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Filmschool in a Jar - Character Introductions in Casino Royale (2004)

The first, and quite possibly best thing, that I noticed while reading the script for Casino Royale was how incredibly well written the characters are. This screenplay was written by Neal Purvis and Robert Wade, with Paul Haggins doling out some revisions. Together, this team has built one of the best James Bond films in the history of the franchise. And this is almost entirely due to the characters and the way the script introduces each of them.

Let's take a look at the opening scene. Here you get a wonderful look at who Bond is at this time in his life. He is a fresh 00 agent. He’s vicious and brutal. His first kill is dirty and vile. He has no finesse; he is an animal. But then throughout his conversation with Dryden, you see the hints of his suave personality coming out. He is calm and in control. This is very telling. It shows that Bond is capable of being polite, even humorous. But at least right now, that is only possible if he is in complete control of a situation. This calm control is then juxtaposed against the violent, brutal nature of his first kill. This savage nature of Bond's will be slowly be pushed out as the film progresses; turning this cave man into the classy, suave, calm-under-pressure secret agent we all know and love.

This brings up an interesting aspect of the script: it is a reboot. This provides the writers with a better opportunity to let the audience get to know Bond from the ground level. We see his progression and his character arc. As Sid Field says in Screenplay: The Foundations of Screenwriting, “In order to really solve the problem of character, it’s essential to go into your characters and build the foundations and fabric of their lives, then add ingredients that will heighten and expand the portrait of who they are”. By diving into a James Bond who is early in his career, we get a deeper sense of who his is and what makes him tick. We hear about his childhood and we see through his interactions with M that he views her as somewhat of a mother figure.

Then you have the character of Vesper Lynd. She is, in my opinion, the best Bond girl to date. Again, this is all due to her character and her importance to Bond as a person. Her opening line, “I’m the money”, says everything you need to know about her. She is strong, smart, independent, and beautiful; and she knows it. She is the perfect foil for Bond’s aggressive womanizing personality. Vesper is also incredibly important to the growth of Bond in this film. As this is technically this Bond’s first mission, Vesper is his first “Bond Girl”. But what makes her even more important is the fact that Bond falls in love with her.

This is extremely important because Bond has only fallen in love one other time in the original continuity. And that didn't happen until movie number six (On Her Majesty's Secret Service). But by starting off with Bond falling in love with his first “Bond Girl”, it gives the writers a wonderful and emotionally brutal way to morph Bond into the man who can never love. He falls in love with her, but she betrays him.

Vesper and Bond's relationship is a complex one. James is destroyed by this breach of his trust, but he still loves her. Bond is not the one to kill her. No, she dies at the hands of the very people she worked for. This is why James never lets himself fall for another woman; why he sleeps around. He shuts himself off so he will never experience that hurt again. By making Vesper an incredibly strong, well-written woman, the audience also connects with her. She isn’t just a flimsy woman in distress, she is a real person and her death affects us just like it affects James.

But of course no Bond film, indeed no action film, is complete without a villain. And again, Purvis, Wade, and Haggis have given us one of Bond’s very best badguys: Le Chiffre, immaculately played by Mads Mikkelsen. Right off the bat, in his opening scene, we know who Le Chiffre is. He is wealthy, manipulating, and a damn fine poker player. His is precise with his card playing, and he won’t take no for an answer. But I find it fascinating that the first thing we see the villain do (playing poker) is not only Le Chiffre's personal strength, but also his downfall. We are immediately shown what will bring him down... his favorite game.

“All in. But I only have two pair, and you have a full 17.4 percent chance of making your straight.”

Le Chiffre basically tells his opponent that he will lose. But of course, he’s so confident that his opponent falls for the trap and folds anyway. Manipulation is Le Chiffre’s game and he is the master of it. At least, until he meets Bond. Another interesting aspect of Le Chiffre is the fact that he cries blood. This may be seen as creepy and intimidating. But as Le Chiffre himself says “Weeping blood comes merely from a derangement of the tear duct - nothing sinister.” This shows that he is human and, to a certain extent, broken.

I think that the script for Casino Royale is wonderful because gives you some of the best character work in the history of the James Bond franchise. Purvis, Wade, and Haggis put character first and that is the reason this film holds itself above the rest. Never before have we seen Bond so well defined, and yet there is still a visible arc that leads him and morphs him into the classy secret agent we all know and love. But this would have been impossible without the strong characters that surround Bond. Every character is well written, but Vesper Lynd and Le Chiffre's entrance scenes are so strong, you can immediately understand why these are the characters that will stick with Bond (and the audience as well).

Not only was this an incredibly well written script, but it is also very faithful to the source material, which is not an easy feat to accomplish. Casio Royale stands as a wonderful example of how to give your characters strong introductions that will help inform their decisions throughout the story. Bravo.



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