Friday, May 21, 2010

Book To Movie Comparison: Casino Royale

One of my all time FAVORITE movie franchise's is the James Bond film series.  I have always enjoyed the adventures he finds himself in, the exotic locations he travels to, and how simply cool the man is.  I thought I would delve a little farther into the character and find out who he truly was - or, at least, who he was created to be.  This idea came to me while standing in the middle of The Library Center in Springfield, MO, so I immediately ran to the Fiction section and looked for books by Ian Fleming, the creator of the character.  And there it was:  Casino Royale.  The very first James Bond novel; the one that changed the world forever.  I had heard that Fleming had been in British intelligence or the army or something, so I wanted to see how he truly created the character before Bond was commercialized and made a star.  And I must say, to date, that the books have been amazing and an incredible adventure to read.  So let's compare the first book with one of the last movies of the same name, and we'll see which one ends up holding all the cards.

The first James Bond book is set in the early 1960s after Bond has finished fighting with the army in the Cold War and has settled into his new routine as a spy for British Intelligence.  We learn in the second chapter that he has already been given "Double 0" status, and that he has had to kill two men in order to achieve that title.  The movie Casino Royale, which stars newcomer to the franchise Daniel Craig, takes the liberty of showing us those two kills in the opening sequence.  I was happy to see that, as it drove home the point that Bond could kill and not think twice about it.  Bond is then given his first "Double 0" mission; defeat Le Chiffre, the treasurer of a Soviet-backed trade union in France, at baccarat.  The Secret Service hopes this will bankrupt Le Chiffre, causing Soviet espionage agency SMERSH to kill him.  Little does MI6 know that this interaction with SMERSH will be the first of many...  In the movie, Bond is sent to enter a poker tournament that Le Chiffre is hosting in the exquisite Casino Royale, and the expert gambler accepts.  I enjoyed reading about baccarat in the novel, and for those, like me, who had no idea how to play the game, a brief tutorial was included by Fleming.  The movie opted for the most popular gambling game in the world:  Texas Hold' Em
Along the way Bond is introduced to Vesper Lynd, a beautiful but emotionally unavailable woman assigned to help him.  Played by Eva Green in the film, Vesper is written as a hard-headed tease, and Bond falls head over heels for her in both book and film.  Together they uncover several layers to Le Chiffre's money problems, but when Bond ends up broke at the baccarat table it is CIA agent Felix Leiter who steps in with enough American money to save the day.  Bond reenters the game, wins it all, and sends Le Chiffre on the run.  Or so he thinks...  The poker tournament portrayed in the movie is fascinating to watch.  What could easily bore the audience is made into a kind of action sequence; you are captivated by the two men and their showdown of cards and chips.  The game of Texas Hold 'Em is explained in the movie just as baccarat is in the novel, so even a complete stranger can easily follow along.  Jeffrey Wright plays Leiter in the film; an interesting choice for a character who makes an appearance in over half of the 22 Bond movies.  Wright's Leiter is quiet, but forceful.  Not the bumbling, resourceful hick he was made out to be in the preceding Bond films.

Bond's adventures with Le Chiffre take a new twist when he kidnaps Vesper and uses her as bait.  After an extreme amount of torture, which the book hints at subtly and the movie portrays vividly, an unknown assassin burts in, killing Le Chiffre but leaving Vesper and Bond alive.  Bond is sent to a hospital to recover for over three weeks, where he and Vesper fall in love and commit to one another.  I love this part of the movie, as it opens Bond up to see a completely human and vulnerable person.  Bond vows to quit the Secret Service only to learn that Vesper is not who she seems to be.  From this point the book and the film take completely different paths.  The book shows us the fearful side of Vesper who is constantly looking over her shoulder at a man with an eye patch who appears to be following them.  She is convinced he is after her, and after she commits suicide by pill swallowing Bond learns that she was a double agent for the Soviet Union who was sent to make sure Bond did not escape Le Chiffre.  In the film, however, Vesper is still followed by a man with an eye patch, but she meets up with him to pay him off.  Bond learns later that she was paying him for the life of her boyfriend who was captured and being held prisoner.  After an enormous fight scene in a flooded building, Bond tries to rescue Vesper, but she pulls back, drowning herself.  Both endings have Vesper saving Bond's life while hiding a terrible secret, and both end with Bond's famous words to M, the head of MI6:  "The bitch is dead."

An amazing story, plenty of action, a gorgeous leading man, and an amazing spy story:  Casino Royale, either version, has it all.  Overall I think the movie wins out here.  It really gives us a better outlook on who Bond was before he was given a "license to kill," and before his emotions were shut down completely.  I highly suggest reading the novel, and if you haven't seen the movie you are missing out!

You can purchase Casino Royale (2-Disc Full Screen Edition) or Casino Royale (Collector's Edition + BD Live) [Blu-ray] from  Also, make sure you pick up a copy of Casino Royale (James Bond Novels) so you can compare them yourself!

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