The Spy Who Came in from the Cold

The Spy Who Came in from the Cold is a 1965 Cold War spy film starring directed by Martin Ritt, with a screenplay by Paul Dehn and Guy Trosper. It is based upon the bestselling 1963 novel of the same name by John Le Carré. The film stars Richard Burton as British Intelligence officer Alec Lemas and Claire Bloom as Nan Perry.

I have discussed le Carré’s career at length in my review of the recent miniseries The Night Manager. A valid criticism of that review is that I spent too much time focusing on Le Carré’s long and illustrious career, both as a British Intelligence officer and novelist, when I should have been focusing on the miniseries itself. As such, I will provide a brief summary on why le Carré’s work is so interesting, while at the same time complicated, and then move on to the film.

David Cromwell was an agent for military intelligence stationed in Austria briefly following World War II, acting as a German-language interrogator for defectors from the Iron Curtain. He returned to Britain and finished up his studies on foreign languages (his specialty) at Oxford University, where he covertly informed on radical/Communist groups for MI-5. He was an MI-5 officer from 1958 to 1960 before transferring to MI-6, AKA The Circus, where he returned to Germany under the official cover as “Second Secretary” at the British Embassy in the city of Bonn. He was later transferred to Hamburg as political counsel. It was there Cromwell wrote his second novel, A Murder of Quality, in 1962 and this novel the year after, both under the pen name John le Carré, which is French for “John the Square.” The Spy Who Came in from the Cold was a momentous success. Cromwell left the intelligence field in 1964 due to disastrous intelligence leaks caused by Soviet double agent Kim Philby. le Carré has since become known as one of the best spy fiction writers of all time.

le Carré is a brilliant writer, and the adaptations of his works have been known to be equally as brilliant. However, his work as well as their various adaptations can be difficult to recommend to the uninitiated; somewhat of an antithesis to James Bond, le Carré’s work is grounded in the real world. The majority of his novels are very cerebral and drenched in true-to-life tradecraft. le Carré presents the espionage world as it truly is. It is a world of moral gray areas, trenchcoats, secret meetings, back-door politics, and very little violence. There are no climactic shootouts, gadgets, or glamour. le Carré presents the real deal, with very little handholding. As such, his work, though excellent, is potentially inaccessible to a layman, either due to confusion or a feeling things are too slow. le Carré and films based of his works are great, but you have to know what you are getting into beforehand. Don’t expect Skyfall or Jason Bourne. Much like the stereotypical Dad with a weird fascination with American Civil War history, espionage is my weird fascination, so I enjoy both le Carré’s novels and films.

The Spy Who Came in from the Cold follows MI-6 officer Alec Lemas, head of station in Berlin. Lemas, a seasoned and extremely cynical man who considers himself “an operational man,” becomes exceptionally disillusioned after a defector fails to bluff his way past security at the Berlin Wall and is subsequently shot down and killed. Lemas is returned to London and resigns rather than be put to a desk job. Lemas finds a bookkeeping job in London and falls in love with a naive but well-meaning Communist named Nan Perry. Lemas deals with his inner-turmoil by getting drunk. Lemas loses his job after causing trouble at a local grocery. He is then approached by agents of German Intelligence, having been singled out for defection for obvious reasons.

This decision sends Lemas down a dangerous path of treachery, lies, truth, and betrayal. Lemas has no delusions about what he is. The very cynical and somewhat nihilistic man does not believe in “God nor the words of Karl Marx.” That isn’t why he does what he does. The protagonist in this film is so nihlistic and cynical that he believes in nothing, except perhaps love. His leanings are so in contrast with his Communist girlfriend that everything finally comes to a head in the closing moments of the film.

What the hell do you think spies are? Moral philosophers measuring everything they do against the Word of God or Karl Marx? They’re not! They are just a bunch of seedy, squalid bastards like me: Little men, drunkards, queers, hen-pecked husbands, civil servants playing Cowboys and Indians to brighten their rotten little lives! Do you think they sit like monks in a cell, balancing right against wrong?

le Carré faced endless criticism from his former peers in the intelligence community after The Spy Who Came in from the Cold was published. Former spies who turn to writing often do, but for le Carré, it was not potential violation of the Official Secrets Act, but because his philosophy on the intelligence community angered them. Many of his peers saw espionage as fighting the good fight, a moral cause, the greater good. Not him. He portrayed the intelligence world as it is: a dirty, rotten business.

