“Layer Cake” (2004)
The first feature from director Matthew Vaughn (“Kick-Ass,” “Kingsman: The Secret Service”), “Layer Cake” is just as wild and action-packed as his more recent films, but it also has a a distinct emotional edge, due in large part to Craig’s performance as a nameless London cocaine dealer. Just before his early retirement, he is sent on two of his most dangerous assignments yet, which include kidnapping, killing and purchasing a ridiculous amount of hard drugs. In “Layer Cake,” Craig shows off his trademark ability to be a rough-around-the-edges tough guy one moment and a vulnerable and authentic one the next without ever having us doubt his machismo. Craig’s cocaine dealer is a mess of violent fun and shows his beleaguered nature when the going gets too rough.
“Hotel Splendide” (2000)
Long before he was the first blonde Bond, Daniel Craig was a brunette love interest for Toni Collette in the romantic comedy. Craig stars as Ronald, head chef at the titular resort and spa, who serves his guests disgusting eel and fish-based dishes to help clean out their digestive tracts. The resort’s former sous chef, Kath (Collette), returns after a long leave of absence and immediately takes to the kitchen, determined to spice up the palate of the dreary guests. When she butts heads with Ronald regarding the menu, sparks fly and the two make more than just beautiful food. Toni Collette is, unsurprisingly, great, and Craig is fun to watch and easy on the eyes (after all, there’s a reason he became James Bond).
The same year that “Quantum of Solace” was released, Craig starred alongside Liev Schreiber and Jamie Bell in “Defiance” as the founding members of the Bielski partisans, a militant group that helped rescue Jews from the Holocaust and fought back against the Nazis. The Bielski brothers were three Polish Jews who escaped Nazi occupation by setting up residence in the thick forests of Western Belarus. Together, the brothers became one of the most successful rescue operations during the Holocaust, saving more than 1,200 Jewish refugees. While “Defiance” can sometimes get bogged down amid its inspirational message of fighting against all odds, it’s still a well-built historical drama, and Craig is charismatic and powerful as the leader of the Bielski partisans.
“The Mother” (2003)
A far cry from the sleek, stylish fantasy of Bond, “The Mother” takes an unflinchingly honest look at love and loss and how they can affect sexuality and romance. Anne Reid stars as May, a grandmother who, while visiting her daughter in London, loses her longtime husband to a heart attack. Searching desperately for comfort, she begins an affair with Darren, a handyman who is half her age, married, already sleeping with her daughter and played by none other than Daniel Craig. While May debates the morality of her affair, one can hardly blame her for finding refuge in Craig’s steely blue eyes and rugged good looks. As Darren and May realize they may have a deeper connection than previously thought, Craig plays the typical boy next door with a touch of melancholy that mirrors May’s isolation.
“The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo” (2011)
It’s rare that a Bond takes on another series amidst their tenure as 007, but for the American adaptation of Swede Stieg Larson’s “The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo” Daniel Craig was cast as Mikael Blomkvist, a man hired to investigate a 40-year-old murder. In stark contrast to Bond, Craig appears quite normal here as a third party pulled deeper and deeper into what may be more than just a single killing. Blomkvist eventually enlists the help of strange and mysterious genius, Lisbeth Salander (Rooney Mara), to help him solve the decades-old crime. Craig plays a convincing straight man of sorts to Mara’s eccentric Salander, without fading into the background or appearing too passive. Thanks in part to its two capable leads, the American “The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo” is on par with the original Swedish adaptation.
“Some Voices” (2000)
Where most films about mental illness tend to use it as either a sob story or a parable, “Some Voices” manages a refreshingly honest look at a man living with schizophrenia. Craig stars as Ray, a schizophrenic who, after being discharged from a mental hospital, moves in with his brother Pete, who runs a restaurant. Ray has a chance encounter with stranger Laura (Kelly Macdonald), who’s fresh off a breakup with an abusive ex-boyfriend, and the two begin to fall in love. Thanks in large part to Craig’s nuanced performance, Ray’s schizophrenia isn’t something that traps him in some sort of tragic nightmare; rather, it is presented as something that he struggles with but still manages to lead a fulfilling life in spite of. The chemistry between Craig and MacDonald is lovely, and the film’s focus on both the relationship between Ray and Laura, as well as that between Ray and Pete, is a refreshing turn away from what could have been standard rom-com conventions.
“Love is the Devil: Study for a Portrait of Francis Bacon” (1998)
In what may be his farthest departure from the smooth, composed and oppressively heterosexual Bond, “Love is the Devil” sees Craig play George Dyer, the troubled partner of renowned artist Francis Bacon. After a failed break-in and robbery of Bacon’s home, the rough-and-tumble Dyer becomes the expressionist painter’s muse, which for Bacon includes heavy doses of humiliation and psycho-sexual emotional abuse. Craig is incredible as the desperate Dyer, angry at the high-class art world that rejects him, yet vulnerable before the hands of the man he loves. As he slips deeper and deeper into addiction and depression, Dyer enters a world as dark and twisted as the paintings his lover produces. A haunting meditation on art, circumstance and our capacity to hurt the ones we love, “Love is the Devil” is one of Craig’s most daring roles to date.