All Action Hero Spotlight written by Gary Liew, from the All Action, No Plot Movie Club
As a member of the Gen Y demographic, I consider myself a latecomer to taking note of Daniel Craig’s burgeoning screen presence. Particularly because prior to his casting as the new James Bond, much of Craig’s work has been as leading performances in predominantly British drama films – thoughtful, intellectual but otherwise less-mainstream films – and supporting performances that served to compliment the higher-billed cast members of films such as Elizabeth, Road to Perdition and Munich.
In fact, I recall my first exposure to Craig, watching him play second banana to Angelina Jolie as a fellow tomb raider in the financially successful but critically derided video-game adaption Lara Croft: Tomb Raider, a movie that may consider propelled Jolie herself to become an international action superstar. At the time, I remembered his gruff persona and was impressed by his excellent physique, which was memorably displayed when a smouldering hot Jolie decides to greet Craig in the flesh (pun intended) who steps out of a shower for some quick banter. Jolie’s departure is followed by Craig’s humorous line, “Hmm. Now for a cold shower.”
Craig had the physical presence poised for action man status, but any brawn can do action. What about charisma and screen presence? Tomb Raider is hardly a worthy barometer to which to measure great expectations. Enter 2004’s Layer Cake, directed by Matthew Vaughn (pre-Kickass and X-Men: First Class), a film that is largely responsible for placing Craig on the James Bond casting radar. And it is easy to see why – Craig portrays a highly successful cocaine dealer named Mr. X, who shuns gangster behaviour in favour of an honourable code of conduct. What’s that? Craig as a nameless character who operates on a questionable moral compass identified in the credits with a – codename? Layer Cake might as well have been aptly titled Layer Cake: Audition for 007.
I was one of many who caught onto this little gem in an attempt to explore Craig’s back-catalogue of films after his brilliance in Casino Royale. In a way, Mr. X is like a precursor to 007 – suave, cool, with an affinity for smooth and humorous line-delivery – two qualities that epitomises some of the more iconic attributes of James Bond’s personality. Craig’s confidence in balancing the character’s honourable intentions with his murkier, darker internal conflict to create multi-layered character types – certainly renders Craig inevitably the top favourite amongst casting agents as the winner for one of the most coveted roles in film history – in a high-profile casting search that included such candidates as Clive Owen, Ewan McGregor, Hugh Jackman – as the world’s most famous fictional spy.
But enough teasing. Blond hair and shorter-than-the-ideal-height arguments whatsoever, Daniel Craig rises above all negative expectations to earn his place in the pantheon of iconic James Bonds in Casino Royale. Craig rightfully dispenses the public’s perception of what it takes to be Bond – by offering a fresh, edgier take on the character that is almost as cinematically revelatory as when Sean Connery first stepped into the role.
In line with the character’s first outing as a superspy going by the M16 nom de voyage “double-0” prefix 7, Craig expertly imitates, at times elevating – the intelligence, resourcefulness and physicality of a secret agent – traits commonly associated with the character’s dedication to professionalism – but imbues layers of hot-headedness, narcissism and over-confidence to those attributes. Dark, conflicted and a little rough around the edges, Bond earns his stripes early to bear the infamous “License to Kill”, but is often not against abusing its privilege out of necessity or just pure bloodlust. Adding intensity to his cold, often calculative demeanour also are his natural, steely blue eyes – that are at times both captivating and terrifying.
To further add to the character’s “dangerous” element, Craig’s commitment to the role shows in his physique. Enlisting former marine/ celebrity fitness trainer Simon Waterson – who whipped Jake Gyllenhaal into shape for Prince of Persia (2010), and is responsible for Chris Evans’ jacked-up body in this year’s Captain America: The First Avenger – Craig had only one request for his workout routine. “Just make me look like I can kill someone.” That determination is well displayed in a much talked-about scene – Craig rising out of the sea in a pair of blue, swimming shorts – that may have gotten the ladies swooning, but it’s hard to ignore that that is a man you DON’T want to mess with.
Craig’s training also allows him to demonstrate ease with the action sequences. Where else previous Bonds are almost pristine in the battlefield – sometimes emerging out of explosions and shootouts – with simply a graze or two, some speckle of dusts on their tux and hair still in place – Craig’s Bond is sloppy, at times ungraceful – a result of his inexperience – when engaged in combat. The film’s demand for gritty old-school, hard-hitting action and stuntwork devoid of CGI makes this Bond a very real protagonist, able to draw the audience’s attention into the stakes involved with the realism of the action in the film.
Many of you by now may have deduced my extreme fondness for Casino Royale, and that film definitely represents the pinnacle of my excitement for Daniel Craig’s venture into action films. But what has happened since then? A largely disappointing fast-cut, confusing, under-developed Jason Bourne copycat Bond sequel (Quantum of Solace), a less than impressive WWII action movie (Defiance) and a horrible remake of a sci-fi classic (The Invasion), Craig, for my money, has yet to live up to the brilliance of his 007 debut, action movie or good movie in general.
Fortunately, there is some glimmer of hope with Cowboys and Aliens. With high production values, an intriguing mash-up of two popular genres, an impressive cast (Harrison Ford, Sam Rockwell) and an assured, proven filmmaker – Jon Favreau of Iron Man fame – there’s no reason to anticipate the arrival of this film without some form of expectation. Not to mention just the badassery of cowboys taking out aliens with revolvers and rifles – I’m secretly clamouring for a new take on certain western tropes like stagecoach chases, Mexican shootouts and quick draws, but done with aliens – is enough to get me excited for all the possibilities.
Then there’s also the Dragon Tattoo remake by David Fincher, which I have had the fortune of A) not reading the books B) not watching the Swedish adaptations to come to this at the end of the year fresh without prior knowledge of the source material. Judging by the trailer that was released last month alone – there’s a sense that Fincher is bringing his unique take on the material to make it compelling yet utterly stylized. Not to mention also the ongoing reports of the long gestating next Bond installment, directed by Sam Mendes with the inspired casting the likes of actors like Ralph Fiennes, Javier Bardem, Rhys Ifans – and the possibility of the inclusion of the Moneypenny character that was largely absent from the first two installments.
Although 2011 will be an interesting year for Daniel Craig, with two big blockbuster films, at the All Action No Plot Movie Blog our interest mainly lies in Cowboys and Aliens, as we look forward to see him impress us once again in the action genre. And being one of the last few tentpole releases over the North American summer, I am expecting my blockbuster experience with Cowboys and Aliens to be emotionally and viscerally shaken – not stirred.
Gems: Casino Royale, Road to Perdition, Layer Cake
Duds: Tomb Raider, Quantum of Solace, The Golden Compass, The Invasion
Hot on the Radar:
Cowboys and Aliens (August 11th 2011)
Girl With The Dragon Tattoo (December 21st 2011)