The Spy Who Came in from the Cold benefits from a flawless screenplay on top of its excellent source material. The film does a great job at making people think, about making you care, about making you understand how this secret world works. The dialogue is poignant and masterfullly crafted. There is also some rather brilliant cinematography on display here by Oswald Morris and a pretty great score by Sol Kaplan, too. Richard Burton is a marvelous actor. He is much more than Elizabeth Taylor’s husband, that’s all I have to say on that subject.

The Spy Who Came in from the Cold was arguably even more of a massive success than the novel. The film won several awards at the 1966 British Academy Film Awards, winning Best Actor for Richard Burton, Best Art Direction, Best Cinematography, and Best British Film. The film was nominated for Best Picture and Richard Burton was also nominated for Best Actor at the Academy Awards that same year.

The Spy Who Came in from the Cold is a intelligent, cerebral spy film, executed to the highest standard. Inspired by a spy who really did come in from the cold, this film is a look into what being one really is like, the strain it takes on your morals, your health, and your relationships, both personal and professional. It is a great classic film that I would recommend to anyone looking for a cerebral film with great acting to go along with it.

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James Bond: The Daniel Craig Era (Part IV: Spectre) (Spoilers)

After the series’ high success that was Skyfall, news that the majority of the major cast and pretty much all the behind the scenes crew would be returning for Spectre had a lot of people very, very, very excited. And with the revelation that frequent Quentin Tarantino collaborator, the immensely talented German thespian and actor Christoph Waltz would be playing the film’s main antagonist, with a secondary antagonist role played by Sherlock villain Andrew Scott, the hype and intrigue for this movie grew even more.

When the teaser trailer for the film released in early 2015, we were promised a mystery, a personal story, a conclusion to the events that began almost a decade earlier in 2006 with Casino Royale. The teaser played everything out just right, and kept every solid plot detail quite close to the chest while still getting the audience invested and intrigued. It really is a great trailer.

With a script once again written by the people behind Skyfall, John Logan, Neal Purvis, and Robert Wade, it seemed unlikely that anything could go wrong. Skyfall succeeded in nearly every area, especially exploring the roots and emotions of the Bond character and exploring the franchise on a much deeper thematic level. In order to be a success, Spectre simply had to continue this trend, combining these aforementioned elements with brilliantly produced and shot action sequences.

Skyfall cinematographer Roger Deakins was unavailable to return for Spectre, most likely due to his work on the brilliant Sicario, so the immensely talented and regaled cinematographer handed the reigns off to his Swedish counterpart Hoyte van Hoytema, who is just as talented, if not more so, than Deakins himself. Van Hoytema is known for acting as director of photography for such beautifully shot films as the award-winning 2010 sports drama The Fighter, the critically acclaimed 2011 Le Carre adaptation of Tinker, Tailor, Soldier, Spy, the Academy Award winning, Spike Jonze-helmed 2013 science-fiction romance comedy-drama Her, and 2014’s Interstellar, for which van Hoytema was nominated for a BAFTA award. Spectre was shaping up to be a film that could easily match, or even surpass, Skyfall.

Spectre begins with what I and many others consider to be the best cold open to a James Bond film yet. The Day of the Dead sequence begins with a four-minute long single take tracking shot, followed by a pulse-pounding escape and eventual fist fight in an airborne helicopter.

From then on, the film starts to go downhill. Adele’s Skyfall was an excellent combination of previous classic themes, and was combined with an excellent, creative, trippy, and engaging sequence that delved deep into Bond’s fractured psyche. Sam Smith’s Writing On the Wall and its accompanying credits sequence, though well-performed and well-designed, lacks any sort of investment the previous film provided. Smith has no emotion or true enthusiasm in his vocals, and the opening credits sequence, filled with what I can only describe as weird tentacle stuff, does nothing except confuse me.

