Daniel Craig’s James Bond debut. A series reboot that opens with Bond earning his Double-O status, then tracing a bomb-maker to Le Chiffre, an international black-market banker.
After reading the source novel, I revisited the film as an adaptation. Though it makes many questionable choices, it improves on the source in a couple of aspects. Spoilers follow.
The book more-or-less starts with Bond arriving at the casino on orders from MI6. The film introduces a whole backstory that sees Bond himself discover Le Chiffre. It doesn’t arrive at the titular casino until the half-way point. On the plus side, this provides several entertaining set-pieces, including an early parkour chase that announces this Bond as an action hero. On the down side, it stretches the film past two hours.
Now that we’re at the casino, the film fumbles one of the novel’s best beats by turning Felix Lighter’s introduction into a big reveal. That said, I loved the change from baccarat to poker, and the assassination attempt from shooting to poisoning. Both plausible changes.
Less plausible changes include the probability-focused Le Chiffre shorting an aerospace manufacturer as part of a complicated bomb plot. Or using Vesper as a roadblock instead of spikes. Or why the winnings had to be deposited and withdrawn. Or why Le Chiffre would implicate Mathis.
The novel’s third act proved far more low-key, serving as an epilogue. The film drags this out to include a magnificent sinking building action set-piece, but at significant narrative cost. Where the book felt plausible, the film feels melodramatic. It keeps the book’s icy “The bitch is dead” line, but tacks on another coda to soften Bond’s character and hook viewers for the sequel.
While I appreciated the thrills and spectacle these additions provided, I’m not sure they justify the impact to the narrative resonance. Same with the omissions. While the movie’s decision to jettison an early assassination attempt by Le Chiffre’s goons proved wise, the shortening and toning down of the torture scene neutered its impact relative to the source.
Still, despite the missed opportunities, the film entertains. Director Martin Campbell reinvigorates the franchise for a second time, and Craig steps into the role with a surprising grasp on his interpretation of the character. He melds Connery’s masculinity with Dalton’s icy cool and adds a brute physicality all his own. Still miles from the source depiction, but closer than Brosnan or Moore.