Coate: In what way was Mads Mikkelsen’s Le Chiffre a memorable villain?
Cork: Mads is a fantastic actor, but he is not even on my radar when it comes to the most memorable Bond villains. You are just never going to hear folks make a pop culture reference to Le Chiffre the way they do to Goldfinger, Dr. No or Blofeld. His performance is great, but this is Bond’s film.
Desowitz: He was the best Bond baddie in recent memory. He was charismatic and sadistic, and his scar linked him to Blofeld in You Only Live Twice. The suspenseful poker scenes and his brutal beating of Bond took the “dance” to a whole new level of wicked fun.
Funnell: Le Chiffre is a memorable villain because of his vulnerability. This goes beyond his malformed tear duct, which causes him to inadvertently cry tears of blood. Like Bond, Le Chiffre is fallible and makes mistakes. His actions, especially after Bond foils the bombing plot, are driven by his desperation and desire for self-preservation, even at the expense of his lover Valenka. Unlike other villains who are depicted somewhat two-dimensionally as megalomaniacs desiring world power, Le Chiffre is humanized through his positioning as a middleman who is visibly terrified of the organization for which he works. The compelling performance of Mads Mikkelsen renders Le Chiffre a more humanized and sympathetic villain much like Francisco Scaramanga in The Man with the Golden Gun (1974).
Pfeiffer: I very much enjoyed Mads Mikkelsen’s performance as Le Chiffre. The character has a special place in Bond history as the first Bond villain in the first Bond novel. I think Mikkelsen managed to convey the traditional attributes (if you want to call them that) of the great Bond villains: he’s urbane, suave, superficially charming and somehow reassuring even to the person about to be victimized by him. It’s worth noting for the sake of inclusion that he’s the third actor to play the role following Peter Lorre in the 1954 live TV version of Casino Royale and Orson Welles in the 1967 big screen spoof version. I also thought Welles would have made a superb Bond villain in a serious Bond film. He was rumored to have agreed to play one in the mid-70s aborted version of Warhead, which was to be produced by Kevin McClory, but by the time it morphed into Never Say Never Again a decade later, Welles was no longer associated with the project.
Scivally: Mikkelsen was perfectly cast as Le Chiffre. He’s cold, calculating, and very creepy. He’s not a cartoon baddie (though he does have the Bondian touch of a scarred eye that weeps blood) — he’s a serious bad-ass, one not to be crossed. He makes one believe that if Mr. White had arrived just a few minutes later, Bond’s torture would truly have ended in a painful and grisly death.
Coate: In what way was Eva Green’s Vesper Lynd a memorable Bond Girl?
Cork: She wins the award for most eye make-up worn by a Bond woman! My favorite shot of her in the film is when you see her without the make-up and she looks so stunningly beautiful and human in that moment. On a serious note, Eva Green is a rare actress who understands how to play the façade and not the fragility of a character. Her strength, her armor, the wall she has built up around herself makes her a woman we believe James Bond can love. It’s a great performance. The character of Vesper is a keystone character in understanding 007, and you can read the entry in the James Bond Encyclopedia to see how passionate Collin Stutz and I are about Vesper. I’d still vote for less mascara.
Desowitz: Vesper was the most important Bond Girl since Tracy, and in this ret-con universe, Vesper was both the forerunner and echo of Tracy. The testy train meeting, the tender shower scene and her tragic suicide, among others, helped humanize Bond. And their love defined his motivations and actions in subsequent films. It even provided a “quantum of solace” at the end of SPECTRE when Bond gets a second chance at happiness (the last line of the script — “We have all the time in the world” — was cut from the film).