Bond is reprimanded for his conduct in Mexico, which was an off-the-books assassination assigned by Dench’s M posthumously. Bond heads to the funeral of the man he killed and porks his widow, played by Monica Bellucci, only after killing two men who break into her apartment. Yes, even for a James Bond film, the scene is about uncomfortable, nonsensical, and creepy as it sounds. Bellucci tells him about a meeting of the mysterious SPECTRE organization, revealed to be the mastermind beind the Quantum suborganization. It is at this meeting that Bond meets Franz Oberhauser, played by Christoph Waltz. Bond escapes with a SPECTRE ring and is able to track down Mr. White, now a fugitive in hiding dying from radiation poisoning. He kills himself with Bond’s Whalter before making 007 promise to protect his daughter, played by the beautiful Lea Sydoux.Bond is then sent on a rather forced and trite journey to take down Oberhauser, revealed to be the son of Bond’s surrogate father; the Oberhausers were a wealthy family and friends of the Bonds who took James in after his parents’ death. Franz killed his parents, making it look like an accident, and inheiriting their wealth. He also changes his name: Ernst Stavro Blofield. This twist is entirely predictable with no mystery surrounding it whatsoever, and the reveal isn’t treated as shocking or relavatory in the slightest. With the film’s title a reference to the organization headed by Blofield, everybody knew off the bat that Waltz’ character was Blofield, but his connection to James could have been something shocking; a twist. There is no twist in here and the plot is entirely predictable and uninspired. In Skyfall, though there were no “twists” perse, it wasn’t predictable. It was fresh and exhilarating. Except for the widow thing, I was able to call every single point of plot progression before it occured.

This time around, the script does not even touch on any deep meanings, nor does it progress Bond as a character. Blofield’s role as “the author of all your pain” barely effects Bond and provides him with little to no overriding motovation or even emotional intensity. The plot, which should have been a shocking, emotionally charged hunt for the man who ruined Bond’s life at every turn, is instead a formulaic, by-the-numbers, rather episodic-feeling, and boring affair. Considering this is by the same team as Skyfall, and that Spectre was marketed as a culmination of the events of Bond’s past in this continuity, I cannot begin to imagine why the writing team did such a disappointing job, especially considering the brilliance of their previous effort.

For some very odd and rather disheartening reason, it is clear that no one’s heart was in this. Aside from the admittedly epic opening, all the action is rather standard; the direction is technically efficent, though not very creative. Van Hoytema does give us some brilliant shots, although the notable ones are few and far between. Craig used to view the role of Bond with great enthusiasm, but has gone on to state that he’d rather “slit his wrists” than reprise the role again, along with some other striking comments. He phones it in as Bond here. Lea Sydoux is given nothing to do but stand there and be pretty. Christoph Waltz could be a great Blofeld, if the writers gave him anything interesting to work with. Everything about Spectre is, frankly, a little boring, which is actually hugely disappointing to me, given it had so much potential if people had just given a crap.

Spectre was in production during the infamous Sony hacks of 2014/2015, and a copy of the script and critiques of it were obtained. It would not suprise me if this greatly hindered production and had something to do with the failure to reach its potential. Upon the news that Spectre is the most expensive movie in the Bond franchise thus far, and one of the most expensive movies ever made in general, I am a little worried that the Bond franchise as a whole might end up going out on a low note. It’s been almost 54 years, and all good things must come to an end, but not like this, I plead.

Spectre is not a bad film by any stretch of the imagination. It is a very well-done film from a technical, exclusively filmmaking standpoint, and is entirely worth your time if you need a movie to watch. It is, however, a rather gigantic disappointment given the talent involved and the legacy of what came before, much like Quantum of Solace, only much worse, in my opinion. I am aware that, oftentimes, expectations do not match reality, but Spectre did not only not reach my expectations, it managed to be totally overshadowed by other films that year, including Mission Impossible: Rouge Nationa series who’s high octane, impressive stunts were no doubt inspired by the long-running Bond franchise. I hope that the series will once again pick itself back up, because the grandaddy of spies being outshone by a series inspired by it and a movie that satirically praises it is not a good sign.

