The Bond Conundrum

Watching Casino Royale makes it clear that there are really two schools of Bond movies split along the lines of the character’s greatest actors: Connery and Moore. Ask anyone who is the quintessential Bond and the answer inevitably comes back: Connery. But Moore was a Bond for his time — a foppish, kind of twatish Bond and as one of my peers in a literary theory class put it years ago “much more condescending than Connery.” He was, though it pains me to say it, basically a ridiculously-dressed jerk. Yet oddly acceptable in the role.

With the benefit of hindsight we can see Lazenby was of the Connery school (as there was no other school at the time). Bond in the 60s was stern yet charming. He was the cruel, cold agent that Ian Fleming created. Timothy Dalton, for all his faults (which were largely the faults of the movies themselves), was also of the Connery school.

Brosnan, it pains me none to say, was of the Moore school. I might accept the argument that he was a Connery actor trapped in Moore films, but that doesn’t change the fact that he drove an invisible car, pronounced asinine one-liners and goofed-off with a Q who once taught a nation to walk silly.

The opening sequence of Casino Royale immediately had this Connery fan hoping against hope that he was about to witness the return of the old school. Yet as the movie progressed along those old school lines, I became irritated with a new thought: why the hell didn’t they do this ten years ago? Why did it take four basically stupid Brosnan films for us to wind up with the Bond we all knew we should have seen in 1995?

Perhaps, like our political pendulum swinging from tax-and-spender to tax-cutter-and-spender, or Van Halen’s lead singer pendulum swinging from goofball to douchebag, our Bond actors need to swing from Connery to Moore archetype with each generation. Or perhaps, and this is just a shot in the dark, the powers-that-be are idiots just like us.

Regardless, Casino Royale never falls prey to the temptation to ham it up. Nor does its star Daniel Craig. If anything, he’s almost robotic, a Terminator with an understandable accent. There is no Q. There are no cartoonish sex scenes. There are no quips. It’s almost weird. When Bond brings a airport fueling truck to a screeching halt a few feet from a new airliner, I truly expected to hear him offer the pilot a “top-off.”

Casino Royale also pulls off something unseen since the Connery days: it actually pulls from its source material. And I don’t mean the Woody Allen movie. Unfortunately for me, a fan of Fleming’s novels, the movie is not simply a cinematic retelling of the novel (which would have been fantastic). Instead they’ve squished the action of the novel into the middle of a big, huge bang-up of an action movie. The novel is much quieter and creepier. In the film, the creepiest detail is seeing Bond and Le Chiffre playing Texas Hold ‘Em. I shudder to imagine such a scene in a Brosnan movie where Joe Don Baker would inevitably appear in a ten-gallon hat to say something like, “Bond, you wily old coot, lemme buy you a sasparilla!” I still get chills thinking of it.

Except for a confusing, too-chaotic ending that is still satisfactory, Casino Royale delivers everything we’ve ever wanted in a Bond film and more importantly excludes all the bullshit that the Moore school of films canonized. It leaves the Bond fan with one question:

Why in the effing, bloody hell would they not dye Craig’s hair black for the role?

Bond is not a blonde.

[Originally published in the Nashville Independent.]