"Torture" appears to be the operative word for the post 9/11 age. It's all over the news, on TV and in the movies. George Clooney won an Oscar for having his fingernails pulled off in "Syriana." President Bush has been criticized for allegedly permitting torture in detainee prisons. The Iraqi insurgency specializes in it with televised beheadings.
Keeping pace with modern times, the new James Bond (Daniel Craig) of the recently- released "Casino Royale" is subjected to naked agony in a way far worse than the old James Bond (Sean Connery) is with a crotch-cutting laser in 1964's "Goldfinger."
But the new Bond's torture is back to the basics. It's as author Ian Fleming described it in "Casino Royale," his first novel of the successful spy series of the 1950's. Which means the world and James Bond has come full circle. For today's espionage agent, the current global conflicts are equal in ugliness to the Cold War decades ago.
Though he has none of the fun found in Connery, Craig is perfectly cast as the up-to-date no-nonsense Bond. With a face as expressionless as the Terminator, his 007 can't wait to exercise his double "0" license to kill, which he acquires from his boss, M (Judi Dench), in "Royale."
Directed by Martin Campbell ("GoldenEye," "The Mask of Zorro"), "Royale' opens with a series of non-stop stunts that start in Africa and continue to the Bahamas. He soon winds up in Montenegro competing in a high-stakes gambling session against evil Le Chiffre (Mads Mikkelsen), financier of terrorism.
After a fling with a married woman (Caterina Murino) in the Bahamas that turns deadly, Bond hooks up with Vesper Lynd (Eva Green) to provide him with an attractive distraction for Le Chiffre and other contenders at the gambling table. For those not familiar with Texas Hold 'Em, the card scenes may not make a lot of sense. However, Bond appears to lose in the middle of the game after dispatching a couple of thugs actually out to get Le Chiffre in his hotel suite. Then, he pulls it together upon surviving a cardiac arrest brought by poison in his vodka martini from the ungrateful Le Chiffre's sexy blond assistant.
In the last act, Bond has a weak moment, where he gives in to real love for Vesper. However, he has second thoughts when he believes she's betraying him. The finale tries to reconnect the robot Bond to humanity when he disparately tries to save the misunderstood Vesper in a collapsing Venice canal building.
Still, actor Craig is no Connery. Gone are most of the witty one-liners, of which Austin Powers made mincemeat. Maybe a tougher Bond is needed in the age of terror and torture.