All hail the new Bond

  • Robert Horton / Herald Movie Critiic
  • Thursday, November 16, 2006 9:00pm
  • LifeGo-See-Do

What’s the acid test of a good James Bond movie? Is it the quality of the stunt work, the car chases, or the (to use now-outdated Cold War terminology) Bond babes?

I propose that the acid test of a good James Bond movie is that it makes you feel cooler than you felt before you saw it. For maybe a half-hour or so after exiting the theater, you ought to be able to imagine that, given access to a 1964 Aston Martin and a tailored tuxedo, you might just be able to save the free world – or at least order up a decent martini.

Such a spell is achieved by the latest 007 picture, “Casino Royale,” which marks one of the long-running series’ periodic course corrections. Most notably, this one introduces a terrific new lead actor, in the role held by Pierce Brosnan since 1995’s “GoldenEye.”

That man is Daniel Craig, an experienced Brit impressive in films as disparate as “Layer Cake,” “Munich,” and the recent “Infamous.” Craig’s rugged features make him a throwback to original Bond, Sean Connery, and he actually looks as though he could handle himself in close combat.

He needs to be in shape, because Bond gets a thorough workout here. Craig gets into some brutal fistfights, crashes his car, is tortured, swallows poison that induces near-cardiac arrest, and generally takes a beating.

The film announces its change in style with the opening sequence, which dispenses with the customary pre-credits giant-sized stuntwork. Instead, we meet Bond in a quiet, intense sequence that establishes his newness to Her Majesty’s Secret Service; he’s only just earned his “license to kill.”

But not to worry: In a few minutes, Bond is merrily leaping across construction cranes and a half-finished skyscraper, in a thrilling sequence that uses the urban-acrobatics style known as parkour.

I didn’t entirely piece the plot together, but Bond is on the trail of a moneyman called Le Chiffre (the excellent Danish actor Mads Mikkelsen) who funds terrorism. After an investigative jaunt in the Bahamas, and a turn preventing a jumbo jet from being torched at the Miami airport, 007 heads to Montenegro for a high-stakes poker game with Le Chiffre.

Yes, poker – a round of Texas Hold ‘Em is now the game of choice. Baccarat really hasn’t caught on as a TV card game.

Other changes: The film drops the subsidiary characters Q and Miss Moneypenny, and – most thankfully – doesn’t attempt the giant special-effects absurdities of the Brosnan era. “Casino Royale” feels more like a spy movie than a 1990s-style action picture. That’s a good thing.

Mikkelsen and new Bond escort Eva Green (from “The Dreamers”) are a little disappointing, and a love-story idyll late in the longish running time is a bit drawn-out. Judi Dench returns as M, and director Martin Campbell (who made “GoldenEye”) returns as well.

“Casino Royale” was filmed as a spy-movie spoof in 1967, emphatically not produced by the usual Bond moviemaking team (Peter Sellers and Woody Allen were in the all-star cast). Ian Fleming’s first 007 novel is thus getting its proper due here, and the news is good. So is the martini.

Daniel Craig stars in “Casino Royale.”

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