Screenplay by Neal Purvis & Robert Wade
Second Set of Revisions by Paul Haggis
Draft Dated December 13, 2005
Any film franchise that wants to achieve any amount of longevity is going to have to strike a balance between preserving the elements that have captured the public’s imagination and making sure that the series remains relevant with the passage of time. For better or worse, the James Bond franchise has managed to keep evolving for almost 45 years, striving to keep itself germane to the ever-changing geo-political climate.
Born in the heart of the Cold War, both the original literary incarnation of the character and his filmic equivalent found themselves battling the machinations of communist agents and Soviet assassins. But as the Cold War gave way to glasnost and the eventual fall of the Soviet Union, the Bond series found itself dealing with new concerns including drug dealers, terrorism and third-world possession of weapons of mass destruction. And as these times have changed so has the tenor of the series from the seriousness of the early films starring Sean Connery to the tongue-in-cheek tone of the Roger Moore-starring films to the grand adventure of the films starring Timothy Dalton and Pierce Brosnan.
But now, the Bond franchise has taken advantage of their most recent recasting of the role of James Bond, in the form of actor Daniel Craig, to reinvigorate itself by going back to its beginnings and exploring the circumstances that made him a cold-blooded killer. The result is Casino Royale, a taut script which should make for an exciting and gritty re-visioning of the franchise come the film’s release this coming November.
Casino Royale opens with a pre-credit sequence where we see Bond earning his “Double-0” status by assassinating a British Intelligence agent and his confederate who are selling state secrets. However, on his first mission as a “Double-0” agent, Bond’s recklessness and arrogance cause him to bungle the mission and he gets caught on camera killing his target. Bond returns to England where he is dressed down by M who tells him- “Any thug can kill. I need you to take your ego out of the equation and judge the situation dispassionately.”
Although M should reprimand Bond, she needs him for a mission involving a man named Le Chiffre, who stylized himself as providing “reliable banking services” for various terrorist organizations. Le Chiffre has made a fortune laundering money for terrorist groups around the world by investing their money in the stock market and then selling based on his knowledge of upcoming terrorist attacks. However, after Bond disrupts a bomb attack on the unveiling of a new model jet airliner, Le Chiffre finds his stock market manipulation has backfired and is suddenly in need of several million dollars to payout to the vicious leader of the Lord’s Resistance Army, Mr. White. British Intelligence has learned that Le Chiffre plans to make up his loss through a high stakes poker tournamentat the Casino Royale. Bond, having been determined to be the best gambler in the service, must stop Le Chiffre. Joining Bond on his mission is the beautiful agent Vesper Lynn, tasked with making sure that Bond doesn’t gamble away the stake he needs to buy into the card game with Le Chiffre.
The previous Bond films have kept a loose continuity amongst themselves, with some characters and story points resurfacing from various previous installments, even after several years have passed. For Your Eyes Only (1981) opened with Bond finally dealing with the man who murdered his just-wed wife at the end of 1969’s On Her Majesty’s Secret Service. Even when returning characters were portrayed by different actors – the series has gone through more Felix Leiters as it did Bonds – this continuity helped to keep Bond’s world a rich and diverse place.
However, Casino Royale takes a huge risk by wiping the slate clean, taking the Bond to his earliest days as one of the top agents in Britain’s MI6. But it is a risk that pays off well as it allows the franchise to re-establish a new tone better suited for the 21st century and its new leading man, Daniel Craig. All the familiar elements are open to potential reinterpretation and many of these elements are. While the Bond of Fleming’s novels is a misogynistic, hard-hearted killer, the movies have definitely chipped away the rougher edges of the character to make him more palatable to the movie-going public. As reinvention of franchise, the script seems to move films closer to the novels’ conceptualization of the character, with a strong emphasis on the character arc of Bond’s transformation into the misogynistic assassin of the books.
In addition, the action pieces are much more realistic, not relying on grandiose and impossible action. The fights are brutal and gritty such as Bond’s multiple flight staircase brawl with Obanno. The script also acknowledges that this kind of brutality can affect people, as encapsulated in a scene after the aforementioned staircase brawl in which Bond confronts and traumatized Vesper who is just realizing how close to death she had come. It’s a moment where Bond lets down his cold demeanor and reads as a rather understated but powerful story beat, which also effectively sets up the third act tragedy that triggers the final hardening of Bond’s heart.
Also stripped away are such series mainstays as Bond’s miraculous gadgets and supporting characters Miss Moneypenny and harried gadget-creator Q. Although the recurring character of CIA agent Felix Leiter doesn’t appear in this draft of the script, the name has appeared in published cast lists, leaving me to suspect that at least one more pass through the script has been made, if only to change the name of a CIA agent Bond encounters from Wolpert to Leiter. Also, in a possible appeasement to fans that might be missing Bond’s gadgets and supporting cast, the script does show us Bond acquiring a classic Aston-Martin sports car and his first custom-tailored tuxedo.
If script has any weak points, it’s that it only hints at an almost mother/son relationship between Bond and M and the toll that Bond’s character transformation takes on M. Early in the film, Bond’s conversations with M clearly boarder on insubordination, but M clearly lets it slide, even when Bond breaks into her home and reveals that he knows her real name. The script also hints at her feelings towards Bond at the end of the film when, after telling him some information that crushes his heart a little bit more than the other tragic events of the third act already have, it states that M knows “she’s just sacrificed a man to create a spy, and for the briefest of moments, [is] not necessarily happy with herself.”
There is one other problem with the script, and that is the substitution of the novel’s centerpiece baccarat card game with Texas Hold ‘Em poker. While it is understandable that the filmmakers would want to present a card game that a majority of the audience would be able to follow without explanation. However, one thing that has remained constant through the whole Bond series has been the sense of exoticism. The films take the viewer to far away locales to see things they might not normally be able to see, be it the canals of Venice, remote Swiss skiing chalets or the beaches of Thailand. To see Bond playing a game that anyone in the audience could play in their own kitchen seems a bit pedestrian for even a Bond film this gritty and down-to-Earth.
If production can pull off the script’s tone, it should surprise a lot of people. There’s a hard-edged tone that is far more suited to today’s political climate than the grand adventure of more recent installments. However, this reinvention may also divide fans of series, splitting those who enjoy the more polished, escapist version of the character and those who will welcome a film that hews closer to Fleming’s books.