is revealed as a double agent and, torn between duty and her love for Bond, commits suicide. Bond discovers her lying in bed, “straight and moulded like a stone effigy on a tomb” (174), and he is shattered emotionally.

His world again crumbles, but he hardens himself: he vows to fight against the spies of SMERSH and to hunt down the “threat behind the spies, the threat that made them spy” (179). So again, he finds something as a foundation to his life, he has something to act upon and seek a meaning to his life, to struggle for a cause. The individual, as a path, never ends. It is difficult to say which James Bond is authentic, is true to himself: the one who sought refuge in love or the one who now returns to his profession and devotes himself to it. Where does the consistent form of the self reside? Is there ever a time when we can find the certainty of the self? The only certainty is: the instability of the self is the most enigmatic, most ambiguous of all.

9

These ideas are poorly conceived in the film. Then again, it’s impossible to adapt them when you cram about ten minutes worth of screen time for the Bond-Vesper romance near the end of the film. Again, the challenge for the filmmakers was to present the novel’s thematic details visually; yet the filmmakers hamper the romance by not having enough interaction between the two characters. After about an hour into the movie, Vesper is finally introduced: she and the Craig-Bond meet on the to train to Montenegro, and he falls for her, apparently unaware that she was in Kingdom of Heaven and in the Bertolucci snore-fest, The Dreamers. He can’t stop looking at her and attempts to impress her by pointing out his slick Omega watch.

Thus begins a romance built on shaky ground. Vesper shuns the Craig-Bond, finding his need for affection just as annoying as his performance in Infamous, Munich, Layer Cake, Enduring Love, The Mother, and just about any other film in his repertoire. He, on the other hand, is unaware that his less-than-dignified persistence is forcing her interest level to take a nosedive. Her line, “I'll keep my eyes on our government's money and off your perfectly formed arse” suggests some hope: Vesper reveals that she is drawn to the Craig-Bond’s liposuctioned backside. Other than that, it’s difficult to discern anything else from their banter because Martin Campbell directed them to perform as if somebody had shot them with gorilla tranquilizer darts. The Craig-Bond is barely sentient, staring at Vesper; she looks at him through hooded eyes and delivers her dialogue in the style of a bored waitress muttering the drink menu.

The Craig-Bond eventually wins her heart completely when, during recovery from the torture, he sits in a wheelchair (of course, with disheveled hair) and tells her that he has “no armour left,” that she has stripped it from him and, touched by his own dreamy poetic sentiment, he proclaims that “whatever is left of me—whatever I am—I'm yours” (to be precise, in Daniel Craig’s barely discernable babble, it’s “Whu’ evah iz weft ov me—whu’ evah uh em—um yers,” but I translated for your convenience). Please, Mr. Craig-Bond, do put the doobie away and come up with a realistic line. The character is so overly wistful that it wouldn’t surprise us if he suddenly picked up an acoustic guitar and did a Willie Nelson impersonation of a country love song.3

As luck would have it, Vesper falls for that nonsense, motivating the Craig-Bond to consider an alternate career in greeting-card poetry. Meanwhile, I’m scratching my head, wondering about this easy conquest. To my female readers: is this tortured poet persona truly captivating? Let me put it another way: I’ve been on dates where my hair was greasy and disheveled; I’ve muttered nonsensical “arty” things (for example, “Torn newspapers, evermore / Whirling we are in torn newspapers”); I’ve even cut my forehead with a broken glass and shouted lines from Browning up to my date’s bedroom window. Fortunately, my bland looks and unabashed persistence to plead temporary insanity have kept me from being arrested and thrown in jail. Yet, just as he had done with the cardiac-arrest technique for wooing women, the Craig-Bond wins Vesper’s love without even getting a tattoo with her name in it.

Perhaps if my hair was a bit greasier, or if I had recited my lines like a mumbling method actor (Brando comes to mind), I would have succeeded. In Casino Royale, the Craig-Bond announces that he loves Vesper, loves her “enough to travel the world with you until one of us has to take an honest job, which I think is going to have to be you, because I have no idea what an honest job is.” Again, she falls for his maudlin story. A clinically sane woman would have seen through his nonsense and countered with suggestions for an honest job; for example, the Craig-Bond could join the janitorial department at the casino. The lumberyard is another place he could seek employment. And, because of the high turnaround rate, there’s always that night stock boy position at Walmart. In other words, it is not wise to proclaim unfamiliarity with honest labor as a scheme for your seduction.

[Caricature of Goth Woman] Then again, we are expected to believe that Eva Green is a treasury agent (Investment Treasury Agent-Texas Hold ‘Em Financial Strategist, I believe; a lesser job title would’ve weakened her character). She lacks the basic cognitive skills not to fall for his shenanigans and turns into the perfect compliment to the anemic Craig-Bond: with her troweling eye-makeup and pale complexion, this Vesper looks like one of the “undeads” at the local Goth nightclub. True to her cadaverous essence, she can barely crack any expression on her face. Credit must also go to the wardrobe personnel who sprayed the superior non-stick coating applicant onto the actress to maintain her stiff presence—the material was crafted exclusively from solid blocks of bulletproof polycarbonate and must have added another $20 million to the film’s budget.

