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James Bond, setting the scene

Continuing on with the analysis of the construction of Casino Royale and Quantum of Solace, for my general storytelling education. Posted in case it can be useful to others too....

Getting into the set up of Royale, the meta-commentary of the opening song, the efficient revelation of the villains of the piece, and breaking out the first action scene in unexpected ways.

Thoroughly spoilery, of course.

So far:
broader context
royale, first scene (prague)

Highly stylized visuals of card suite and patterns; featuring men, guns, fighting, death and blood.

Lyrics (from Chris Cornell’s
If you take a life, do you know what you’ll give?
Odds are you won’t like what it is
When the storm arrives would you be seen with me?
By the merciless eyes I’ve deceived
I’ve seen angels fall from blinding heights
But you yourself are nothing so divine
Just next in line
Arm yourself because no one else here will save you
The odds will betray you and I will replace you
You can’t deny the prize it may never fulfill you
It longs to kill you … are you willing to die?
The coldest blood runs through my veins
You know my name
If you come inside things will not be the same
When you return to the night
If you think you’ve won you never saw me change
The game that we’ve been playing
I’ve seen this diamond cut through harder men
Than you yourself, but if you must pretend
You may meet your end
Arm yourself because no one else here will save you
The odds will betray you and I will replace you
You can’t deny the prize it may never fulfill you
It longs to kill you … are you willing to die?
The coldest blood runs through my veins
You know my name
Try to hide your hand, forget how to feel
Life is gone with just a spin of the wheel
Arm yourself because no one else here will save you
The odds will betray you and I will replace you
You cant deny the prize it may never fulfill you
It longs to kill you … are you willing to die?
The coldest blood runs through my veins
You know my name

Very complex man.

The song asks a number of questions – of Bond, of his associates, of us. Sometimes simultaneously. It also flings a challenge at the expectations people have of the movie. You know the name Bond, it says, but do you know the man? That’s what this movie’s for. Eventually, You know my name becomes a confident statement: This is Bond, and you the audience are going to agree.

A few visual thematic notes (among many more) worth mentioning, without further comment: at the beginning, Bond is monochromatic and heavily colour banded, as he loads his pistol (with spades as rounds). He stands and echoes the profile of the jack of spades behind him, the only time a jack of any suite is shown.

He fires, and from then every figure, including him, are silhouettes of various block colours, with virtually no contour detail at all. Bond is almost entirely black, only his shirt (and later his pistol) providing a white contrast. He’s the only black and white figure, and he moves simply and brutally through an intricate and shifting background of patterns and figures disintegrating into hearts, diamonds, spades and clubs.

On the line, If you come inside things will not be the same, the roving gunsight runs across the face of what is ostensibly the queen of spades, changing it to Vesper’s face where they are juxtaposed. It’s the only time any other face card is shown, and while the queen sports the spade suite, a line of hearts like a necklace loop down under her collar, almost chokingly. Bond, briefly appearing once again as the more detailed, colour banded figure of the beginning, stands still, looking in the queen’s direction. He then turns away and fires (a spade), and the action resumes.

Nearly all the figures are mooks, coloured in black, red, yellow and blue, but toward the end, a white hand (the only skin rendered in white through the whole montage) in a beige sleeve emerges from the left of frame, fires its pistol once, and disappears. This is the only figure not killed by Bond in the sequence, and instead of firing a heart, club, spade, or diamond as all the other guns have, it becomes a web of patterned lines. When Bond fires back, he is now shooting heart rounds, ejecting spade cartridges.

The song ends on two bullet holes drilling out a 00 on a 7 of hearts (shattering the printed hearts on the card by the impact), and typed text confirming his status. On the lines, The coldest blood runs through my veins/You know my name, Bond flickers and emerges, fully realistic, from the shadows of cardboard cutout silhouette, through explosions of playing cards and pound notes. His face fills the screen, staring us and everyone else down with diamond-hard blue eyes.

Ugandan “freedom fighter” Obanno; Mr White; Le Chiffre; stockbroker on the phone.

Mr White makes an introduction between the terrorist and Le Chiffre, who transacts to bank Obanno’s money safely.

3-tiered villainy.

