Daniel Craig’s Belvedere Vodka Ad Is a State-of-the-Art Image Shift

If the new Belvedere Vodka commercial, starring Daniel Craig and directed by Taika Waititi, was a scene from Craig’s latest film, it would be the best scene in the movie, or at least the one everyone’s talking about. Then again, no one would mistake this for a movie scene. The ad has a postmodern viral aesthetic—it’s two minutes of happiness frozen in time. As Craig struts and dances his way through a luxury hotel in Paris, it becomes the rare ad in which a movie star isn’t used to sell a product, as he uses the ad to sell a shift in his own image. Yes, the sprawling place hawks vodka, and Craig probably earned a paycheck that leaves most movie star paychecks in the dust. Still, that’s all kind of besides the point. The ad is Craig’s way of announcing who he is, or might be, now that he’s finished playing James Bond.

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Craig, of course, has a film coming out, so you could say that “Glass Onion: A Knives Out Sequel,” in which he returns to the role of smart Southern gentleman detective Benoit Blanc, all the image change is -on what he needs. Over the past 16 years, Craig has never only was James Bond. In addition to Blanc, he played Mikael Blomkvist in “The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo,” a hillbilly safe cracker in “Logan Lucky” and Iago on Broadway. Yet the Bond brand is so mythological, and Craig, being a great actor, has merged with it so powerfully that it can feel like the only role he’s played. When an actor is stamped by that series, a question hovers over his future stardom: Can he escape the image of Bond, even if it is now woven into his DNA?

Sean Connery, the greatest actor to play Bond before Craig, took a long time to find his feet after leaving 007 behind. When you look at the actor Connery eventually became (in films as diverse as “The Man Who Would Be King,” “The Russia House,” “Indiana Jones and the Last Crusade” and “The Rock”), his commanding and sometimes playfully murderous magnetism is shot through with a post-bondian élan. Craig, I suspect, will do a version of the same thing; he will build his post-Bond career on the identity he forged as Bond from his natural-born bravado. This is the moment when he first serves that identity with a twist, shaken and perhaps even stirred.

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Here’s what’s so fun about the Belvedere ad. Craig, playing “Himself,” gallivants through the hotel in a funky, hot, preening dance-club way that is so not James Bond, yet the joke is that it’s almost as if it’s Bond doing it. Craig trades the rock-hard masculinity of Bond for a different kind of masculinity, one that is much more sexually fluid. But if you look at his weathered granite face, he’s the same tough king tut guy. In the ad, his face tells one story and his body tells another. The story the ad tells is about the dialogue between the two.

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In the opening moments, the camera approaches Craig from behind as he stands on a bridge staring out at the Seine, dressed in a white suit and open white shirt. Why white? Because it comes after “No Time to Die”, where Bond is dead and (presumably) gone to heaven. As the commercial’s wonderful original song, by Rita Ora and Griggs, kicks off in a synth-trance, the camera pans around Craig and lets us soak in the seriousness of his features, broken up by a quick throwaway smile that lets you know he just play

Daniel Craig flashes a smile in the new Belvedere Vodka ad.
Belvedere Vodka

He chased himself through an army of paparazzi (in other words: still James Bond) and slipped into the back of a Rolls Royce, then rolled out the other side, now wearing a black tank top, silver hip-hop chain, sunglasses , and a black leather jacket that looks like it was designed for a Kenneth Anger remake of George Michael’s “Faith” video. As he walks along the cobbled bridge, the message is that Craig has been reborn – as the roughest piece of rough dealing you’ve ever seen. But sometimes even rough trades just want to have fun. Throwing away the sunglasses, he stretches out his arms and shimmies a little, feels the beat, then steps forward, feels it some more, grabs a handkerchief from the hotel porter, and mockingly wipes the sweat from his own face in an I’m-too-sexy way.

Waititi, the gifted director of “Thor: Ragnarok” and its sequel, “Thor: Love and Thunder,” is a filmmaker both passionate and funny. It’s clear that he came up with the Belvedere ad as an homage to the amazing video Spike Jonze made in 2001 for Fatboy Slim and Bootsy Collins’ “Weapon of Choice” – the one where Christopher Walken showed off his extraordinary dance moves while he bops and shimmies. his way through an empty luxury hotel. Walken was 58 when he starred in this video; even though he had a song and dance background, many people didn’t know it. The video played up the contrast between his scowling middle-aged features (and the whole Walken-as-robot-hardass thing that has already begun to be parodied) and the wonderful balletic grace of his movements.

The Belvedere ad does a different version of the same thing. Craig, now 54, has an around-the-block grooved aura that was part of his mystique as Bond. The sly comedy of the ad is that a man who looks like that isn’t supposed to dance like that. Craig still looks like he’s about to kill someone, but in the ad he snaps his fingers, thrusts his hips, struts, boogies, twerks, sheds layers of clothes, walks on water . He is Bond, that quintessential being of the 20th century, resurrected and reborn as an aging (and perhaps ageless) 21st century party boy. The ad finally has him back where he started (sipping an ice-cold vodka and saying “Finally,” as if those dance moves were the action he had to fight through to earn that drink). But Waititi caps it all off with an inspired kicker, letting us know that Daniel Craig, with a quick flash of a gangsta grin that’s not-really-a-grin, is always too cool for the room will be.

What this portends for Craig’s future is anyone’s guess. Could he do a musical? Why not? Will he play characters that are even more than Bond? The world, at this point, was served its oyster with chilled vodka. But the real point is that Daniel Craig has happy demons in him that he no longer needs to keep on a leash. As he lets them out, they can become part of who he is as an actor. What he tells us, with a wink, is, “You just think you know me.” And that no one does it better.



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