The romance is condensed into a montage—underscored by syrupy John Tesh-like music—wherein the Craig-Bond and Vesper hold hands, skip happily, and embrace in the rain. I was laughing at the film’s kitschy style but I was forced to get serious because the Craig-Bond is suddenly shown on a sailboat, typing his resignation letter to M on a VAIO notebook. Yes, the Craig-Bond would rather sail around the world with his dream girl, a Goth woman who gets her makeovers from Uncle Beelzebub’s Discount Piercings and Taxidermy. Of course, in Fleming’s novel, Bond does consider resigning: during his recovery, we realize we have a damaged hero who reveals that he can no longer bear his profession, that even reconstructing himself by grafting new skin over the back of his scarred hand is futile, and that, as he admits to Mathis, he has reached the end of the road of spying:

‘… M. will probably say I’ve got to go to hospital again when I get back to London and have new skin grafted over the whole of my hand. It doesn’t matter much. I’ve decided to resign.’ (132)

It is a great segue to their discussion about the uncertainty of good and evil (but this entire scene is dropped from the film). The second mention of resignation occurs near the end of the novel, but in an entirely different context from the film: during one of his solitary walks on the beach, Bond recalls his original intention of having a light, uncomplicated affair with Vesper and that if the breakup was not easy, “he could go off on an assignment abroad or—which was also in his mind, he could resign and travel to different parts of the world as he had always wanted” (157).

Romance for the literary Bond turns into the agony of love. As he had predicted early in the novel, he would one day be “brought to his knees by love or luck” (42), but the love comes in the guise of Vesper Lynd. Again, Fleming’s ideas never make it to the screen. The lonely, brooding moments of Fleming’s secret agent are never truly depicted by the filmmakers. The scenes of Bond’s long solitary walks on the beach are absent. We never see the anguish of Fleming’s Bond—his deep struggle to decide what to do. As a result, we never feel his painful disillusionment with his profession and his need to relinquish everything to take up life with Vesper. Nor do we see the collapse of their romance—the sudden change in Vesper, her growing melancholy, and the way she becomes distant from him—which makes Bond react with awed fascination, wondering about how “human relationships could collapse into dust overnight” and forcing him to search “his mind again and again for a reason” (166).

This is Fleming, the existentialist, at work again. Bond’s preoccupation to find an explanation—and thus impose rationality—to the troubled romance reflects the human impulse to seek a reassurance of meaning. Moreover, human relations are hindered by feelings of alienation from another person. Whether it is hostility between family members, or conflict in social relations, alienation divides people from one another. In Vesper’s case, she is a double agent, blackmailed into working with the Soviets as well as for Britain, and a sense of entrapment sets in for her. The shadow of SMERSH looms over her, yet she can’t tell Bond the truth. She feels the estrangement and tells Bond over dinner about the underlying loneliness in life: “‘People are like islands,’” she says. They never really touch and, however close they are, “‘they’re quite separate’” (161).

The threat of SMERSH is like an absolute, mysterious power. During the drive to the inn by the sea, Vesper is distraught and nervous, and once or twice Bond notices her glancing in the mirror. “‘I had a silly idea we were being followed,’” she tells him. “‘This road is full of ghosts.’” The threat is an apprehension of some impending danger, of something not present but to come. It brings a sense of despair to Vesper. Alas, I finally brought up the old existentialist term. Despair: the helplessness and anxiety of the individual against anonymous powers of massive strength. Vesper is hemmed in by something greater than herself and to which she cannot control. On the night before she commits suicide, she “sits in the shadows by the window” (171), looking at the sea.

[photo of man at window] The novel is full of these moments—moments of confinement, of entrapment—wherein Bond or Vesper is in a room, looking out the window. From the start of the novel, when Bond returns to his hotel room, he gazes “out of the window across the dark sea” (7). Only moments after a bomb explodes outside the casino, Bond returns to his hotel room and “sat for a while by the window and enjoyed being alive” (39). On their first night at the inn, Bond attempts to hold Vesper but, in her sadness, “she got up and walked over to the window” (155). In a world of entrapment, there are windows that offer a view of the poetry outside, a possibility of openness, of freedom. Bond and Vesper cannot escape through these windows; but Fleming suggests that they thirst for the reality outside, that they have a sense of longing for something beyond their immediate world. As I said, the details of the romance, its tale of agony in love, the entrapment of the lovers—these elements of the novel are not treated faithfully in the film.

To update the novel’s downbeat ending, the filmmakers set Vesper’s death in Venice, where she places herself in an elevator that plunges into a flooded building. Again, I was just getting over the film’s Harlequin-style romance and, suddenly, the filmmakers try to outdo the ending in Fleming’s novel. It seems the filmmakers knew that the audience would be snickering so they threw in a collapsing building to make us forget the kitsch. Vesper drowns before the Craig-Bond’s reptilian eyes but he takes her lifeless body to the surface and, unable to accept her death, tries to resuscitate her. It’s a touching bit of necrophilia; however, it contradicts the character of Fleming’s Bond—in the novel, Bond is a realist, a man who believes in the finality of death. Note how, in the final scene of the book, he does not attempt to revive Vesper. He only sits on the bed, looking at the dead woman. He sheds tears, he even “banged his temples with his fists” (178) in anguish. But he understands that death is permanent.

But the film, oh the film! Campbell is unable to evoke a deep sense of agony for the doomed romance. We are left to assume that Vesper’s death simply ruins the Craig-Bond’s entire week and he plunges into sorrow with the knowledge that she is a double agent and, even worse, he will no longer be able to recite greeting-card poetry to her. M doesn’t offer much comfort either: just after Vesper’s death, the MI6 leader has a phone conversation with the Craig-Bond, but the agent finds her long explanatory dialogue to summarize Vesper’s back story trite and unsympathetic. We do learn from the conversation that the Craig-Bond doesn’t trust anyone (“You don’t trust anyone, do you Bond?”, says M), which is a ridiculous notion for a man to learn at almost age 40, especially one who is in the espionage business. He attempts to cheer himself up by listening to MP3 files of The Cure, but it only makes matters worse.

