Why nobody thought of making James Bond show his dark side in prior movie adaptations is a mystery. Well, the original production team of Harry Saltzman and Albert Broccoli were obviously to blame for keeping Bond breezy and lightweight when the original Ian Fleming novels suggested otherwise. Showing a troubled Bond during the 1960s and '70s likely would have been rejected by audiences, making a lightness of tone understandable.
If the debate is on about Daniel Craig playing Bond to the near age of 60, we might as well accept him as painfully real while he still sips a shaken martini (or beer) in the upcoming "Skyfall." Audiences today don't necessarily want a Bond who has no moral conflict in what he does. We no longer look at law enforcement as individuals who go out and fight crime as conscientious souls who protect without emotion or without finding themselves in complicated situations that straddle the line of corruption.
In a lot of cases, we haven't seen a cinematic spy character losing his mind due to career boredom or grappling with the idea of killing for a living. If the facetiously easy answer is that Bond girls are the remedy, it doesn't explain all the cinematic urban cops we've seen who became their own worst enemies. It shouldn't surprise us that Orson Welles provided one of the first conflicted cop tales through his "Touch of Evil" from 1958.
The Hank Quinlan character in "Evil" couldn't be James Bond if he physically tried (though perhaps mentally he'd have more success). Quinlan was an early example of how movie cops were morally conflicted by drugs and internal politics over anything else. It was the type of troubled cop you'd only expect to see in a 1970s movie.
And it wasn't until then when you saw cops back to losing their right minds from internal strife. In "The Godfather," you saw continual conflict involving drugs (this time via pressure from the mafia). No doubt you remember Sterling Hayden's Captain McCluskey character as one of the brief, memorable personalities from "The Godfather," setting the stage for a long line of troubled and corrupt cops on film, followed up one year later with 1973's "Serpico."
Just who are the most morally conflicted cops in movies to date? You could argue that it was the constable Lucien Cordier in the French film "Coup de Torchon" (or "Clean Slate"). Based on Jim Thompson's novel "Pop. 1280," Cordier and his story were an example of what James Bond perhaps could have been with the addition of psychotic tendencies.
Go ahead and imagine Bond having the cool exterior of Lucien Cordier, only to be a cold-blooded killer under the exterior.
As far as American films, you could say the true glory years of conflicted cops in movies were during the early 1990s. Just in 1990 alone, you had Richard Gere playing one of his most complex roles as a corrupt cop in "Internal Affairs," followed by Nick Nolte memorably doing the same in "Q&A." By 1994, we saw a troubled DEA agent (played by Gary Oldman) wrestling with his conscience in "Leon the Professional."
Bond has a significant precedence to go on here. The question is whether the psychological wrestling is too far removed from martinis and Bond girls. The only logical step to that is allowing new director Sam Mendes to have one of the Bond girls be 007's armchair therapist, without that necessarily involving a roll in the hay.
Find showtimes and tickets near you on Yahoo! Movies.