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James Bond, I haven't forgotten you!

Resuming previously-scheduled programming (man, memes really do eat your life!): Bond ducks and weaves and starts knocking off the opposition, while the invisible cords continue to tighten around Vesper.

Spoilers continue to make their presence felt.

So far:
broader context
royale, first scene (prague)
musical opening
uganda, freedom fighter camp
madagascar, chase scene

bahamas, le chiffre's yacht
england, m's apartment
bahamas, ocean club
usa, miami airport
bahamas, debriefing
montenegro, train
montenegro, car and hotel
montenegro, outdoor café
montenegro, hotel suite

MONTENEGRO (casino).
Bond; Le Chiffre; tournament director; Swiss bank representative M. Mendel; Vesper; Mathis; card player Tomelli; card player Ade; Felix Leiter; dealer and other card players, including Madame Wu.

The games begin; Bond orders a drink.

Never smile at a crocodile....

Bond finally meets Le Chiffre, in an arch exchange where Le Chiffre makes a point of his intel on Bond by bringing up Bond’s shifting identity (from “Mr Beech” to “Mr Bond”), adding that he’s “a little confused.” Bond smiles and replies, “Well, we wouldn’t want that, would we?” – Once again, we see that this movie takes its cues from Bond (or maybe that’s the other way around), and is not into over-explaining itself.

This exchange is overtly civil, even gentlemanly. The Bond that he’s becoming, that he saw in the mirror with the jacket, is not a thug, nor merely a shark with the scent of blood in his nose (although that element does remain very strongly). He doesn’t have to subtly reflect disdain for the monied values and environment he’s in, in order to maintain his sense of identity formed in Eton; that’s not who he is anymore. He’s evolved into someone who can mock it or employ it with equal indifference. The Bond he’s becoming has style – and, as we watch him relax into himself, it’s clear that he likes it very much.

He makes his way to the bar and scans the room, also exchanging looks with the man he will later meet as the CIA’s Felix Leiter. The rules of the tournament are explained, and the different card players of carefully selected visual variety are shown. We don’t see it, but Bond chooses Vesper’s name as his password to retrieve the money should he win. Which is another layer of tying her to the money; even Bond adds his chain to her entanglement, even though she (later) recognises (and is pierced by) the difference that he was trying to honour her, not use her. It’s just her fate that it still became a fetter among many others; no wonder she couldn’t extract herself.

The game kicks off and it’s subdued, professional. There is no room for theatrical tricks here; the thing will be won on skill alone. Vesper walks in, deliberately disobeying Bond’s request that she distract the other players by distracting him instead, pressing her point home with the façade kiss on his cheek. He, of course, is not in the least displeased. It wasn’t necessary for his game, and he knows very well that it’s her playing back at him, even against her own intentions. He even uses it to feign his own distraction when seeing the bet, making it harder for Le Chiffre if he was watching him for a tell.

Vesper makes her way to the bar with Le Chiffre following her with a standard creepy villain stare, only now we know he’s watching the contact Quantum assigned him and is probably sizing her up, as well as hating the power imbalance she represents in his relationship with the organization right now. No matter what Vesper manages to achieve for these people, her life expectancy is short and cheap. (Her liason with Bond most likely brought with it a month’s worth of life she had no reason to bank on.) Mathis’s observation on her beauty, that “half the people at that table are still watching you”, brings a quickly-hidden downturn of Vesper’s smile at his compliment, unnoticed entirely by Mathis and us the audience.

Bond confidently makes a strategic sacrifice on the first round to gain intel on Le Chiffre’s tell, and celebrates by ordering a drink of his own invention. (This is then adopted by half the players at the table, a sign that he, under his own name – identity – not an assumed one, is indeed accepted and approved as one of their own.)

MONTENEGRO (casino bar).
Bond; Vesper; Mathis; tournament director; Le Chiffre; Kratt.

Bond takes advantage of pretence to plant a kiss Vesper and a tracker on Le Chiffre.

Shams within shams within shams.

Bond goes to fetch the drink he ordered from the bar as an excuse to get a tracking device from Mathis – and play off Vesper’s taunt from when she entered, to kiss her properly. He’s not trying the charm offensive any more; he’s twigged to the fact that she responds to his honesty, and pays her a compliment, which could have been rife with innuendo (“You taste nice.”), very simply, not asking for a response. He doesn’t consider this “forcing” himself on her, he inferred permission from her kiss on the cheek. She broke that boundary first; he’s not the only one escalating their game.

Vesper’s confused, having thought they’d got rid of the “couple” part of their alias along with everything else, but Bond clearly sees uses for it. Not least of which is to have more ways to get at her, provoke something from her. He has no intention of letting it go.