The filmmakers have needlessly complicated the finale. Whereas in the novel, Vesper’s death is hauntingly suspenseful (Bond discovering her body in shafts of sunlight in the hotel room is dramatically potent), the film version is too fanciful, what with her drowning in a locked elevator while the Craig-Bond (in another standard visual cliché) attempts to save her. Shifting the scene to Venice (a tired locale for the Bond series4) is also unnecessary, and the building’s collapse into the canals of Venice is ridiculous and seems to have been inserted because the filmmakers felt the movie lacked an additional set piece. The visual effects of the destruction look every bit as realistic as the disaster scenes in those Japanese Godzilla films, and Daniel Craig attempting to emote is one of the dumbest things you’ll ever see, even if you’re accustomed to watching animatronic bears singing old songs of The Partridge Family.

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[Photos of Craig and Putin] Standing at the summit of this chaos is, of course, the one and only Daniel Craig. The colossally overrated actor, who to my eyes resembles a brawny Vladimir Putin, fulfills one of the greatest miscasting endeavors in motion picture history. In his defense, Barbara Broccoli proclaimed, during filming in the Bahamas, that Craig is “the actor that defies his generation of actors” (“Exclusive: Daniel Craig and Barbara Broccoli”). She left out the part that Craig’s generation also includes the likes of Matt LeBlanc, John Stamos, and Jason Statham, just to name a few. In Casino Royale, Daniel Craig—he of the expert in acting flatness—parades about with balding spiked hair, which sometimes deflates into a bowl haircut, and wanders into each scene with the discomfort of knowing he's in the wrong film.

Perhaps it’s the reason why he attacks so frequently in this film, beating up and killing an array of Eurotrash villains: it is Craig’s desperate attempt to mask the demeaning hairstyle and lousy script he received, a tactic that weaves nicely with the approach of the filmmakers, who were clearly aware of the problem with Craig and, consequently, were forced to present the actor running erratically, dashing from scene to scene, without a sense of purpose. Unfortunately, this relentless action-oriented approach doesn't offer any emotional connection to the character. Don't get me wrong—Craig is amiable enough based on the interviews he did for the film, and I wouldn’t mind discussing the Fleming novels with him over a bottle of pinot noir (my highest compliment). He has, however, overestimated his own talent; and the filmmakers have thrown him into the world as the William Hung of filmdom—a profound underdog who we find ourselves rallying around and cheering on.

[Image] His handling of the negative reaction to his casting, on that fateful day in October 2005, is commendable. While the public balked at the casting and the tabloids bashed the actor and some fans threatened to boycott the film (a ridiculous endeavor in itself), Craig simply went about quietly with the business at hand. In the spring of 2006, a faint smile of victory played over his face in some of the initial photos taken during filming in the Bahamas; for despite the bizarre casting (which everyone wanted to forget) he held the certainty that, among the Bond actors, no one has muscles like his. Yes, say what you will, but Daniel Craig is the most lubricated and muscular of the Bonds; and in the scene where he emerges from the Caribbean Sea, it’s obvious that the filmmakers took great pains at filming his ripped abs in the exact amount of light. Just think of the numerous storyboard drawings that were created to help define every frame of the sequence. The camera angles alone for the gleaming chiseled pectorals required painstaking precision and must have at least taken 17 hours to set up. If anyone attempts to deny Daniel Craig’s existence, the Bond producers seem to say, here are his muscles as irrefutable proof! Yet, after all is said and done, and the last close-up of the sculpted biceps has been filmed, one problem remains and graces the screen: you get what you pay for, even in the world of acting. The pigmentless actor gives it the college try but he’s dragging a safe in his own limitations.

There are two main things working against Craig: the first is his knack for looking out of place whenever he has to recite lines (a setback, in my view, for any actor). I'm not referring to his propensity to murmur when expressing expositional dialogue; I'm suggesting that his delivery of complex declarative lines such as "Wait here" or "Look out!" sound unnatural and strained. The other major problem is his inability to draw the audience into the story through his persona. He remains completely un-involving throughout the film, and we never feel a sense of closeness to his Bond. As producer Michael G. Wilson explains, "‘Character actors can adapt themselves to different parts, but leading men tend to play the role through the strength of their own personality rather than suppressing it.’” Using Pierce Brosnan as an example, Wilson adds that the fundamental attribute of the leading man is the "‘ability to draw the audience into the film through the eyes of his character’" (“Classified Information” 54). Those words are from a 1995 interview for GoldenEye, but it’s clear that during the lengthy period of finding a new actor for Casino Royale, Wilson had forgotten everything he knew about casting the Bond role.

When Craig was announced as the new 007, I was apprehensive about Eon's choice. But as a longtime Bond fan, I wanted to embrace the decision. As a result, I subjected myself to a Daniel Craig film festival and watched practically all his films (“That’s your own stupid fault,” I hear you saying and you’re absolutely right). I did it to get acquainted with the actor and to discern how he might handle the Bond role.5 But at the end of the film festival, I came away with the feeling that Daniel Craig has all the screen charisma of a Corey Feldman. Then, on that much anticipated day of November 17, 2006—the day Casino Royale was released—I sat in a theater in the South Park area of Charlotte, thinking that all would be well. But among the many questions that kept lashing at me as I watched the film, one stood out: Daniel Craig—is he credible as a dashing secret agent whom every woman longs to be with?

He’s about as alluring as a concrete piling. This is a guy you rent a tile cutter from, not someone you point a camera at for the purpose of entertaining moviegoers. He’s the delivery guy who dumps your Amazon.com package at the front porch. He’s the type of guy I always get helping me at Home Depot. It’s an unusual indignity reserved for a certain group of actors—for example, your Matt Damons, your Keanu Reeves’, your Leonardo DiCaprios, your Mark Wahlbergs, your Justin Timberlakes, your Jason Stathams, your Brad Pitts, your Ethan Hawkes’, and, of course, your Daniel Craigs.

