Everybody’s wondering whether or not Daniel Craig makes a good James Bond, but of course he’ll do nicely. The truth is, the role of 007 doesn’t really take much more than a cold stare and the capacity to look snazzy in a dinner jacket. The real question: what about Eva Green? We’ve adored the French ingenue since her debut in Bernardo Bertolucci’s The Dreamers, and truth be told, she was the real reason we attended yesterday’s screening at New York’s Ziegfeld theater. Casino Royale starts out very strong, with gritty bathroom fights and a breathtaking, Ong-Bak-inspired chase through a construction site.

Just when the film starts losing steam, Green appears to save the spy from his own smugness. As Vesper Lynd, the smart but reserved accountant who lords over Bond’s finances while he plays high-stakes poker for terrorist funds, Green’s not only the most intriguing Bond girl since Sophie Marceau, she’s also the most important since George Lazenby got hitched to Diana Rigg in On Her Majesty’s Secret Service. Their banter’s charming, the outfits are glamorous, the villian’s creepy, and the locations are splendid as always (even if they borrow Natalie Portman’s space retreat from Attack of the Clones.)

In other words, the ingredients are right, and Casino Royale had the potential for a truly great Bond movie. The franchise, which is really an endless series of remakes, always tends toward bigger, louder, and more cartoonish installments (Die Another Day was a superhero comic book), and every decade or so, the producers feel obliged to dial down the nonsense and reintroduce grit and a real sense of danger. Director Martin Campbell succeeds on this score, but he doesn’t know when to stop.

If Casino Royale had kept to a lean, mean 90 minutes, it could have been the perfect James Bond flick. But it just keeps on going, and after two and a half hours, all the drama and tragedy Campbell is obviously aiming for have bled from the movie, leaving us with nothing more but a headache and the familiar catchphrase. You’d be better off–and you’d see more of Eva Green–if you just rewatched The Dreamers, twice.

Casino Royale. Martin Campbell, 2006. **