James Bond: The Daniel Craig Era (Part II: Quantum of Solace) (Spoilers)

2008’s Quantum of Solace was the long-awaited sequel to Daniel Craig’s excellent first outing. The film was directed by Marc Forester with a screenplay by Paul Haggis, Neal Purvis, and Robert Wade. Quantum of Solace picks up immediately after the end of Casino Royale, with Bond having captured the mysterious Mr. White in the closing moments of the film. Opening with a riveting car chase and a decent hard rock theme performed by Jack White and Alicia Keys, it all goes downhill from there.

What made Casino Royale stand out for many among the previous films in the franchise is the fact that it actually cared about Bond, M, Vesper, and even Le Chiffre, as people. Following Vesper’s death, it feels as though Quantum of Solace should be a continuation and escalation of that. It isn’t, and that is where the major disappointment lies. Casino Royale set up 007 as a human being, with thoughts and emotions apart from his service to Queen and Country. James fell in love, and despite whatever he says to the contrary, he should want revenge for Vesper’s death. The plotline to Quantum of Solace, however, does away with the emotions and raw intensity properly established in Casino Royale and, as a result, doesn’t go anywhere.

The conflict presented in Quantum of Solace begins after Mr. White escapes from MI-6 custody as fast as he was placed into it. He does so with the help of M’s corrupt bodyguard Mitchell, who was in Mr. White’s pocket from the word go. Bond chases Mitchell around Sienna and is ultimately forced to kill him. That makes M suspicious of Bond’s ability to remain professional, which is established by an interesting interaction between Bond and M earlier in the film.

“I need to know that I can trust you.”

“You don’t?”

“Well, it’d be a pretty cold bastard who didn’t want revenge for the death of someone he loved.”

The thesis that M puts forth is actually a very reasonable one, one that the film fails entirely to follow through on. Throughout the film, M expresses disdain and disgust for Bond’s actions throughout the film, as he appears to be racking up quite the body count for no apparent reason. She eventually has Bond arrested and detained, seeing him as a liability. The very stupid part about all this, from my perspective, is that Bond does not allow his emotions to affect his judgement in the slightest, and the people Bond kills throughout the course of the movie were necessary to complete his objectives. M’s distaste and distrust comes from nowhere but an (admittedly logical) assumption with no real evidence to back it up. That is extremely out of character for her, and seems only to manufacture conflict for a film that doesn’t really have anything interesting going on.

MI-6 tracks a marked bill that was inserted into one of Le Chiffre’s money laundering accounts to a geologist connected to a billionaire environmentalist named Dominic Greene. Greene is a member of Quantum, the organization headed by Mr. White. Greene’s plan is to initiate a coup in Bolivia to gain control of the country’s water supply. Bond meets a former intelligence officer named Camille Montes, played by Olga Kurylenko. Montes has a personal vendetta against the general behind the upcoming coup. He killed Camille’s father, and then raped her mother and sister before beating the two of them to death. Her character is the only one who presents any kind of emotional development whatsoever. Bond nor M, the two major players in this saga, show any kind of character development from where they left off during the end of Casino Royale. Bond shows no clear emotional drive for revenge, and except for escaping MI-6 custody to stop Greene’s scheme, remains entirely loyal to M and the British Government. Greene’s scheme is neither connected to White or Vesper aside from being a member of Quantum, nor does it seem particularly evil or threatening. As a sidenote, there is also a vauge hint of a sideplot involving the corrupt C.I.A. section chief of South America, and Felix Leiter’s boss, agreeing to work with Greene in exchange for oil. The chief only appears for a singular scene, Leiter for two, and nothing of consequence comes from their involvement.

Quantum of Solace, for what it’s worth, does have some very well-done action. The opening car chase is great and so is Bond’s hunt for Mitchell throughout Sienna. The film’s potential as a continuation of the new environment and new character dynamics established in Casino Royale is squandered by ignoring any and all emotion that would be expected in such a sequel, instead opting for a generic plotline that provides little to no investment for the audience, not providing any kind of closure or emotional reaction of any kind for Bond excluding the end scene.

Not only does this scene feel entirely out-of-place, forced, and somewhat random considering that the only setup we are given is ten seconds of exposition at the beginning of the film, but it also seems eerily similar to the scenes from the end of The Bourne Supremacy and the beginning of The Bourne Ultimatum, the latter of which came out just one year prior to Quantum of Solace’s release, with the only difference being Bond’s intent for revenge, which was not at all established until this point, and Jason Bourne’s quest for forgiveness.