To play Bond, the actor must have the ability to move in and out of two realms with ease: he needs to personify elegance and sophistication at one moment and be ruthless and cold the next. There are glimpses of this dichotomy in the Fleming books—again, we need only take note of the Bondian style in Chapter 12, “The Deadly Tube,” of Casino Royale.6 The late Richard Maibaum, who wrote many screenplays for the Bond series, summarizes this characterization quite succinctly in 1989, during the making of Licence To Kill: “I have always tried to see James Bond as personally charming, witty and understanding. He is brutal when necessary but gentle when he wants to be” (The Making of Licence To Kill 17).

For these fundamental aspects of the Bond character, Craig delivers his usual performance—that is to say, none that I could see. In his usual catatonic acting, he essentially disappears into oblivion about ten minutes into the movie, just as the title credits start. In Layer Cake, Craig was barely noticeable as a two-bit hoodlum, struggling with arduous dialogue like, “Leave me alone!” while getting beat up by other gangsters; but in Casino Royale, he’s way over his head as a rookie Bond posing in front of the mirror, marveling at how he looks in a tuxedo.

Bottom line: Craig is dull and brings nothing extraordinary to the role. And we’re still left with a serious miscasting on our hands. The filmmakers clearly neglected to be faithful to the character as written by Fleming—a spy often described with “dark, rather cruel good looks” (Thunderball 102). There are specific reasons why Fleming describes his hero as a dark figure. Who is the literary Bond? And why is he in stark contrast to the hero in the anemic guise of Daniel Craig? To pursue these questions, we turn to the pages of Fleming.  

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I have been thinking about Fleming’s James Bond for some time. But only in light of the miscasting did I see him clearly. I imagine him, at this moment, as he appears in Casino Royale, seated by the window in his hotel room, “gazing out of the window across the dark sea” (7), as he so often does throughout this novel. Fleming leaves the impression that his Bond is introspective and not quite verbose (unlike the Craig-Bond who can blab about his Omega watch during his first meeting with Vesper). Some of this flintiness is suggested early in the novel: in the first chapter, the secret agent leaves the casino at three in the morning, pushing his way through the swing doors of the salle privée, and, rather nonchalantly, “nodded at the bored man in evening clothes whose job it is to bar your entry and exit” (3). One senses that Bond himself is dressed in dark evening attire as he makes the short walk back to the Hotel Splendide, feeling the “dry, uncomfortable gravel under his evening shoes” (3). Fleming leaves the impression that Bond is aloof, stylish, and enigmatic. The chapter ends with a dark image of his hero, an almost death-like image: Bond climbs into bed and, in the stillness of sleep, his features relapse into “the taciturn mask, ironical, brutal, and cold” (7).

[photo of man in tux] The darkness of the character continues in subsequent novels. The photo of the agent that falls into the hands of Russian generals in From Russia, With Love depicts a "dark, clean-cut face with a three-inch scar showing whitely down the sunburned skin of the right cheek.… The hair was black, parted on the left, and carelessly brushed so that a thick black comma fell down over the right eyebrow" (50). In Thunderball, when Domino (the heroine) meets Bond for the first time, she encounters a dark mysterious stranger: “A scar down his right cheek showed pale against a tan so mild that he must have only recently come to the island.” She also notices his immaculate dark blue lightweight single-breasted suit and that, despite the heat, “he looked cool and clean”7 (102). The tanned face is essentially a throwback to the stereotyped image of a British officer in colonial India or Burma—a dedicated civil servant, imperialistic and with an aristocratic flair. Moreover, by emphasizing Bond’s dark features, Fleming is essentially harking back to a character type from another age, cloaked beneath Bond’s dark-blue tropical worsted suit.

This character type becomes more apparent when we take into account other descriptions of Bond. Even Vesper herself, during their tormented romance, finds a dark man in her arms: in tears, she “stood behind him and ran her fingers through his dark hair” (173). The dark image reappears again, or at least a variation of it surfaces, at the baccarat table in On Her Majesty’s Secret Service: “The table was becoming wary of this dark Englishman who played so quietly, wary of the half-smile of certitude on his rather cruel mouth. Who was he? Where did he come from?” Years later, this mysterious figure haunts the home of Major Dexter Smythe, in the short story Octopussy, when the retired major receives a guest one sunny morning in his Jamaican home, a “tall man in the dark blue tropical suit standing at the picture window looking out to sea” (18). Only moments earlier, his housekeeper announced the arrival of this stranger, forcing the Major to ask, “‘What’s his name?’”

[Portraits of Byron and Heathcliff] Well, he’s been around since 1818, in Byron’s cantos about Childe Harold; and variations of the character appear in many Gothic works, perhaps most famously in the guise of Heathcliff in Wuthering Heights. This is, of course, the so-called Byronic Hero, which Kingsley Amis has detected in the literary Bond. The Bryonic Hero: darkly handsome, in some cases aristocratic, brooding, a rebel who fights against a tyrannical establishment, and dangerous but admirable because he's larger than life. For Amis, these attributes paint the literary Bond as a “latter-day Byron, at once more dilapidated and more soigné” and to which Fleming cleverly pulled off by placing this “out-of-date persona inside the shellac of a secret agent, so making it plausible, mentally actable, and, to all appearance, contemporary” (The James Bond Dossier 26).

To me, there is another aspect to the darkness of the character. Fleming presents Bond as a dark figure, physically and metaphorically, to emphasize death—still the ultimate topic, whether for poets, theologians, particle physicists, or even a thriller writer who wrote every winter in Jamaica. In Fleming’s novels, Bond is the dark figure, the emissary of death, not only because his profession requires him to kill but also the violent danger of his profession is essentially a manifestation of his daily enemy, mortality itself. It throws him into a state of restlessness: in Casino Royale, our first glimpse of Bond occurs in the casino where he has been playing baccarat well into the early hours, staying awake all night. It gives us the impression that Bond is avoiding the state of sleep: he returns to his hotel room and, despite his tiredness, he doesn’t go to bed. Rather, he smokes “his seventieth cigarette of the day and sat down at the writing table with the thick wad of his stake money and winnings beside him and entered some figures in a small notebook” (7). When he does finally go to bed and drifts into sleep, the stillness of his face transforms into something of a death mask—that “taciturn mask, ironical, brutal, and cold.” In this lifeless state, we sense the element behind Bond’s restlessness: he is reluctant to sleep because the very stillness of sleep foreshadows his own death.