He explains his actions to her (and us) once again, which is becoming a habit for him, amidst a half-flirtatious, half-annoyed exchange. In a red-herring move by the writers, Mathis is the one who asks for more information about Le Chiffre’s tell. Bond goes back to the game, leaving Mathis to comment that “Maybe he can actually pull this off.” Vesper says nothing, but by her small smile to herself after she tastes the drink, she appears to be grudgingly impressed with Bond’s performance so far.

It also covers her pleasure in finding a reliable button to press (her disapproval of him) to get information out of him, to feed to Le Chiffre, and that he’s just handed her a crucial piece. Even if she is slowly warming to Bond, that is nothing to the tiny glimmer of hope that she might soon be able to free her boyfriend.

There is an hour’s break in the game, at which point Le Chiffre is pulled aside by his henchman Kratt, and thoughtfully leaves his athsma inhaler lying around on the table. Bond plants the device, while Mathis gives him physical cover along with a drink. Sure, it’s contrived, but it is a nice note for these two seasoned spies; their easy, wordless harmony in routine spywork, as natural as breathing.

In contrast to this (and Mathis’s plain meaning in his parting quip of reporting on the “evening’s festivities”) Bond’s pretext to follow Le Chiffre and find out what has called him away is very poorly fielded by Vesper. However well practiced she is in subterfuge on her own, she is unused to working with someone else. However, she knows Bond enough now to know that his “You want to do what to me?” apropos of nothing, is not done simply to aggravate her. She plays along willingly (if not enthusiastically) in giving him a quick exit, and we are shown that their “couple” cover does have some real use in his hands.

MONTENEGRO (Le Chiffre’s room, hallway, stairwell).
Le Chiffre; Valenka; Obanno; Bond; Vesper; receptionist; Obanno’s lieutenant; tournament director.

Bond follows Le Chiffre with the tracker and defeats the lowest-tier villain.

All too inescapably real.

So Le Chiffre goes back to his room where his girlfriend gets her only two words of dialogue of the movie: “I’m sorry.” Because she’s been forced to betray him. I’m sensing a theme developing here....

The usual violence that irrate, ripped-off militants are prone to ensues, intensifying the threat that Le Chiffre is operating under to get the money back; he’s got plenty of investors and they’re not all as warm and fuzzy as Obanno. In clear contrast to Bond, though, he shows no concern – “not a word of protest” – when his girlfriend is threatened. Inasmuch as we care about his relationships at all, this is a purely selfish relationship for him; on the other hand, no matter how cold and willing to use women Bond becomes in the wake of Vesper’s betrayal, he is never selfishly unaffected by the casualties inflicted on them. This particular level of callousness is Not On for our hero.

Vesper almost seems to be enjoying playing the part of girlfriend in an ironic way until they are out of sight in the elevator, at which point Bond unsettles her by pulling a pistol with a silencer out of the padded envelope he had kept for him at the front desk. (Which – !) She was not prepared for this sudden escalation of threat level, but she doesn’t complain; she keeps her mouth shut and her eyes open, ready to look after herself but also showing implicit confidence in Bond. Until he’s worried, she’s not worried.

He tracks the device to Le Chiffre’s room; once on their floor, Valenka’s scream alerts them to the danger inside; Bond first tries to get Vesper to safety, but when they don’t have enough time before Obanno and his henchman emerges, he once again falls back on the old couple-making-out ruse and hopes they’ll walk right past.

Unfortunately, they spot the earplug in Bond’s ear (is an earplug necessary when you have a silencer? I ask only for information) and assumably thinks he’s one of Le Chiffre’s thugs, waiting to kill them. So they attack. Naturally. Thus, we have the defeat of the third-tier villain, the physical villain, in a classic and horrendously physical fight in the stairwell, with guns and machetes and fists and a damsel to protect. All without messing up his dinner jacket, either; he takes it off and wraps it around his fist to be of some use against the machete, but it seems to come through unscathed. Hooray!

Which is more than can be said for either of his opponents, or Vesper. The henchman fell to his death immediately, Obanno hacked and slashed all the way down, and Vesper first ran, then stood transfixed with horror at the reality of the violence in front of her when she couldn’t escape, and then – when Obanno recovered Bond’s pistol as they struggled – finally intervened to make him drop it. With all the danger and the threats she’s been living in, we can assume she hasn’t been confronted so graphically with violence and death before now. Her reaction is very human (and also heightened by her situation). She makes no move at any point to inflict violence, but she does take action – inexpert, frantic action – to prevent violence to Bond. Which results in Obanno’s death. Once again, no matter what she does, someone will die. But it’s clear that she does not take anyone’s death lightly.

Bond recovers quickly enough, as we’d expect, but not fully, which is a good choice to emphasize the brutality of the fight. He’s not wisecracking, he’s lurching, forcing himself up and on, dealing with the next thing. He turns to Vesper’s help, and it’s unclear if he’s even really registered her shock, but his sharp orders to get Mathis to deal with the bodies get her moving. When you get right down to the raw end, like right now, he’s still all about the mission.

Next bit.
Full links for Casino Royale.

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January 2016
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