Quantum of Solace is by no means the worst Bond film. It is perhaps the most disappointing given its potential, however. It is a watchable, adequate, serviceable, yet extremely forgettable film that wasted nearly all of its potential. The surprisingly creative action sequences are still all too brief, and unlike films like John Wick or Mad Max, are not nearly creative enough, entertaining enough, or groundbreaking enough for the film to rise above the surprisingly generic and average screenplay. This waste of potential was certainly reflected in the mixed critical reception of the film and lower than expected box office returns. The relative failure of this film is undoubtedly what led to MGM facing another bout of serious financial struggles that took them a long four years to resolve.

James Bond: The Daniel Craig Era (Part I) (Spoilers)

James Bond is a fictional character first introduced by novelist and ex-military intelligence officer Ian Fleming in 1953’s Casino Royale. The literary character was quite popular, with popularity in the United States being boosted by the fact that John F. Kennedy took a liking to the series after being introduced to the novels by a good friend and mutual acquaintance of Fleming’s. The novels and the film series that followed focus on the eponymous James Bond/007, an agent of the MI-6 (Foreign Intelligence). In the novels, Bond is described as one of the best 00 operatives currently active. The 00 designation indicates a “license to kill.” (discretionary use of lethal force if necessary in the course of their duties) The success of Fleming’s novels led film company Eon Productions and film distributor United Artists to commission a film based upon the character. The James Bond/007 film series originated with 1962’s Dr. No, starring Sean Connery. Since the momentous success of Dr. No, which arguably introduced what we now know as the modern blockbuster, there have been 23 more films. The 24th entry in the franchise, Spectre, released in October 2015. Over the course of 53 years, six actors have portrayed the role of 007: Sean Connery, George Lazenby, Roger Moore, Timothy Dalton, Pierce Brosnan, and Daniel Craig.

By the time the 20th film in the franchise was released in 2002, Die Another Day, it was clear that the series needed a complete overhaul if it was to continue on. Pierce Brosnan’s run as 007 is what I, as a die-hard fan of the series, like to refer to as “The Dark Ages.” 1995’s Goldeneye was a very entertaining film and, to this day, is known as a quintessential Bond film, with most ranking it up with classics like Goldfinger and Live and Let Die. The subsequent entries in Brosnan’s era… sucked. The plot of a James Bond film is usually ridiculous and fantastical. Goldfinger was about a German billionaire and gold tycoon’s plan to nuke Fort Knox, rendering the gold there useless, thus increasing the value of his gold. Goldeneye was about the robbery of the Bank of England and the use of a Russian spy satellite  to erase all financial information, thus crippling England’s economy. The plot of these movies are always stupid, because it’s the right kind of stupid… fun stupid. James Bond foils these plots with equally fantastical spy gadgets and cool cars with spy gadgets in them. It was a winning formula, until it wasn’t. Following Goldeneye, the plot’s that 007 foiled went from being stupid to being straight up nonsense. Tomorrow Never Dies follows a media mogul’s plan to start World War III to boost his coverage and sales. That’s boring and stupid… this time the wrong kind. The World is Not Enough follows Bond acting as bodyguard for an oil tycoon’s daughter after he is assassinated by a terrorist. It is revealed that the daughter and the terrorist were in cahoots (the terrorist held the daughter captive before the events of the film began, and she developed Stockholm Syndrome), and they’re planning to cause a nuclear meltdown to… I don’t even know, the Wikipedia summary is even stupid.

