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James Bond Ultimate Edition
Vol. 3
(Goldeneye / Live and Let Die / For Your Eyes Only / From Russia With Love / On Her Majesty's Secret Service)

. "Casino Royale"

Among other things that very ably preserves this franchise at the top of the thriller genre is the athleticism of it. James Bond (Daniel Craig) isn't just a pretty tuxedo, a chill card player, an expert seducer, a licensed killer, an arragant loner, ace strategist and more, he's buff to the extreme, daring and acrobatic enough to put him on a gymnast card. This latter achievement is the key factor in an opening action sequence that lives up to the James Bond tradition of thrills and originality. Athletic skill, though, is only part of the Craig formulation. The concepts and staging of the action are equal factors in stretching the envelope for near-death experience.

This action sequence is preceded by a black and white prologue to remind us that he once was an agent-candidate, when he needed to qualify for MI6 with two proper kills (the "double ought"). When he does, it's up to bosswoman M (Judi Dench) (whose code name does not stand for "Mother" except, perhaps, in street-talking parlance), and this "motha" has her doubts about her new agent's freewheeling ways.

He doesn't do himself any good by showing up in her apartment when she arrives home and, though it demonstrates his ability to learn something no on else ever has, she's steamed. And, he's been on her computer, no less, having hacked her ID and password to the agency files without her knowing until he starts using it.

But, not to worry about petty outrages because 007's exploits will compensate for any doubts M or fans of the series might have. Every frame of activity clearly signals that a new Bond has arrived -- in the tough guise of Mr. Craig who quickly dispels nostalgia for his five predecessors, including Sean Connery. He wastes no time establishing his bona fides for the role.

The working title during production was "James Bond 21," which tells us something about the endurance and standards of the franchise.

That acrobatic first sequence finishes with Bond in possession of the bag of tricks his bad guy suspect was so energetically trying to get away with. No doubt it contains something important and, so it does. It turns out to be a cell phone with a curious code name and number.

At the other end of it, a financial wizard known as Le Chiffre (Mads Mikkelsen, "The Pusher") who makes his fortune by being banker to the unbankable, such as third world warlords and underworld scum. In exchange for a bundle of money, The international terrorist enabler with a bleeding eye (as if he's not scary enough) gives a guarantee to one warlord that his hundred million bucks will be invested without risk.

Which is, of course, a very risky move on Le Chiffre's part. The eye's next move is equally mystifying when he sells his large position in an airline that's about to unveil a new liner. His broker doesn't understand the move given that the stock has been climbing like a jet, but when Bond's trail leads to a terrorist trying to destroy the slick new plane before it gets off the ground -- a catastrophe that would bankrupt the company -- the money manipulation part of it becomes clear. This would make Martha Stewart's stock shenanigans look like a contribution at a charity event.

Seeking to restore the money lost (not to say the embarrasment), Le Chiffre engages in a super-high stakes game of Texas Hold "Em Poker at Casino Royale. Bond sits across the table in an attempt to deny the mastermind any gains. He's now aided by Vesper Lynd (smart and beautiful Eva Green, "Kingdom of Heaven"), the chilly, intelligent rep of the British treasury who is there to enable him with stake money to the tune of $10 Mil,. But, when Bond turns out to be the loser, Vesper denies him further backing when he pleads her for a 2nd chance. Things don't always go well for the agent. In fact, they sometimes go really badly.

Which is a mark of excellence of a movie series whose objective is to create that exquisite balance between what we expect of the man in the center of the action and the credible obstructions that diminish his superiority. No matter how destructive physically or emotionally events might be, our hope and confidence in our hero is indestructible -- and these tests are as good as they get.

Director Martin Campbell's team of writers Neal Purvis, Robert Wade and Paul Haggis is a study in excruciating changes of fortune and humor astutely arising from our knowledge of our agent's character and calling. Every "in-joke" and great one-liner was acknowledged by the audience I was in, and the extended set pieces of action choreography duly applauded. It's an especially fine piece of writing if, for no other reason, than for the relatively earth-bound scale of the exploits.

Bond isn't given a tricked out hot rod by "Q" -- he earns his excellent Aston Martin DBS in a card game (along with the guy's wife). Explosions are tame and contained. The dependence for action is on a level of cleverness that may be the best in the series. (There's one bit of sadism that'll make every guy watching wince in sympathetic pain).

My bet is that your audience will respond to this exemplary entertainment as involved as mine did, and my prediction is that this Bond will be around for as long as Craig wants him to be. The future success of the franchise, however, will depend as much on this level of writing ingenuity.

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                                      ~~  Jules Brenner  
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