Ian Fleming's first James Bond novel finally hits the big screen - forget the appalling 1967 spoof - with Daniel "Layer Cake" Craig playing a younger, less polished version of the 007 portrayed by his predecessors.



After a gritty black-and-white flashback sequence that sees him making his first kills for the Secret Service, Bond is awarded "Double O" status and dispatched to the Bahamas for his first official mission.

There, Bond hears of Le Chiffre (Mikkelsen), a shady financier who has arranged a winner-takes-all card game at Montenegro's Casino Royale to bankroll terrorist operations across the globe.

Funded by MI6, Bond - who is assisted by treasury official Vesper Lynd (Green) and CIA agent Felix Leiter (Wright) - enters the game hoping to bankrupt Le Chiffre, and destroy his terrorist organisation.

Casino Royale is definitely not Bond as we know it. Gone are the flashy gadgets (anyone remember the invisible car?), innuendo-laden exchanges with Moneypenny, and naked birds.

In its place are lashings of bloody violence, a moving love story, and a 007 that most resembles the man found in the pages of Ian Fleming's original stories. We see Bond at the start of his career, a vulnerable individual struggling with the moral implications of his job who slowly evolves into a cold-blooded, misogynistic assassin.

Craig is a fantastic choice for the role, with a psychotic glint in his eye and a fearsome physique that makes him the most believable Bond to date. We see him bleed, lose his famous cool, fall in love, and in one of the most memorable scenes in the character's history, tortured to within an inch of his life.

Praise for this must also be extended to writer Paul Haggis, who in February became the first man in Oscar history to write back-to-back best picture winners with Crash and Million Dollar Baby. Haggis was apparently brought in to look at the script after the regular writers Neal Purvis and Robert Wade (who didn't exactly do a great job on the last two Bond adventures) had submitted their draft. Instead of embarrassing one-liners and tiresome stunts we now get spiky dialogue (Bond to Vesper: "You're not my type", "Smart, Single") and knowing quips (Barman to Bond: "Shaken or stirred?", "Do I look like I give a damn?"). Director Martin Campbell (who helmed 1995's GoldenEye) is also on fine form, displaying a flair for big-budget action sequences that was evident in his recent Zorro films.

Highlights include a vertiginous foot chase between Bond and a free running expert over two enormous cranes, and a final explosive showdown on the crowded Venetian waterfront. Bond famously quipped "I thought Christmas only came once a year" once but with a November release for Casino Royale - the best Bond since Connery's early days - it seems he was wrong.

Billed as the "Collector's Edition", fans may be surprised to learn that there is no director's commentary from Martin Campbell on the extras package, and that all three of the featurettes included have (apparently) already been aired on ITV.

Having said that, there is plenty of good stuff here to keep fans happy, not least the 50 minute "Bond Girls are Forever" segment which sees Maryam d'Abo (The Living Daylights) tracking down a selection of 007's former squeezes, including Jill St John and Halle Berry, to get their take on their franchise.

"Becoming Bond" is an entertaining interview with Craig that explains the pressures he was under after finally agreeing to play 007, a role he had no interest in until he read Paul Haggis' final draft.

Completing the package is the enlightening "James Bond for Real" featurette which looks at the remarkable stunt work involved in the film, and the music video for Chris Cornell's fantastic theme tune "You Know My Name".

Verdict

It was a big gamble (excuse the appalling pun) for producers Barbara Broccoli and Michael G. Wilson to take Bond in this direction, but the result is a thrilling triumph that trumps any action movie since Jason Bourne's last outing in 2004.



Rating: 12A
Staring: Daniel Craig, Eva Green, Judi Dench, Mads Mikkelsen, Jeffrey Wright, Giancarlo Giannini
Directed by: Martin Campbell
Extras: Becoming Bond (30 mins), James Bond For Real (30 mins), Bond Girls are Forever ( 50+ mins), Music Video