Die Another Day was the straw that broke the camel’s back. Also jokingly called Buy Another Day, Die Another Day featured a sickening amount of product placement, and unlike some other reviewers, I am usually never bothered by product placement, even if it is rather shameless. Here, it was literally shoved down your throat. It was staggering, even for a universally loved and known franchise such as this. It also featured Halle Berry as 007’s love interest, a North Korean albino military commander, another North Korean colonel (and the film’s main villain) who uses gene therapy to change his appearance, assume the identity of a  wealthy British socialite named Gustav Graves, who plans to use a satellite that can harness solar energy to cut a path through the DMZ so North Korea can invade South Korea. Also this…

Die Another Day was a disaster of a movie but a box office success, as all 007 films have been. It was clear that someone at MGM/Eon Productions knew the franchise was in need of a reboot. MGM was plagued by severe financial troubles and the Bond franchise went radio silent. In 2004, after MGM was rescued by Sony Pictures, (that is extremely ironic if you know the current state of Sony Pictures right now) the search was on for the next 007. As is typical, many big stars like Clive Owen were rumored to pick up the mantle. On October 14th, 2005, it was announced that the blond-haired. blue-eyed Daniel Craig would become the sixth actor to play James Bond in an adaptation of Fleming’s original novel, Casino Royale. People were furious. In Fleming’s novels, Bond, facially, is described as resembling Hoagy Carmichael. In terms of physical description, generally it is said that Bond has a “slim build; a three-inch long, thin vertical scar on his right cheek; blue-grey eyes; a ‘cruel’ mouth; short, black hair, a comma of which falls on his forehead. Physically he is described as 183 centimetres (6 feet) in height and 76 kilograms (168 lb) in weight.” (From Wikipedia)

 

Fleming007impression

An original sketch by Fleming

Craig looks nothing like literary Bond, but neither did Roger Moore. People threatened to boycott the film, with websites popping up protesting Craig, bondisnotblond.com being one of them. Boy, they look really stupid now.

***

Casino Royale was the reboot the franchise desperately needed. It was the first film to stray from the formula, and it was awesome. Directed by Martin Campbell with a screenplay by series veterans Robert Wade and Neal Purvis, the film does away with gadgets and plots for world domination or destruction, instead being a surprisingly faithful adaptation of the novel, which I have read.

In the film, James Bond is a newly minted 00 operative who is on the hunt for Le Chiffre, played by the brilliant Swedish actor Mads Mikkelsen. Le Chiffre is a mathematical genius and banker who handles money belonging to several terrorist organizations on behalf of a mysterious shadow organization represented by Mr. White. Le Chiffre plays the stock market with his clients’ money and looses. In order to recoup that loss and avoid the wrath of his murderous clients, he enters a high stakes poker tournament at the fictional Casino Royale in Montenegro. Bond, the best poker player in the Secret Intelligence Service, is assigned to enter the tournament, beat Le Chiffre, and then offer him sanctuary in exchange for everything he knows. While certainly a complicated and expensive operation, in comparison to Moonraker, this is as down-to-earth (pun intended) as the franchise has ever gotten.

The best thing about Craig’s Bond is that he is (in this film, at least) an actual character. Previous incarnations of Bond have all been flat and static characters. He never changed at all as a person. He got a mission to save the world, met a hot chick, and saved the world. That was it. He didn’t need to do anything else because the charm and stunt work carried it through. He honestly wasn’t too interesting of a character in the films up until this point. After Die Another Day, Purvis and Wade must have realized they needed to have a solid narrative background in case the action ended up like before. Lucky for them, the literary character of James Bond as created by Fleming is actually very interesting.

According to a fictional dossier developed as viral marketing for the film, James was born to Andrew and Monique Bond in 1968. They were tragically killed in a climbing accident in the Swiss Alps when he was eleven. (Depending on the author writing the story, sometimes Bond’s parents are revealed to be MI-6 operatives, although due to the countless number of authors to pick up the torch after Fleming, this has been contradicted. The Bond series, both literary and film, doesn’t adhere to a fixed canon.) After their death, he is raised by his Aunt Charmain and educated at Eton School for one year until being expelled for “repeated curfew violations and trouble with one of the maids.” Later, he boxed competitively at Fettes and formed the first judo team for the public school circuit. After school, Bond joins the Royal Navy, excelling in his training in every way. He was first an intelligence officer aboard a vessel. He did not feel challenged by his duties and transferred to the Special Boat Service. He excelled at the grueling training once again, equaling or exceeding the skills of his superior officers after very little experience. His extraordinary skill in all areas led to his placement in the 030 Special Forces Group. While in the 030, he served with distinction, performing covert action in Iraq, Iran, Serbia, and Libya, as well as active service in Bosnia, where he is credited with saving the lives of 100 men from a Serbian militia in a small village. Due to his exemplary service, Bond was awarded the rank of Commander and transferred to the Defense Intelligence Group. Afterwards, he retires from the Royal Navy at the age of 30 and joins MI-6. While at the DI, Bond once again impressed his superiors, undertaking hazardous and valorous missions and providing valuable intelligence. His superiors did take issue with Bond’s casual and cavalier attitude towards the chain of command and borderline insubordination. Indeed, Bond’s psychological profile shows troubling issues stemming from the death of his parents, including abandonment issues, lack of any significant close personal relationships of any kind, pathological distrust of authority, and emotional immaturity.

