'Casino Royale' Holds A Winning Hand

In this file photo provided by Sony, Daniel Craig with Eva Green in "Casino Royale."
AP Photo/Sony Pictures/Jay Maidment
It would have been enough just inserting a fresh face, Daniel Craig, as 007 in "Casino Royale" to give a whole new look and feel to the James Bond franchise.

Yet taking the world's greatest spy back to his roots as a raw, impressionable brute whose cockiness at times fails him and who can lose his heart to a woman was a keen stroke of intelligence.

"Casino Royale" may weigh in a bit lighter than many of the 20 preceding Bond flicks on explosions, gunplay, fisticuffs and other action.

What it does have in those regards is riveting, clever and well-choreographed. Yet the appeal this time lays much heavier on Bond as a person, on his development as one of cinema's deadliest killers and most heartless womanizers.

Craig plays Bond at a crossroads, which could lead him deeper down the loner's path of international intrigue or into a more conventional, happier, companionable life.

Click here to see photos from the movie 'Casino Royale'

He stacks up well against his five Bond predecessors. Craig is no Sean Connery (who is?) but he delivers one of the finest performances ever in a 007 flick, rich with a range of feeling we generally don't see in the emotionally stunted Bond.

Directed by Martin Campbell — who also made "GoldenEye," Pierce Brosnan's first time out as Bond — "Casino Royale" is based on the first of Ian Fleming's novels about the British agent.

The 1950s story is updated from the Cold War era to modern times by veteran Bond screenwriters Neal Purvis and Robert Wade ("Die Another Day," "The World Is Not Enough") and Paul Haggis, who no doubt contributed much of the foreboding drama to the action (Haggis co-wrote and directed the 2005 best-picture Academy Award winner "Crash" and wrote the screenplay for 2004 Oscar champ "Million Dollar Baby").

Click here to see photos from the premiere of 'Casino Royale'

Freshly bumped up to "Double-Oh," license-to-kill status, young Bond already is his own man, alternately impressing and infuriating spymaster M (Judi Dench, making a welcome return from the Brosnan era and bringing her usual wondrous imperiousness to the role).

Bond is assigned to play in a high-stakes poker match in Montenegro orchestrated by Le Chiffre (Mads Mikkelsen), a financier of global terrorism who needs to win the $100-million-plus stake to pay back clients' money he squandered on an investment.

That Bond was the reason his investment went sour makes it all the more poetic, as the card game and its ramifications will have such a huge impact on Bond's destiny.