When Bond prepares for the long gambling session, “which might last most of the night,” he seeks a massage from the hotel’s masseur. It relaxes him, and he falls into a dreamless sleep, waking “in the evening completely refreshed” (41). It’s a ritual for him, this staying up late: he relishes that it is “around half-past ten or eleven, the usual hour for the high tables to begin play” (49). Again, a variation of the restlessness: sleeping during the day and staying awake in the evening suggests that Bond is uneasy with night and that, apart from his mission to beat Le Chiffre, delving into gambling is a way to forget nighttime. Fleming is playing with age-old imagery: night, symbolizing the utter darkness of death, is a haunting atmosphere for Bond.

That life has, as its ultimate condition, death, is the motivating principle for Bond to live, to live in fact a stylized life that asserts his existence. Bond’s hard drinking, hard smoking, his penchant for the finer things in life suggest an act of celebration—the celebration of his being. Note how the agent, shocked from the explosion that occurs near the beginning of the novel, sits by the window in his room “and enjoyed being alive” (39). He savors a glass of whisky and takes delight in his lunch (pate de foi gras and cold langouste) and reminds himself “to tip the waiter doubly for this particular meal” (40). In the face of death, Bond cherishes life in the here-and-now. It’s a variation of carpe diem mixed with a bit of dry Sartrean existentialism: life is everything, Fleming seems to say; death is nothing. This is the basis for Bond’s devotion to the gratification of sensual desires.

But there is something even more important, in my view: this striving for gratification, might it also suggest an act of restlessness? Bond’s restlessness: the dread of the existentialist hero, the individual who is aware of the meaninglessness of his impending death. Putting it negatively, regardless of how we make our lives pleasurable and comfortable, there is no escape from the dread. In subsequent novels, this black mood becomes prominent. Bond carries a sense of futility in his outlook: in Moonraker, for example, he reminds himself while engaged in dreary office work that it is “his ambition to have as little as possible in his banking account when he was killed, as, when he was depressed he knew he would be, before the statutory age of forty-five” (9). In Bond’s gloom, Fleming echoes the struggle of the individual against his own finitude.

The levels of characterization in the literary Bond—the dark romantic Byronic Hero and the dark figure of the existentialist hero—take us to the problem with Daniel Craig. Those who insist that Craig is Fleming’s Bond will have to give it up: he is obviously not the image painted by the author; and casting him in the role actually makes the series even more remote from Fleming’s intention and takes away any of the leitmotifs implicit in the character. Craig and his unusual pallor and his lack of a commanding presence are simply in stark opposition to the dark romantic hero in the books.

The filmmakers, on the other hand, insist that Craig personifies grittiness, the one thing needful to revitalize an already successful franchise (which earned about a $1 billion with its last four films). Yet the filmmakers also underestimate how cynical and hardened by life I’ve become. Craig is certainly tough looking; however, it’s the tough persona of a half-civilized ruffian, straight out of the gutters of Euro-gangland. If that’s all I want from the James Bond character, I can also go to the auto-wrecking yard where I used to work: there are plenty of scruffy Daniel Craig types at the old yard, I can tell you that for free. (And I suspect the Bond producers have made them hopeful: I have a feeling these chaps look forward to the day when each will have the opportunity to wear the tuxedo and stand in the white dots of the opening gun barrel image.)

The comment from Tatiana Romanova, the heroine in From Russia, With Love, takes us to the very center of Fleming’s vision of Bond as a classic romantic hero: in her first encounter with Bond, Tatiana lies naked in bed with a black velvet ribbon round her neck and, studying Bond’s face, is compelled to compliment him:

‘You are very handsome,’ she said. She searched for a comparison that would give him pleasure. ‘You are like an American film star.’ (172-173)

Her description is quite a contrast to the agent depicted in the photos that Russian generals were examining near the beginning of the novel: a tough, grim face of a dangerous spy, and one of the generals is even forced to admit that the British agent "‘looks a nasty customer’" (50). In other words, Fleming suggests that Bond is certainly not a wimp—he is just as dangerous as his enemies. The character’s hard side emerges again when Vivienne Michel, the heroine in The Spy Who Loved Me, first encounters Bond: tormented by two thugs in a motel, she is startled to see Bond—a stranger who has suddenly appeared at the doorstep in the rain—because he reminds her of a ruthless gangster:

At first glance, I inwardly groaned—God it’s another of them! He stood there so quiet and controlled and somehow with the same quality of deadliness as the others. And he wore that uniform that the films make one associate with gangsters—a dark-blue belted raincoat and a soft black hat pulled rather far down. (108)

Again, a variation of Fleming’s dark figure reappears to haunt this woman. But Vivienne’s first glance (so momentary, so fleeting) is the reaction of a woman who has just been practically raped by two thugs, and any man who stood in the late evening, on that dim porch, would have looked menacing to her eyes. A moment later, she is captivated by this stranger who is “good-looking in a dark, rather cruel way,” and there is something in his smile, in his presence, that comforts her: “Then he smiled,” she reflects, “and suddenly I thought I might be all right” (108). Her remark implies that Bond radiates a certain mystique, a quality that Henry Chancellor identifies in his James Bond: The Man and His World.

