A good old-fashioned whodunit has always been a staple genre that has drawn-in readers (and, more recently, movie buffs) for centuries. Dating all the way back to the mid-1800’s with Edgar Allen Poe’s, The Murders of Rue Morgue, audiences have been enticed with the puzzle-solving nature of it all, where they too can play the murderer and the detective all at once. An aged detective, retired for years after the death of his brother (for which he seeks some type of revenge), an invite to a mysterious birthday party, the murder of a central character’s husband—yada yada, you know the story, and how it plays out. Names like Agatha Christie, Edmund Crispin, and Ronald Knox all ring in our heads repeatedly as the greats.
In recent years, this formula of the genre has been popping up more and more in modern cinema. Take Sir Kenneth Brannagh’s 2022 Death on the Nile, for example; a classic whodunit with raw modern twists, and of course that sizzling star appeal, based on the famous 1937 novel of the same name. Stunning. It’s like a harking back to more traditionalist blueprints of gritty, dirt-under-your-fingernails thrillers. And audiences nowadays are living for it.
The most talked-about whodunit to date, however, has to be Rian Johnson’s award-winning 2019 Knives Out, thanks to its stellar cast and gripping storyline. After the death of wealthy mystery-novelist, Harlan Thrombey (the late, great Christopher Plummer), private-detective Benoit Blanc (played by James Bond himself, Daniel Craig) is hired to investigate. Every Thrombey family-member is a suspect and it’s Blanc’s job to sift through the family—a web of lies and deceit—to find the true culprit. It’s Craig swapping the suave tailored tuxedos for a bright-blue neck-scarf. Besides his outings as super-sleuth, James Bond, of course, me thinks it’s him at his best. He’s brilliant in the film, and if you’re a whodunit fan, it’s definitely worth the watch.
It makes you think, doesn’t it? Even though Spectre had come out four years prior to Knives Out (which came out just two years before No Time to Die), every time you saw Craig pop up on screens, you immediately think of Bond. Could he do Benoit Blanc justice? But after 30ish minutes of watching the film, you seem to forget you’re watching James Bond. Both Bond and Blanc are looking for exactly the same thing—justice. My question, really, is: How does he do it? Daniel Craig, I mean. How does he so effortlessly change from character to character with such ease? He’s a tuxedo-wearing super-spy one minute, and then an inquisitive detective the next…That’s some serious natural-talent. He’s definitely cemented his legacy as one of the best actors in recent memory.
Born in 1968 to a pub owner and art teacher, Craig’s brilliance at acting grew from a tiny seed planted in primary school. Starring in Oliver!, he made his stage debut at a very young age, in which he reportedly nailed his performance (quite rightly too). His parents were super involved with his upbringing, and took him regularly to the local Everyman Theatre, where he quickly learnt (and loved) that acting was actually a real-life profession, one a person can make money doing.
“I used to go see plays,” he said in a 2005 interview with television legend, Bobbie Wygant, “and meet all the actors. I thought these people were gods. I just didn’t realise they were actually drunk. And now I know…And now I am one.’
In his teens, with stars-in-his-eyes (as they say in the bizz), the young Bond actor enrolled in a top drama school at the famous National Youth Theatre in London, whilst also waiting tables on the side. He regularly served some pretty well-known and important customers, to which he rubbed-shoulders and gained contacts. Whilst at the National Youth Theatre, audiences saw Craig embody Agamemnon in Shakespeare’s Troilus and Cressida, and tour to Moscow and Valencia under the tutelage of Artistic Director, Edward Wilson.
Whilst at the NYT, Daniel got to making connections with some pretty big names in the industry, and went on to score his first screen role as narcissistic police officer, Sergeant Jaapie in Bruce Courtenay’s book-to-film, The Power of One. As well as making a mark in film, Craig also graced many a UK TV-screen in 1993 with Zorro, Drop the Dead Donkey, and with his portrayal as Geordie Peacock in Our Friends in the North, a bloke who tried his hardest to make it in the porn industry to no avail.
It was after this that Craig decided to pull up his bootstraps and head to the glittering lights of Hollywood, starring as Alex West in Lara Croft: Tomb Raider, and playing Connor Rooney alongside Tom Hanks, Jude Law and Stanley Tucci in Road to Perdition.
Around this time (and whilst also playing an unnamed business-savvy cocaine-dealer in Layer Cake), Craig caught the casting-call of none-other than New Zealand’s own, Martin Campbell, who was scouting about for the new James Bond. In an interview he gave with Latino Review, Campbell said that he noticed how Craig’s charm and characterisation of the bold spy in the audition process made him a “terrific actor” and gave him “all the attributes to make a much grittier and tougher Bond.” The highly-laudered role, offered to Henry Cavill too, was well-fought over by Craig. Ultimately, the role did go to him, with Cavill’s age at the time (only 22) becoming an issue. For audiences who remember Craig first playing Bond, he entered the scene being a much more rugged, new-age super-sleuth.
Raking in USD$9.2 million globally during its first release, Casino Royale broke Guinness World Records (the most barrel rolls in a car of seven complete rotations!) and even scored Craig a BAFTA. That’s insane to think that the little stage-kid from Cheshire could achieve this, pretty early on in his career too. He’d surely set himself up for success as Bond, and there’s no surprises there. Heralded by many critics as being ‘the best one yet’, Craig’s success in Casino Royale invited a new age to Bond.
