So you’ve heard there’s this new Bond in town, a scowling, bruising, not-very-nice one in Daniel Craig, still best remembered for his villainous Connor in Road to Perdition. What you haven’t heard is this: Craig is also the best Bond in the franchise’s history. I can easily take on gadget-dependent Roger Moore fans, pussyish Dalton defenders and Brosnan apologists. Even Sean’s in my sights. Craig brings him down.
It’s not just in the way he tersely answers the bartender’s expected shaken-or-stirred inquiry (“Do I look like I give a damn?”), or the way this exceptional actor can curl his voice into a crisp, hateful, Mamet-worthy snarl even when he’s wooing The Dreamers’ Eva Green, herself the most believably smart Bond girl in ages. What makes Craig’s Bond better than Connery’s has to do with a complete reinvention of the concept: This is a screwed-up Bond, a rogue Bond, one who brings shame upon Judi Dench’s M with his unruliness, one who infiltrates the high-stakes poker tournament of an evil terrorist banker (Mikkelsen, weeping tears of blood) wearing an unstudied gambler’s face. He’s a bounder, a scrapper and, in the movie’s astoundingly bleak coda, an openhearted lover.
Casino Royale still works as a trad Bond film; its opening parkour chase, much of it staged on high beams of a construction project, looks truly dangerous. But apart from its animated credits, it’s not so groovy anymore—and good riddance. This is a Bond film for the tougher age of Croupier, The Good Thief and Ronin. High time. (Opens Fri; Click here for venues.) — Joshua Rothkopf