[Image] The literary Bond, Chancellor explains, is also a reflection of the male models that appeared everywhere when Fleming was writing the books: “Advertisements for suits, whisky, cars, cigarettes all showed a tall, dark man with comic-book good looks, whose muscular frame looked good in a single-breasted suit.” In films, “this type of man was Gregory Peck, Cary Grant, Gary Cooper—a type of male omnipresent before the 1960s skinny rock star” (63). Even the Bondian figure on the covers of Fleming’s paperback editions feature the same type of character (presumably, a depiction that the author accepted because of its frequent use): the darkly handsome hero, generic enough to be something of an all-encompassing image for the movie stars of the day. Of course, we must admit, this male imagery does not point to the likes of Daniel Craig. But this imagery is what Fleming seemed to have in mind, during the early casting phase of Dr. No, when he “put forward Roger Moore, whom he had been impressed by on television” (Sterling 96), as a potential Bond to producers Albert Broccoli and Harry Saltzman.

[Photos of Moore and Connery] Despite the actor’s sandy-colored hair, Moore and his suaveness somehow accord neatly with the élan of the dashing Byronic Hero painted in the novels. Likewise, this male imagery suggests the reason why Fleming changed his mind about Sean Connery: when he first saw the rugged Scottsman, Fleming was “reportedly aghast and claimed that the actor was totally wrong.” But after seeing the darkly handsome Connery in character and clad in a tailored Savile Row suit, “Fleming changed his mind, and even gave the literary James Bond a Scottish heritage in subsequent novels” (Benson 164). Of course, this approach became the archetypal casting—George Lazenby, Timothy Dalton, and Pierce Brosnan are essentially reflections of the dark romantic hero.

But back to the Russian beauty, Tatiana Romanova, in From Russia, With Love: with her comment about Bond looking like an American film star, she is almost star-struck, staring at him for a long while, as if the man before her has a larger-than-life presence, a reaction that anticipates the way Vivienne Michel becomes captivated by the dark stranger at the motel porch some years later. An even more interesting comment from Tatiana: “‘You’re like my favorite hero,’” she tells Bond as moonlight filters through the curtains in the hotel room. “‘He’s in a book by a Russian called Lermontov’” (173).

[Book Cover] I suspect this young cipher clerk, assigned to seduce Bond as part of an elaborate scheme to defect to the West, is referring to Grigoriy Aleksandrovich Pechorin, the celebrated hero in Lermontov’s only novel, A Hero of Our Time. Dashing and enigmatic, Pechorin is essentially an embodiment of the Byronic Hero—and not surprisingly; for the novel is heavily influenced by Byron and “being itself a study of the Byronic type of character” (Wisdom and Murray). The novel consists of five separate stories, linked by the hero Pechorin, wherein the first story, “Bela,” is a romantic tale of abduction that has Pechorin stealing a Circassian princess—an act that, perhaps to Tatiana, parallels the notion of a dashing British agent who will steal her from the Soviets. Again, through this allusion, Fleming portrays Bond as the dark romantic figure.

In Fleming’s Casino Royale, could Bond’s romantic movie-star quality be the reason why Vesper is taken by his presence? As Bond leaves the casino after their first meeting, Vesper’s eyes “followed him out on to the boulevard.” She is compelled to tell Mathis that the British agent is “very good-looking” and, drawing the analogy that Bond shares a likeness with a famous entertainer, states that Bond “reminds me rather of Hoagy Carmichael” (35). There is something, then, in Bond’s presence—perhaps the magnetic, larger-than-life aura of a star—that reminds her of the multi-talented composer, singer, and actor. Curiously, in the film (which takes pride in being a faithful adaption of the novel), the filmmakers omit this dialogue, nor do they adapt it in any way, thereby weakening the presentation of the Craig-Bond: the screen Vesper does not even assert that this new Bond is "very good-looking," which suggests that the filmmakers were uncomfortable with this scene in the novel, and we sense their implicit acknowledgement that the Craig-Bond is nowhere near the essence of Fleming's Bond.

In the novel, even Felix Leiter reminds Bond of another star: in their first meeting at the casino, Bond notices that Leiter is wearing “a lightweight, tan-coloured suit” that “hung loosely from his shoulders like the clothes of Frank Sinatra” (47). Fleming, the clever story-teller, looked at the world surrounding him: just as he was influenced by some of the popular existentialist ideas of his time, he turned to the imagery of the glamorous movie stars and entertainers of his day, as well as to the traditional imagery of the dark romantic hero in literature, and projected them onto his fictional world.

12

As usual with a Bond film, the stunts and second-unit sequences are well done in Casino Royale. But it does give the impression that the action consumed the filmmakers, requiring so much concentration, that they forgot about the Bond-Begins angle. Fortunately, they do cram something at the end to address their original intention, which we can only assume reflects the efforts of Paul Haggis—a full 10-minute contribution to the production for which he probably received $40 million, or whatever it was he got paid, and for which the film receives an awkward finale that struggles to bring the story back to the origin-reboot premise.

[photo of Lake Como] Somehow, after surviving torture and a bunch of explosions, and after witnessing the collapse of a building into the canals of Venice, the Craig-Bond—at almost age 40—undergoes a remarkable metamorphosis in the space of an instant. It is a metamorphosis that involves an existential makeover, completing his transformation into the statehood of “Bond,” which is reflected in his new, but ugly suit. In this state of enlightenment, he visits Mr. White (a middleman of a terrorist organization) at a villa near Lake Como and starts the conversation with rational discourse by shooting the elderly man in the leg with a high-powered rifle.

When Mr. White looks up to see the shooter, he’s stunned to see that the Craig-Bond looks older than him, has a bowl haircut and is, well, wearing an ugly suit. The Craig-Bond strides with confidence and proudly tells Mr. White that his “name is Bond, James Bond,” implying that he has moved beyond common humanity, that in the very depths of his being he holds all the Bondian superspy powers, and that he looks forward to joining The Fantastic Four but he will first need to scrub his skin with botanicals to remove the crags in his mug. The circle is complete. The aged, craggy but young novice secret agent has grown to be the aged, craggy, mature, experienced secret agent. We have, before our eyes, another bildungsroman in the spirit of Nicholas Nickleby. Or it’s simply a movie that causes mild nausea.

