Maybe I’m getting dumber, or older. Maybe that’s the same thing. But many modern action films are quite difficult to keep up with. They have so much action and move so quickly it can be hard to keep track of the plot. Over the last few years I’ve struggled with Star Trek, Transformers, and the two Daniel Craig era Bond films. Thankfully as they come on to TV (and my provider has given me a free DVR) I am now able to watch them many times over.

Casino Royale was a reboot of the James Bond franchise and started with Bond becoming a “double O” agent still young in his career. His first major assignment is to track down a mysterious organization that has infiltrated all aspects of business and government around the world and provides financing for terrorism.

The plot gets complicated quickly and it wasn’t until the 3rd or 4th time I watched it that I connected all the dots.  I will not focus on every aspect of the storyline, as this is Weakonomics, I’m only focused on the parts that relate to money.

If you have not seen this film and do not want to be given spoilers STOP READING NOW!  Just read Six Lessons James Bond’s Casino Royale Can Teach Us About Money instead. It’s fun and doesn’t have spoilers.

Bond’s investigation leads him to a guy who arranges acts of terrorism for money.  The villain, Le Chiffre wants to blow up the prototype of a new commercial airplane (likely the fictional equivalent to the Airbus A380).  As the company is strapped for resources blowing up the plane during a public showcase would make the stock tank (let’s ignore the fact the manufacturer probably has it insured).  Le Chiffre has put up many millions in investments that make money if the stock prices fall.  So, if the plane blows up and the stock tanks, the villain will have yacht-loads of money.

Bond’s boss, M, alludes to someone having placed similar bets before 9/11 – connecting the plot to real life events and implying Le Chiffre’s organization financed those attacks.  This is also why the CIA is interested in him.

In typical fashion, Bond stops the explosion from happening.  Seconds before disaster.

Le Chiffre’s investments go to nil.  Now you would think that’s so sad for him but whatever.  There’s just one problem.  It wasn’t Le Chiffre’s money.  He bet someone else’s money and those funds were supposed to go and finance some terrorism or war (presumably in Africa judging by the visitors to his hotel room).  Le Chiffre is just a banker for the terrorists, and as a banker he bet money he didn’t have and lost it all.  Notably: this movie was made in 2005, before the financial crisis. But it feels like it was made in 2009.

His organization will want that money back.  The governments of the world hope that he will turn to them for asylum in exchange for information about the organization.  In a last ditch effort to save his own skin, he organizes a high stakes poker game with a bunch of rich people with millions to lose.  Le Chiffre is an excellent player and almost wins, which would allow him to continue his original transaction as banker.  But Bond eventually bests him, and wins it all.

If this were anyone but Bond, Le Chiffre would have accepted an offer for asylum right then and there.  But with Bond there’s always “the girl”.  She’s kidnapped and Bond is captured trying to save her.  They torture him to get the information needed to get Bond’s winnings but Le Chiffre’s own organization turns on him and puts a bullet in his head.  They value secrecy and people they could trust.  Even if Bond gave them the money, he clearly can’t be trusted with it.

And that pretty much sums up the main plot.

If you don’t understand what happened with the girl keep reading.  Vesper is the love interest.  She works for Her Majesty’s Treasury and provides public funds to finance Bond’s entry to the poker tournament.  She also provides the account number to transfer the Treasury’s money back to the government.  Bond has the password, which he gives to the escrow agent after Vesper provides the account. Later, Bond gets a call from his boss asking when the money will be transferred back.  Vesper has betrayed him* and transferred the money to another account.  She had a boyfriend who supposedly (see the second film) had been kidnapped by Le Chiffre’s organization and held hostage.  So she delivered that money back to the organization and Bond tried to stop her.  I can’t remember if they got it or not, it’s not important though.  Vesper, who did love James, dies.

So, hopefully this helps with the plot.  The movie is great and with this knowledge it’s a lot easier to follow.

*Quantom of Solace, the second film, ties up the loose end with Mathis.  He was guy who Bond originally thought betrayed him earlier.

categories: banking, business, media