This mainly establishes the several tiers of villains, and the premise of the plot. It also reinforces the issue of trust; the theme doesn’t become the core one until Solace, but is the key secondary theme of Royale.

Mr White, an aloof, quietly-spoken European (in his beige suit), is top-tier for this movie, the powerbroker, and also represents the shadowy next level up: his organization (Quantum, as we learn in the next movie). For the movie, as for this scene, he will largely lurk in the background, enigmatic, doing little, while really playing the key role and holding the real power. Highly appropriate to the contemporary setting of international intrigue, and bringing gravitas and understatement to the now cheesy SMERSH/SPECTRE evil organization concept. We take Bond only as seriously as we take those set up against him.

We are left with no doubt that Le Chiffre (second-tier) is the main villain: proactive, dodgy as all get out, mishmash European (in a dark shirt and suit), confident in his power and scheming. He, too, is no Bond villain caricature; his busted-up eye which weeps blood is the only idiosyncrasy, and it’s played dead straight. Bond is a serious agent, bringing down serious threats.

Obanno is small change on this stage, a third world thug (in fatigues), being screwed over by first world criminals. He’s a stepping stone for them, and as a villain to be defeated by Bond later in the movie. He is the physical opponent; Le Chiffre is the intellectual; White is influence and connections, by far the most dangerous of them.

Bond; partner Carter; bombmaker Mollaka; embassy official.

Bond chases a bombmaker through construction site, into the “Nambutu” embassy, kills him and gains Clues.

Diplomatic relations.

This is, of course, Royale’s only real chase scene (standard Bond convention), unless you count the thing at Miami airport, which is more of a fight-on-the-move. It’s the first blatant declaration that this Bond is nothing you’ve seen before, and setting the bar very high for themselves for the rest of the movie. It subverts expectations and blows us away at the same time.

Character-wise, Bond’s few lines with Carter at the beginning continues laying in his wry sense of humour. It also demonstrates his operational savvy, and short patience with people who ought to know better. Bond was put in a place of few good options because Carter messed up; whether he made the right calls from there on is mostly a hindsight thing.

However, when M is berating him for it later (and in any other similar situation in either movie), Bond never once blames anyone else for any of his actions, unavoidable or not. Whether he deserves the blame seems completely irrelevant to this guy, which suggests that he is so sure in his own judgement – and the priority of the mission rather than his own significance – that he simply does not care what other people think of his decisions. That, or he just knows it won’t do any good. However, at no point is he shown looking for affirmation from anyone, not even M, Vesper, Felix, Mathis or anyone else close to him, and that makes him a free agent indeed. It also raises serious questions of just how much human connection he allows himself.

The chase itself is very clear on two things: Bond is overmatched; Bond doesn’t care. He will run himself into the ground (literally, in this case) in pursuit of his objective. Self-preservation is secondary at best – always. Sheer bulldog persistence (although not stupidity), past all reason and the capacity of his enemies, is one of Bond’s trump cards. (It’s also a trait the English pride themselves on; Bond is a very, very English icon.)

It reinforces Bond’s physicality, in case we had any doubt that he might be a tux-wearing smarmy dandy. When he puts on his suit later in the movie, we don’t for a moment forget the pragmatic blunt instrument underneath.

In the embassy, his pragmatism is in full force; he uses Mollaka as a human shield (and Mollaka does catch a round or two), and once he’s surrounded, he gives up Mollaka, only to shoot him, then the gas tanks as a diversion, and makes off with Mollaka’s backpack. Perhaps the soldier in him decides you don’t win by leaving enemies alive and free, or maybe he’s just ticked at the guy. Maybe both. In any case, he disregards the diplomatic situation and the conventions of surrender, which he’s ostensibly just done.

Opening the backpack, he discovers (and handles with belated care) an explosive device, as well as the cell phone they saw Mollaka receive a text on at the beginning of the scene. The text reads “ELLIPSIS”, and we have our first clue for unravelling the bad guys’ plan, as well as the first use of modern technology (rather than absurd spy gadgets) in the course of Bond going about his business. Bond is smart, adaptable, tech savvy, and not dependent on
Q’s uncanny foresight and impossible contraptions to get the job done.

Next bit.
Full links for Casino Royale.

Aaaand ... back to watching Spain vs Paraguay.


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