Casino Royale looks like it took a lot of effort to make, which is unfortunate, because it is not very good. Its only piece of dignity is Judi Dench; and though the poor woman gives it her best (I felt like reaching out to her, to offer the number of a psychiatric support group, or even send her a bottle of Opus One), the film is muddled at so many levels. The film offers big blockbuster action sequences to please action fans but awkwardly showcases trite dialogue scenes concerning duty and egotism for those who are embarrassed to watch mindless action. It attempts to be a confident adaptation of Fleming’s novel but, as we’ve discussed, lacks all of the thematic details of the book and does not give an accurate portrayal of the literary Bond. Perhaps most disturbing of all, the film attempts to depict the origins of the Bond character but delivers a weak character study by devoting very little screen time to the character’s origin and by casting an actor too old to play a young novice agent and too bland and unappealing to carry the entire film. It’s an avant garde type of filmmaking that could only be pioneered by a couple of guys doing bong hits and it somehow made its way into mainstream cinema.

For the sake of the series, it all worked at the box office. But I suppose the public flocked to Casino Royale in a desperate attempt to avoid the bazillions of Friends reruns playing each night on every TV channel. It also helped that there were no other high-profile adventure films (such as a Harry Potter or a Pirates of The Caribbean) released at the time. Hence, the new 007 film was saved from having to compete and succeeded solely on the relentless brute-force power of the Hollywood hype machine. Its central engine was a massive PR budget, big as the GNP of Iceland or Moldavia—enough money to brand Casino Royale a “Must-See” film. Not seeing it is to risk arrest and deportation to a prison camp in some dark forsaken place.

Even the mass media joined the hype and voiced its admiration for the film: reporters, film critics, TV entertainment commentators, and newspaper columnists were suddenly proclaiming to be well versed in Fleming fiction by asserting that the new film was true to its literary source. This powerful collective voice, emphasizing surprised glee and boundless praise, covered with its mask of joy the disagreement of the film’s detractors and set forth the decree that Daniel Craig was the best Bond since Sean Connery. In this whirlwind, a shift in sentiment also occurred at the handful of 007 fan-boy forums on the Internet: it became vogue to bash Brosnan and worship Craig as the epitome of greatness. The whole thing was a fascinating phenomenon to behold: it reminded me of the human impulse to represent something—something even as trivial as a film—as an illusory vision of something as we would like it to appear without critical judgment; and from this point of view, we can band together and march forward, in blind adherence, to an idea—a shared idyll—that everyone has accepted, united in the solidarity of the herd.

A friend asked, “How could this be?” Not long ago, she recalled, Pierce Brosnan was hailed as the best Bond since Sean Connery. How is it possible that everyone is praising Craig, perhaps even over-praising the new actor as if they are worshipping a deity? How could they forget, or even scorn, the accomplishments of Brosnan and the other actors who played the part? Can people move so easily from admiration to contempt? (Oh yes, dear girl, oh yes.) Is praise and veneration for an actor’s performance so fragile, so unstable a thing then? To which we say: of course, dear girl, of course.

The grand march to the praise for Casino Royale made people forget the previous Bond films. The comments alone from the filmmakers (“The best actor ever in a Bond film in the sense that he's more 'art house'” [Kung 2], says Campbell, describing Craig) erased the performances of the previous five actors—and so on and so forth, a process that allows everyone to let everything be forgotten. In this world of amnesia, the past provokes us, tempts us, to rewrite events in some way. Meanwhile, the scene where Eva Green mutters, “I'll keep my eyes on our government's money and off your perfectly formed arse,” will live forever, a haunting reminder that we puny humans have so far to go; that as we cultivate the human spirit with the poetry of, say, Dante or Shakespeare, there is an opposing tendency that drags us down to the realm of kitsch, where the rump of a person is praised in all its glory. As Kundera states in his novel Slowness, this part of the human body is the “supreme portal; supreme because it is the most mysterious, the most secret,” (92) and, by implication, the portal to the metaphorical void from which all the bullshit in the world emanates. Sad to say, Martin Campbell’s Casino Royale is from that void.

If you really must see a vacuous spy film, (which I can’t imagine is your intention, unless you have harsh government regulations), you’re better off watching Johnny English, starring Rowan Atkinson. But if you’re eager to see a spy film where the leading lady is hairier and more expressionless than Daniel Craig, Casino Royale is just the film for you. It’s a unique 007 film, the most laughable in the James Bond canon, until they come out with Bond 22: Tomorrow Will Explode In Montenegro, featuring Jack Black as the villain and Ashlee Simpson as Vesper’s younger sister. The plot will concern mysterious explosions at various gyms throughout Montenegro, which prevents the Craig-Bond from working out to maintain his body-builder's hunch. This is the most probable course for the series. Stay tuned.

Notes

1 A variation of the Bildungsroman is the Künstlerroman, an “artist-novel” that traces the growth of the main character, who has an artistic temperament, into his recognition of his destiny as an artist. Perhaps the most famous is James Joyce's A Portrait of the Artist as a Young Man (1914-15).
2 The Republic of Montenegro has a very rich animal life. For more information, refer to the web site 1World2Travel.com.
3 Unmercifully, in Infamous, Craig strums a guitar and croons a country song in a prison cell.
4 Venice was used in From Russia With Love and Moonraker.
5 My film festival consisted of 15 movies, an in-depth discussion of which has no place here but will be published in a future essay.
6 I refer to the scene where Bond falls from his chair during the baccarat game, but the agent recovers with a cool, nonchalant manner before the spectators. We discussed this scene in section 6 of this essay.
7 This image of the literary Bond looking cool and clean in a suit, despite the hard tropical heat, anticipates the image of Roger Moore—looking immaculate in a white tuxedo—running in the crowded sweltering streets of Udaipur in Octopussy.

