5. The Mother (Roger Michell, 2003)
Haggard and bearded, stoney-eyed yet thoroughly romantic, industrious but friendly; it´s fair to say Roger Moore never played such a part, yet alone a film about a man sleeping with a widowed woman twice his age! A part unlike much of Craig´s ouevre (Darren is no sadistic killer nor disoriented individual seeking redemption),Darren is as ordinary a bloke as likely to meet. He laughs, he drinks, he works as a handyman; even his satiated taste for the older May (Anne Reid) works in the context, there is a love of amicability and Craig works to paint him as such,rather than lecherous deviant all too easy to play.
Agreeing to lunch with Darren, May finds herself happier and happier in his company, regardless of the fact that he is her son´s best friend (and sometime lover to her daughter). Understandably, Reid found the romantic scenes a daunting one (Craig was thirty-two years her junior), admitting in 2015 that she thought she would be” the laughing stock of every dining table in England. It was fine in the end, but it was very daunting”.
Regardless, there is a hypnotic side to their bedroom scenes, quite an esoteric scene, a la ´Don´t Look Now´ and Craig´s chiselled physique fits accordingly. Smoking a cigarette to her chagrin,he knowingly asks “What would happen if you did breathe?” Her response, beautiful as it helpless(Reid is fantastic in this film)” I’d say, would you… would it be too much trouble… spare rooms… would you come to the spare rooms with me… would you…?” leads to the expected outcome.
Craig may be machimastic in appearance, but is unafraid to let a certain degree of feminity out in the film. Director Roger Mitchell would work with Craig again later on ´Enduring Love´ (and was a frontrunner for Craig´s second Bond film ´Quantum of Solace´), though this was a significantly poorer collaboration.
4. Love Is The Devil: Study for a Portrait of Francis Bacon (John Maybury,1998)
Count on your hand how many out and out hetereosexual actors have thrown themselves into homosexual roles with such gusto? Pacino didn´t, De Niro didn´t, Craig did. Playing petty burglar George Dyer, he embarks on a sexual liaison with noted painter Francis Bacon(Derek Jacobi). Both were commended with prizes from the Edinburgh Film Festival for their strong performances.
A buff tyrant, Dyer comes across as a cultural anachronism, his surprise that “you actually make money out of painting?” a genuine attestation of his ill assuredness in the higher class Bacon inhabits.
Craig´s muscular physique plays through as he paints himself more and more like an art piece, whereas his inane inability to decipher whether shaking a lady´s hand or kissing it is more appropriate similarly shows the character´s social inadequate gestations. Documenting his naked body also exposed his art house credentials, something uncommonly seen outside of indie films, making his love scenes artistic, not pornographic, in the process
Considered to be Craig´s breakthrough film role, it proved the starting point in which all his successive parts would be judged by, best summed by Empire in their Layer Cake review where they stated “Since breaking out in 1998’s Love Is The Devil as Francis Bacon’s bit-of-rough lover, Craig has proven himself one of [Britain´s] most talented and versatile actors.”
3. Layer Cake (Matthew Vaughn, 2004)
Often described as the best Guy Ritchie film Guy Ritchie never made (instead, his producer Matther Vaughn directed it), ‘Layer Cake’ featured one critical facet sorely lacking from ‘Lock, Stock and Two Smoking Barrels’; a three dimensional character performance. “For me, he didn’t look like your usual cliche of a gangster. I wanted to do something different. I wanted to show the kind of elegant businessman-like drug dealers. There’s a lot of them out there.” So said Matthew Vaughn in an interview with IGN on his choice for the lead of his directorial debut. Giving the script to Daniel Craig, Vaughn found an action star willing to commit himself wholeheartedly into the project.
Playing an unnamed gangster, Craig avoids transforming into a larger than life vehemonth, playing it subdued, self/describing his character as someone you’d bump into down the street; a man who’s occupation is that of a gangster, but who’s character traits are that of an everyday London yuppie. “Don’t take it personally, it’s just business’ Craig intones, echoing authority and menace into subservient gangsters.
A cerebral performance, Craig keeps one step ahead of his audience, never letting them into his thoughts, even as he narrates the film. Elsewhere, he plays up his thuggish cool with exasperated comic timing. “I don’t like guns” he spits, looking over a tidy selection of automatics, before he finds one of aesthetic value.
A tidy scene in containing medication and composure following a grisly kill in his London apartment further shows how easily Craig can turn from dominatrix to coward in the change of a scene, maintaining his cool Steve McQueen style composure externally as he uses nods, winces and shudders to convey these various emotions.
2. Casino Royale (Martin Campbell, 2006)
No other Bond actor suffered such a reaction to their casting as Craig did when announced. The Daily Mirror called him ´Bland….James Bland´, a website affectionately titled danielcraigisnotbond.com placed vitriol after vitriol about the man, spurning people off his casting. Five minutes into the film, and Craig silenced all the nay-sayers with his bulking, snafaued portrayal. If Sean Connery made Bond cool, Craig made him real!
Spending months working out in pre-production, Craig gave Bond a muscular armour to deflect physical blows, and studied Ian Fleming´s novels to project the character´s inner defects. All of this research ultimately paid off, as he ultimately made Bond feel human, something only the criminally underappreciated Timothy Dalton had previously attempted to portray Bond as.
Craig proved he could plug and snog as much as the next man, but what gave his portrayal of Bond greater depth came courtesy of a thirty second scene, unaccompanied in a bathroom. Washing blood off his hands, Craig stares at himself with what his co-star Judi Dench called those marvelous blue eyes, and wordlessly expresses his pain to no –one but himself.
Exposing Bond in a world free of clichés (he spits at a waiter, stating he doesn´t give a damn whether his vodka martini is shaken or stirred), Craig made Bond a viable, visible human for the 21st century.
Since ´Royale´, Craig has played Bond on three other occasions (four, if you include his filmed cameo at the London 2012 Olympics), but ´Royale´ remains his calling card!
1. Munich (Steven Spielberg, 2005)
“The only blood that matters to me is Jewish blood”. In the hands of a lesser actor, that comment may have come across as disingenuous, certainly condescending, anti-semitic even. In Craig´s capable hands, it is a statement of intent and a statement of justification, hiding behind a legitimate fear of exposure.
Although a supporting character to Eric Bana´s Avner Kaufman, it was Craig´s Steve that´s the more arresting character and performance. And in spite of what was said previously in this article about his accents, Craig handles the notoriously difficult South African accent with aplomb, something Leonardo DiCaprio managed less convincingly in ´Blood Diamond´.
Ruthless to the extreme, Steve´s mannerisms vary for the ruthless to the comedic. A pronouncement that he is celebrating the mass murders of accused anti-semites, Steve displays by waltzing to The Temptations´ ´My Girl´. He later shows a palatable ruthlessness, sneering at Kaufman for ineffectual leadership skills. What could easily be a caricature is brilliantly articulated, Craig and Spielberg working well to create a mesmerizing character.
His slick seventies walk (Steve saunters, he never trips) is another asset, giving this man a certain seventies chic when needed, without overtaking the violent adrenaline called for as they attack for retribution for the 1972 Munich massacre.
If James Bond provided Craig with a celebrity and a golden pass to red carpet premieres, ´Munich´ provided Craig with the performance of a lifetime and a personal footnote in the history of great cinema!
Author Bio: Eoghan Lyng is an Irish man, who studied English and Gaeilge at University College Cork. Currently a TEFL teacher, Lyng spends his spare time thinking and writing about movies when he´s not teaching the Three Conditionals. He can be found on Twitter @eoghanlyng.