Funnell: To me, Vesper Lynd is not a Bond Girl. Across the orphan origin trilogy — Casino Royale, Quantum of Solace, and Skyfall — the Bond Girl archetype is deconstructed and the qualities typically associated with the figure are divided among two or more characters in each film. In Casino Royale, it is Bond and not Lynd who emerges from the sea in a bathing suit — an homage to the introduction of quintessential Bond Girl Honey Ryder from Dr. No — as Solange Dimitrios and, in a later scene, Lynd watch him from the shore, an act that effectively establishes the female look in the film. Thus, it is Bond who is positioned in the traditionally exhibitionist role of Bond Girl and presented as the object of desire (as Laura Mulvey would describe it). As a result, Vesper Lynd is freed from the constraints of the Bond Girl archetype and presented as more of a “Woman” than a “Girl” in the film. Her characterization shares much in common with Judi Dench’s M as she is depicted as a bureaucrat and bean counter who wields both institutional and emotional power over Bond. She is a complicated and multifaceted character, and this makes her both a compelling and sympathetic figure.
Pfeiffer: Eva Green represented how far the image of the Bond woman has changed with the times. It isn’t actually true that Bond’s lovers have all been stereotypical airheads, all bust and no brains. In fact, most of them were courageous, intelligent and self-reliant characters. These attributes continued to be emphasized even more as society evolved and female characters became treated with more respect. In the Bond films this was especially true in the Craig films, where women were not just used as recipients for sexually-charged bon mots tossed out by Bond. Vesper is a complex, fully-fleshed out character who obsesses Bond in a way that no female has done since Tracy in On Her Majesty’s Secret Service. Bond isn’t just excited by her; he is in love with her. They have a mature, believable, but ultimately tragic relationship that continues to haunt him through the next film.
Scivally: Vesper Lynd is probably the most three-dimensional female character in any Bond film, and Eva Green hits all the right notes in her performance. In remarking on the performances, credit must also to be given to the writers (the team of Neal Purvis and Robert Wade, followed by Paul Haggis) for giving the characters more shades of dimensionality than was found in the previous Bonds, and to director Martin Campbell for getting such superior performances from his cast. Campbell had previously proven his mettle introducing Pierce Brosnan as Bond in GoldenEye, and he does an excellent job introducing Craig. It’s a pity he hasn’t been given more 007 assignments, since he clearly has the right touch for them.
Coate: Where do you think Casino Royale ranks among the James Bond movie series?
Cork: Fifth, which sounds too low for how much I love this film. But after all my praise, I still hold Skyfall just a smidge higher on my list (that could change on a whim). All the others that rank higher are the early Connery Bonds.
Desowitz: In the top five, right behind From Russia with Love, Goldfinger, Dr. No and On Her Majesty’s Secret Service. It holds up very well after 10 years and may be the best of the Craig films, despite his gaining confidence and improving in the subsequent films.
Funnell: Not only is Casino Royale one of the best in the Craig era, but it also ranks highly in the series as a whole. It has a solid narrative, strong character development, dynamic action sequences (such as the parkour-inspired chase sequence), and a compelling soundtrack that enhances the emotional tenor of the film. From start to finish, Casino Royale is an exciting and immersive Bond film.
Pfeiffer: I would certainly rank Royale in the top tier of Bond films… up there with the best of them. In a way it’s hard to compare it to all the films that preceded it because it is so unique in terms of content and style. For example, I love Goldfinger (who doesn’t?) but would it really be appropriate to try to directly compare it to Royale? The Craig films almost exist in their own universe. I would argue that it’s the best of those films (but a case could be made for Skyfall).
Scivally: If I were to rank the 007 films, Casino Royale would definitely be in my top five. It’s tightly scripted, directed with style and confidence, and has superior performances, as well as one of David Arnold’s best scores and a brilliant Daniel Kleinman title sequence. Like Goldfinger, it fires on all cylinders from beginning to end.
Coate: What is the legacy of Casino Royale?