List of Illustrations

"Casino Games." Online Image. iCasinos.tv. 21 Jan. 2007
<http://icasinos.tv/>.
"Texas Hold 'Em." Online Image. Texas Hold Em Tex. 19 July 2007
<http://www.texasholdemtex.com>.
"Richard Maibaum." The Official A View To A Kill Collector's Magazine. Comics World Corp.,
1985: 55.
"Daniel Craig." Online Photograph. Cinematical. 25 Aug. 2007
<http://www.cinematical.com/2007/08/17/first-images-of-daniel-craig-on-
set-for-bond-22/>.
"Title Credits - On Her Majesty's Secret Service." Online Photograph. James Bond 007 -
Maurice Binder 8 July 2007 <http://ohmss.w.interia.pl/binder.html>.
"Martin Campbell." Online Photograph. IMDB. 8 June 2007
<http://us.imdb.com/gallery/ss/0190865/Ss/0190865/20.html?hint=tt0190865>.
"A Street in Madagascar." Online Photograph. Terminalia.org. 3 August 2007
<http://www.terminalia.org/mad/page6.htm>.
"Time Funnel." Online Image. Time Travel, Time Warp, Temporal Shift, theory,
links, science, and fiction. 30 August 2007
<http://www.angelfire.com/electronic/planetarycom/temporal.html>.
"Caribbean Beach." Online Photograph. National Geographic. 21 May 2007
<http://www3.nationalgeographic.com/places/images/photos/photo_lg_bahamas.jpg>.
"Sunset on the ramp at Miami International Airport." Online Photograph. PBase.com.
10 June 2007 <http://www.pbase.com/airlinerphotos/airports_mia>.
"Map of Montenegro." Online Image. The Regional Environment Center for for Central
and Eastern Europe. 18 March 2007 <http://www.rec.org/REC/Maps/mon_map.html>.
"A Coastal Town in Brittany." Online Photograph. Les photos de Bernard.
22 August 2007 <http://le-gall.net/bernard/picture.php?cat=22&image_id=288>.
"James Bond at the Gambling Table." Online Photograph. Bondian.com. 14 Feb. 2007
<http://www.bondian.com>.
"Count Von Count." Online Photograph. Muppet Wiki. 19 April 2007
<http://muppet.wikia.com/wiki/Count_von_Count>.
"Aston Martin DBS." Online Photograph. Aston Martin. 27 Sept. 2007
<http://www.astonmartin.com/eng/thecars/dbs/powerbeautysoul>.
"Demi Moore in The Scarlet Letter." Online Photograph. IMDB. 9 January 2007
<http://uk.imdb.com/gallery/ss/0114345/1-2.jpg.html?seq=11>.
"Ian Fleming and Sartre." Personal graphic by author. 27 May 2007.
"Casino Royale - First British Edition." Online Photograph. Bondian.com. 12 Feb. 2007
<http://bondian.com/books/83609241i.html>.
"Casino Royale - British Pan Edition." Online Photograph. Bondian.com. 12 Feb. 2007
<http://bondian.com/books/83609241i.html>.
"Beach Sunset." Online Photograph. rachelleb.com. 18 July 2007
<http://www.rachelleb.com/images/washington/ruby_beach_jeff_sunset.jpg>.
"Gothic Woman." Online Image. The Stranger. 20 July 2007
<http://thestranger.com/binary/f47e/books-lead-1-160.jpg>.
"A Room with a Window." Online Photograph. iStockPhoto. 10 June 2007
<http://www.istockphoto.com/file_closeup/?id=1693470&refnum=867475>.
"Daniel Craig and Vladimir Putin." Photo layout by author. Both photos available online.
Craig photo: Intereuropa. 16 Sept. 2007 <http://intereuropa.interia.pl/news?inf=615281>.
Putin photo: The American Partisan. 16 Sept. 2007 <http://www.american-
partisan.com/cols/2002/pyne/qtr2/0520.htm>.
"Muscle Man." Online Image. NASAexplores: Express Lessons and Online Resources.
16 Oct. 2007. <http://www.nasaexplores.com/show_912_student
_st.php?id=040129150339>.
"Man in Tuxedo." Online Photograph. iStockPhoto.com. 14 Sept. 2007
<http://www.istockphoto.com/file_closeup/?id=229232&refnum=200889>.
"Lord Byron, Timothy Dalton as Heathcliff." Photo arrangement by author. Both photos
available online. Lord Byron: bbc.co.uk. 17 Aug. 2007
<http://www.bbc.co.uk/arts/romantics/poems2.shtml>.
Dalton: IMDB. 17 Aug. 2007 <http://us.imdb.com/gallery/mptv/1078/Mptv
/1078/1881_0002.jpg.html?hint=group>.
"From Russia With Love - British Pan Paperback Edition." Online Image. MI6.co.uk.
22 Aug. 2007 <http://www.mi6.co.uk/sections/literary/from_russia_with_love.php3>.
"Roger Moore and Sean Connery." Photo layout by author. Both photos available online.
Roger Moore: Allposters.com. 7 Sept. 2007
<http://www.allposters.com/-sp/-Posters_i379619_.htm>.
Sean Connery: UltimateDisney.com. 7 Sept. 2007
<http://www.ultimatedisney.com/darbyogill.html>.
"A Hero of Our Time - Book Cover." Online Image. Abe Books. 27 April 2007
<http://www.abebooks.com/servlet/BookDetailsPL?bi=893371863&searchurl=
an%3Dlermontov%26sortby%3D2%26sts%3Dt%26tn%3Da%2Bhero%2Bof%2Bour%2
Btime%26x%3D77%26y%3D14>.
"Lake Como." Online Photograph. Britannica Student Encyclopædia. 30 August 2007
<http://student.britannica.com/eb/art-51283>.

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