The 2006 dossier developed for Bond is almost entirely consistent with the backstory Fleming created, with only minor details being changed to fit the modern timeline.(originally a World War II combatant, Germany instead of Afghanistan, etc.) I am unsure as to why those in charge of the previous films did not use this backstory to spice things up. Probably because they didn’t need to. Here, though, the backstory comes in handy. Craig’s Bond is not a sociopath, but just doesn’t give a crap about emotions… or murder… or people… or anything, really. And that fits with a character with that kind of backstory (in the novels, Bond actually lied about his age to join the military, so combat experience at such a young age probably further hardened him and messed him up psychologically). “Kind of a sociopath” is actually exactly how Fleming wrote the character. People seem to be under the impression that Bond is nice. Bond is not, nor has he ever been a nice guy. Yes, Roger Moore couldn’t help but be nice, but Connery, Dalton, Brosnan, and Lazenby weren’t all that nice. From the opening scene  onwards, it is clear that, physical appearance notwithstanding, Ctaig is literary Bond to a T.

Casino Royale may forgo the crazy gadgets and ridiculous megalomania, but it certainly didn’t lose the action. Within the first fifteen minutes of the film, viewers are presented with an extensive parkour chase sequence that, in my opinion, is possibly the best action sequence in the franchise.

The sequence ends with Bond basically blowing up an embassy, leading to M’s (played by longtime series veteran Judi Dench) reintroduction into the franchise.

It is clear that Judi Dench’s M is meant to be a very important character in this new timeline. Like the previous Bonds, M was a tool to provide exposition and a central conflict, and was not seen again until the end of the film. In Casino Royale, like Craig’s Bond, we now know what M is thinking, we know her emotions, and we know her feelings. Casino Royale is the first movie in the long-running franchise to provide real character development, leading to emotional investment, leading the audience to remember more than hot girls and set pieces as they leave the theater.

The film does not skip out on hot girls, though. This time, instead of a throwaway we never learn anything about or ever see again, we have Vesper Lynd, played by Eva Green. Lynd, in both the novels and the film, is the first person Bond has fallen in love with. Much like the dynamic between Sherlock Holmes and Irene Adler, the fact that Vesper is an intelligent woman who is too smart to fall for his boyish charm is the reason Bond falls for her.

Lynd is the Treasury agent who is in charge of the money and also a part of his cover, that being the role of a loving couple. Throughout the film, Vesper takes none of the crap Bond tries to sell her, but ends up melting his heart. In the climax of the film, both are captured and tortured by Le Chiffre in what I consider possibly the single most perilous scene in the entire series.

After being rescued, both recuperate with an excursion to Rome. The lovestruck Bond retires from MI-6. It is, rather unceremoniously, uncovered that Vesper is working for Mr. White, the man seemingly behind everything.

I feel as though Casino Royale‘s major flaw is the speed at which it takes Vesper’s betrayal. There is little to no emotional impact for the viewer. I would personally liked to have seen such a major event in the character’s history be handled much more delicately. Nevertheless, Casino Royale handles Bond’s transition from the young and cocky agent to the battle hardened veteran with grace and ease, Vesper’s all-to-swift betrayal and death notwithstanding. Casino Royale is a brilliant first outing for Daniel Craig, a more than serviceable adaptation of the 1953 novel, and does an admirable job updating the character for modern audience. After the high-point that was this film, people were very hopeful that the sequel would reach the same heights, and maybe even raise the bar. We’ll talk about that in Part II, though.