After killing a "hired gun" bomb maker (there is no similarity to the shooting of an innocent and unarmed man by London police last year so, muckrakers, please stop claiming there is), Bond wants to find out who was trying to hire this man and what the target is. 007's investigation leads him to the Bahamas and Miami where he learns that middleman Dimitrios (Abkarian) is in cahoots with Le Chiffre (Mikkelsen), a banker for terrorists and international organized crime who was thought to have been killed in Iraq while Saddam Hussein was still in power.
In Fleming's book, Le Chiffre is a Communist agent who embezzled funds from the Soviets and then lost it in a series of brothel investments. He must then win back his patrons' money in a high-stakes baccarat game at the titular casino. Bond, the best gambler in the service, is sent by M to beat Le Chiffre, to humilate him and make sure the Reds don't get their money back. MI6 doesn't want to kill him because they don't want to make him a martyr for leftist causes. Obviously, in this contemporary version, that plot needs to be updated.
Le Chiffre has still lost his clients' money (thanks to the direct intervention of 007, which is a nice improvement on Flemimg's story), and needs to win it back in a multi-million dollar poker game at the Casino Royale in Montenegro. 007 is sent to beat him and to get Le Chiffre to come over to the Brits; they will offer him safe haven in return for information. I know what you're thinking. Why don't they just take him into custody? Why play a game at all? Either way, Le Chiffre's lost funds that would have belonged to or ended up in the hands of worse enemies. This could also be said of Fleming's tale. Bottom line, if there wasn't a match between Bond and Le Chiffre then there wouldn't be a story. That's just the way it is.
Vesper Lynd (Green) is the treasury bureaucrat sent by the British government to oversee Bond's allowance; she's the one holding the purse strings and it is up to her to decide if Bond should be staked any more funds or not. Like her character in the novel, Vesper is all business and not easily smitten by Bond but she is now more talkative and aggressive than her fifties' incarnation. There are hints of mystery and a troubled past but she's nowhere near being the damaged goods she was in Fleming's book. Fleming's Vesper was nearly manic depressive in the end. This Vesper is tragic but never quite as compelling as her literary ancestor. More on that later.
The villain's plot is perhaps the least impressive but most plausible one seen in any Bond film yet. It's a "get the money" story, period. There is no doomsday weapon. No attempt to destabilize a country, enflame international relations or spark World War III. He's simply a sleazy rogue trying to save his own ass after he got greedy. This Le Chiffre is not as grotesque or cartoonish as Blofeld or Jaws but not quite as mundane as Kristatos in For Your Eyes Only or Sanchez in License to Kill. He has a few physical oddities befitting any good Bond villain but you can still believe such a foe could exist.
I understand now why Mikkelsen was cast rather than some sweaty, gnome-like Peter Lorre wannabe. Le Chiffre and Bond spend most of their time glaring across a table at each other; they are both arrogant men who believe they can calculate and beat the odds. There is a chilling stillness needed to play Le Chiffre, a sense of menace even when he's just sitting there playing cards and Mikkelsen seems to have that.
Overall, I quite enjoyed the back to basics nature of the story. The action scenes of the first forty pages compensate for the more talky, character-driven later acts. Bond drives the action, undergoes a character change, all that text book stuff screenwriters are supposed to accomplish. But at the heart of both this story and Fleming's novel, and this is what separates Royale from the other Bond books and movies, is the love story between 007 and Vesper.
Ultimately, I'm not sure I bought the relationship here between Bond and Vesper. There were some moments but it was never as poignant or genuine as the romance depicted in the book, or even between Lazenby's 007 and Tracy in On Her Majesty's Secret Service. That remains the definitive Bond screen romance, the most moving and real one. Casino Royale is far better in this department than any other Bond film in the last 20 years, but there are certain changes and omissions from Fleming's story that I felt were not for the best.
What makes Fleming's novel and his relationship between Bond and Vesper work is that Bond, the ultimate misogynist who initially seems like he wants to bed Vesper as if to punish her for not falling for his charm, is forced to establish a genuine emotional connection with her after being robbed of his manhood (yes, the carpet beater scene is still here but it's not nearly as squirm-inducing as in the book). Bond falls in love, he changes; he cares for a woman rather than just lusts after her. They make love, laugh, quarrel but there is a friendship and tenderness between them. That makes the outcome of the story and Bond's infamous last line all the more hearbreaking.
Unfortunately, in this draft, Bond's post-torture recovery scenes are so brief that it seems like we're no sooner seeing Bond wake up in the hospital than he and Vesper are frollicking and making love. In the book, Bond suffers genuine emotional trauma as a result of torture; the story is about the deconstruction of a man and the rediscovery of his sense of purpose. He literally and metaphorically gets his balls back.
I didn't feel that way about this script's version. It felt rushed, incomplete. Worse, the wonderful scene in the book between Bond and Mathis, where 007 doubts his function in the world and wonders whether he is a good or a bad man, has been turned into a suspense scene instead. That scene between a wounded Bond and Mathis is crucial in the book because it sets up Bond's transformation at the end of the novel when he vows to go after the threat behind the threat.
Vesper's meltdowns? Gone. There are some hints of inner trauma (and her eventual fate is far more cinematic than what Fleming concocted) but I never sensed the tremendous, crushing despair that bedeviled Vesper in the book. Fleming's Vesper does not truly belong in the world of espionage and she eventually cracks under the pressure. Ultimately, she was a victim of circumstance. The Vesper of this script is shaken by the taking of human life but I missed that heavy burden she was carrying in Fleming's novel. Without it, she's almost Vesper Lite.
I would have liked more time (just another five-to-ten pages) spent on Vesper and Bond establishing an ever deeper emotional rapport. It was because they could only connect as people before they could as lovers that Bond fell for Vesper. That's almost glossed over here, which is a shame because so much else was done right.
Casino Royale successfully reintroduces James Bond as a serious and seriously cool secret agent for modern audiences. Respect is shown to the past films, and enough of Fleming's slim novel remains intact that I didn't feel it was bastardized. That said, I'm confused as to why Bond and Vesper's emotional connection was rushed through. After all, that is the heart of this story, what makes it different from almost all other Bond movies and what this new screen version will live or let die by. – STAX