The first time I read the novel more than a decade ago, I never thought this novel was movie material. The novel was an intense drama about a British Intelligence spy (I think it was called MI-5 and not MI-6 in this book) caught in a tense card game, followed by some torture chamber etc. The lead character James Bond (who was described as one with a scar on his face/back?) was completely different from the Roger Moores and Connerys I had seen on the screen. In the books, he was intense, barely used double entendres and was more human. I went to this movie with a lot of skepticism. On one hand, movies based on Fleming's novels tend to have a semblance of a story line, which was completely absent in the last 4 Bond movies and needlessly over-emphasized in the previous two Dalton movies. On the other hand how do you make a movie based on a novel that dedicated 70% of page space on a card game?
The movie begins by violating a sacred Bond tradition. This seems to be the theme of the movie - violate as many Bond movie traditions as possible. A typical Bond movie has 4-5 acts. The first act is a pre-title sequence. This act immediately follows the 'United Artists' banner and you see James Bond walking from left to right on the screen (Connery did this with a funny hat) turns around and shoots at the camera. The camera bleeds red and the circle that focuses on bond enlarges and takes us to an adrenalin filled opening scene which is followed by a semi-animated 'title credits' sequence involving guns, negative images of naked women, Bond and more naked women silhouttes. Then 3-4 acts follow in an episodic structure, which involve James Bond travelling to exotic locales, ordering martinis, saying his name in a yoda-like reverse fashion, doing hawt chics with funny names, play cards and finally in a separate 5th act called the climax sequence - James Bond escapes a carefully orchestrated near death sequence kills off the villian and saves London, Queen and the world (warning: although its an awesome awesome video that will thrill you if you r a bond fan - the next video is 21 minutes long - see it in the end).
This movie's pre-title act starts in Black and White, it follows the latest Batman/Spiderman movie tradition of going back to the beginning of the lead character's story/career, a time when James Bond is not yet a '00' agent. The act ends with James Bond shooting someone and the circle hovers over him and directly leads us to the title sequence. Thereby deviating from the usual structure. I did not quite buy the 'you need to kill two people to get a licence to kill' looped logic. It seemed silly but it made up for a good opening scene. The animated title-credits sequence was poorly done and the song was not in line with Bassey, Duran Duran or Louis Armstrong classics. Given the constraints of the novel, it is understandable that the action sequences need to be invented or contrived to keep the pace of the movie interesting. In that context, the act following the title song is simply awesome. This bond is young, ruthless, athletic and has tons of energy. It was a physically enthralling action scene and I was impressed. The other action sequences are interspersed in the middle of the card game sequences and blend well with the flow of the story without appearing contrived.
Other obvious places where Bond tradition has been violated are - Felix Leiter, who is Bond's trusted CIA friend comes back (he keeps getting injured, dead or disposed in many movies/novels). He is also African American. He never appeared in the Casino Royale novel but finds a place in the movie. Bond also doesn't give a damn if his martini is shaken or stirred. Strange but acceptable. M still continues to be a woman. Bond breaks into her house and almost utters her real name. Yes! it is not a random symbol given by the British Intelligence. If I remember my novels correctly, M is short for Admiral Sir Mercilles Miles (can anybody confirm this?). I am not sure what a woman's name in this place would be. The movie's biggest weakness is the the final act, which violates the usual huge action sequence of exploding ships (even space ships) and buildings. The romantic emotional bond ( I missed Brosnan in this sequence and was the only time I thought Brosnan might've done a better job) that you see in the final half hour is against the pace of the movie and made the movie un-bondish. In purely business terms this is being puristic at the cost of ignoring your audience. Otherwise the movie is simply awesome, really entertaining and renews interest in this wonderful franchise.
The Actor Who plays Bond: It is inevitable for Bond fans to argue on 'who is the best bond' topic every time a new actor takes up the Walther PPK. The debate usually has been "does he replace Connery as the best bond ever?". I liked Daniel Craig. I was a huge Brosnan fan (very obvious since I have seen each episode of R'Steele gzillion times) and I was pre-disposed to thinking Daniel Craig did not have the class or the panache to play Bond. Well! I was right - he does not. But I was wrong in that Bond does not need class or panache. Roger Moore made bond an upper class, snooty cricket playing grandpa Bond with a country club membership. His witticism and aristocracy made Mike Myers a superstar than make him the best bond ever. Dalton, a really fine actor, played a serious classless bond who was less physical but more shakesperian. Brosnan, I thought blended the right bond. He had the style and built of Sean Connery, he had charm and he was a really fine actor. Plus he was a box office king. Unfortuntely his movies never had a story line that was even remotely sensible (frankly his movies never depended on a story at all) and added to that Brosnan got bond 10 years too late.
Daniel Craig is a brute. M directly compares the 2 bonds. If I remember correctly, Brosnan was called a 'sexist mysogynist dinosaur. A relic of the cold war' by Dame Judi Dench. Here, she calls Craig a 'blunt instrument'. These were the respective Brand positioning of the two James Bonds. The difference between the two is that this story allows Craig to deliver on his positioning. He is young, so full of adrenalin, intensely physical and moves like a cross between Jackie Chan & Schwarzenegger. He presents a different Bond. A simple no nonsense cold blooded killer. He makes mistakes and learns from them. He is closer to Sean Connery in the spectrum than Moore. Connery could play the brute but he had class. Connery's walking style (the way he leans on the counter in the theraphy club in Thunderball ) - just oozes style and class. Craig hasn't had an opportunity to showcase that side of him - yet. However, when he finally announces himself in the closing lines of the movie - he makes us stand up and take notice.