Casino Royale

PUBLISHED : Thursday, 21 December, 2006, 12:00am
UPDATED : Thursday, 21 December, 2006, 12:00am

Surprisingly violent and dark, Casino Royale - the latest, and 21st official, James Bond movie - is one of the best action films of the year.

The film, directed by Martin Campbell, features the tough Daniel Craig - Angelina Jolie's lover-cum-rival in Lara Croft: Tomb Raider (2001) - as the British spy, replacing the charming Pierce Brosnan.

Unlike his predecessors, who emerge from their adventures unscathed, this Bond is tortured and almost poisoned to death by his nemesis Le Chiffre (Mads Mikkelsen), a private banker who works for terrorists.

In the end, 007 emerges a broken man, an emotionless and loveless hitman who cares about nothing but his killing missions. This is hardly a happy ending for a popcorn blockbuster.

Bond's shift from a sexy spy hero to an amoral hitman starts at the beginning of the film, with realistic black-and-white scenes of him killing the first victim of his 007 career. No clever gadgets or sophisticated weapons are used, and Bond fights like an animal - first drowning his enemy in the washbasin, then shooting him in the head.

'I miss the Cold War,' says M, brilliantly played by Judi Dench. After all, the war against terrorism in the 21st century is a far more complicated affair than it was 50 years ago.

The sense of amorality is boosted by Mikkelsen's character, who is motivated by pure greed. The villains in most other 007 movies are driven by either radical ideologies or an ambition to rule the world.

Li Chiffre spends the terrorists' money on airline stocks and, after his plan to blow up a plane is foiled by Bond, he desperately sets up a poker tournament to recover his losses on the stock market. Even Dr Evil in an Austin Powers movie has loftier goals than this man.

Casino Royale is the genre franchise's welcome return to serious entertainment. It is an intelligent action film, rather than a popcorn flick that feels like a video game. Welcome to the cruel world, Bond, James Bond.

Casino Royale is now showing