Cork: There are the James Bond films before Casino Royale and there are the ones after. You can love or hate any of them, but Casino Royale changed the look, feel and tone of the Bond movies. Before Casino Royale, certain things were a given. We will open with the gun barrel. We will hear The James Bond Theme as white dots move across the screen. The movie will be in color. James Bond will be an experienced agent already at the top of his game. With the exception of one film, Bond will get the girl at the end. Once Casino Royale successfully broke that mold, for better or worse, everything was on the table. The other legacy of Casino Royale is the ascendancy of Daniel Craig. Barbara Broccoli is the one who picked Daniel Craig, insisted on him over some very strong objections. Michael Wilson backed her instinct on that. Craig is Bond for a legions of filmgoers around the world, and arguably the actor who has wielded the most direct influence over the creative aspects of the series. He’s now been afforded something no other Bond actor ever achieved: he hand-picked Sam Mendes, the director of the last two Bond films, and he has been afforded a co-producer credit, something Cubby Broccoli and Harry Saltzman would have never given to Sean Connery or Roger Moore. These films are now being made in a very different way than they were in the 60s or 70s, not just technologically, but the entire business model has changed. I think Barbara and Michael still approach these films with the same level of personal and business integrity that Cubby embraced, but there is a sense that they know the stakes were raised with Casino Royale, that these can no longer feel like films that are made by a bunch of good friends out having a lark (not that this was ever the case). With Casino Royale, the Bonds became very serious business.
Desowitz: The legacy is that Bond was reborn with Craig in the new millennium. It marked a new dramatic direction that made the character the center of his universe. It began as an origin story and continued as a four-film rite of passage. It also re-connected with Fleming, which was partially cut short when Sam Mendes came aboard for the last two films. He not only developed a more personal Bond story, but also shifted the tone back toward the early Connery films.
Funnell: As a prequel, Casino Royale is an important revisionist film (as Christoph Lindner and James Chapman, among others, have described it) that finally tells the origin story of the iconic superspy from the moment he attains his “00” license to kill. It updates the Bond brand while remaining true to Ian Fleming’s depiction of James Bond as a man who makes mistakes, feels pain, and even harbors doubts about his role as an agent. It is a film that reaches forward cinematically while remaining connected to the literary past.
Pfeiffer: Casino Royale will also have a rich legacy in the Bond canon. The Brosnan films had run their course and needed a creative boost. I also thought it was a pity that Pierce never got his chance to do a gritty, ultra-realistic Bond film because he’s quite a good actor and audiences stayed with him even if some of his movies didn’t live up to their potential. There was such excitement following the premiere of Royale that I could tell a new era had arrived in terms of the Bond movies. Realism was in, gadgets were out. Believable relationships were the order of the day and female characters with sexually suggestive names were relegated to the past. Most important, Royale made Bond relevant to an entirely new and younger audience, which is essential for any series to survive and thrive.
Scivally: As stated before, Casino Royale was a game-changer. It brought James Bond definitively into the 21st century, and did so — ironically — by remaining largely faithful to a novel written more than fifty years earlier. By eschewing many of the traditional trappings of previous 007 films, the filmmakers created a new paradigm for Bond. Unfortunately, it raised the bar so high that Craig’s subsequent 007 films pale in comparison; Quantum of Solace particularly seemed to be a Jason Bourne movie rather than a James Bond film, and Craig’s latter Bond films, while restoring more of the classic Bondian elements, were not as tightly plotted. Perhaps Casino Royale benefited from being the only one of his films to be directly based on an Ian Fleming novel.
Coate: Thank you — John, Bill, Lisa, Lee, and Bruce — for participating and sharing your thoughts about Casino Royale on the occasion of its 10th anniversary.
The James Bond roundtable discussion will return in Remembering “Diamonds are Forever” on its 45th Anniversary.
Selected images copyright/courtesy Eon Productions Limited, Danjaq LLC, Columbia Pictures, Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer, Sony Pictures Home Entertainment, 20th Century Fox Home Entertainment, United Artists Corporation.
- Michael Coate
Michael Coate can be reached via e-mail through this link.