It’s at this moment in the story we are going to make a certain parallel between Craig as a spy and Craig as a detective. In both roles, he allows the staunchness and typical gentlemanly cheek to shine through. We believe audiences are shown a glimpse of Bond from time to time in Johnson’s film, and we couldn’t be happier.
It was back in 2008 (two years after his introduction as Bond in 2006) that Quantum of Solace hit the screen, starring the likes of Gemma Arterton, Jefferey Wright, and Olga Kurylenko. It was Bond on his next mission (obviously) tracking down the organisation responsible for the death (SPOILER ALERT) of his lover, Vesper Lynd.
Reportedly, Quantum of Solace wasn’t the easiest film to make, produced during a writers strike. “There was me trying to rewrite scenes—” Craig told Hindustan Times. “And a writer I am not. Me and Marc Forster were the ones allowed to do it. The rules were that you couldn’t employ anyone as a writer, but the actor and director could work on scenes together. We were stuffed. We got away with it, but only just.”
Yikes. Well, after winning numerous awards and making $591 million in the box office, it was certainly not a flop. The next two Bond films, Skyfall (2012) and Spectre (2015), really saw Craig put to the test. He was ready to get his hands dirty, and show off the nitty-gritty side to Bond. During the opening scene of Skyfall, the Bond rips the back of a carriage before running over the arm of a digger and jumping into the car. He keeps on chasing—but not before taking a moment to straighten his bloodstained shirt cuffs under his suit. A gesture typical of Daniel Craig’s Bond. And it was completely improvised.
In Spectre, Craig’s Bond uncovers the existence of the sinister organisation SPECTRE. As Bond ventures toward the heart of SPECTRE, he discovers a chilling connection no one expected. It was at the end of Spectre in which Craig seriously injured himself; he was ready to hang up the tux for a pair of stubbies, trade in his Aston Martin for a Mazda Demio and pour himself a sparkling mineral water instead of a vodka martini.
“I thought I probably was physically not capable of doing another,” Craig told Gamesradar earlier this year. “For me, it was very cut and dried that I wasn’t coming back.”
But ha ha ha, he did. Being, I guess, the most highly-anticipated film in recent memory, the 2021 Cary Joji Fukunaga film, No Time to Die, was Daniel Craig’s last stint as Bond. The franchise, which had garnered incredible hype over the 25 films, had seen Bond played by six actors (with Craig being the sixth). It was an unspoken rule that Bond would never, ever die. He’d go on living, and tackle any obstacle in his path. It was at Craig’s request, however, for the super-sleuth to be (SPOILER ALERT!) killed off in the most dramatic and ‘complete’ way possible.
No Time to Die tells of Bond being contacted by Felix Leiter asking for his urgent assistance. Asked to rescue a kidnapped scientist and chase a villian (played by Mr. Robot’s, Rami Malek) in possession of a terrifying technology, Craig does his trademark Bond exquisitely, for the last time. Acting alongside Léa Seydoux, Lashana Lynch, Ana de Armas (who also stars in the Knives Out), and Christopher Waltz, No Time to Die was Craig full-speed and truly sent him off in style. Grossing over $774.2 million worldwide, the reception of the film put Craig in the history books.
Many audiences would think, then, that that would be a perfect opportunity for any actor to wipe their hands clean (metaphorically and literally) and retire. But the acting bug is firmly implanted in the bloodstream of Daniel.
With the success of Knives Out, the film deserved a sequel, and he was contacted during the COVID-19 lockdown to read the script for it. Released with a limited theatrical run, and streamable on Netflix from December 23rd, 2022, Glass Onion: A Knives Out Mystery, was highly garnered upon its announcement.
Swapping the foggy New England location for glitzy Greece, Glass Onion follows Blanc, yet again, in pursuit of a murderer at a murder-mystery party on the private island (the Glass Onion) of power-hungry billionaire, Miles Bron (played by Edward Norton as the *cough cough* Elon Musk parallel *cough cough*), during the COVID-19 pandemic. As the film progresses, and Blanc digs deeper, it becomes clear that there is some pretty awkward tension between the other guests. Chaos ensues; the typical Johnson style, might I add. The iconic Mona Lisa makes a star appearance, so does Angela Lansbury and Stephen Sondheim. A cohort of twists, turns and surprises.
The shining beacon in the film is Blanc himself. Flamboyant, eccentric and a very good detective, Benoit is one of those characters you can’t easily forget. It was a brilliant choice of Craig’s to play him again.
Audiences and critics alike were worried somewhat when the first Knives Out hit our screens in 2019. Was Daniel Craig, firmly tied to the image of James Bond, the right choice for the role? Turned out he was, and still is. It’s with Craig’s unique acting ability that he can tap, almost effortlessly, into the character of Blanc.
The main question on everyone’s mind, then, is how the actor can pull it all off, so effortlessly? There must be a reason? Or is it all just natural talent? Who knows…What we do know, however, is Daniel Craig’s acting chops knows no bounds.
Top image courtesy of Omega.