By Lynn Venhaus

“No Time to Die” is everything you want in a Bond movie, a super-spy thrill ride elevated by director Cary Joji Fukunaga’s flair for assembling dynamic action sequences and his attention to details.

And in a welcome surprise – assertive women show up in an impressive triumvirate of Ana de Armas, Lashana Lynch and Lea Seydoux.

For the fifth and final entry in the Daniel Craig era as the suave James Bond, our very human hero has left active service at M16 and is enjoying a tranquil life of retirement in Jamaica. However, his peace is short-lived when his old friend Felix Leiter (Jeffrey Wright) from the CIA asks for help in rescuing a kidnapped scientist. The mission turns out to be far more treacherous than expected and leads Bond onto the trail of a mysterious villain (Rami Malek) armed with dangerous new technology.

Fukunaga’s keen eye is well-documented in his unflinching 2015 film “Beasts of No Nation,” in which he was also cinematographer, and his masterful first season of the dark, hypnotic “True Detective” in 2014, for which he won an Emmy Award for directing.

He excels at moving this intriguing spy story along and the globe-trotting camerawork by Linus Sandgren, Oscar winner for “La La Land,” is dazzling. Even at 2 hours and 43 minutes, this slick yet gritty adventure keeps our attention, and satisfyingly wraps up Craig’s story arc as the British icon.

While most other Bond films can stand on their own, some 25 and counting over six decades, the five in the Daniel Craig era are connected. “No Time to Die” relies on viewers knowing that Vesper Lind was Bond’s first wife in the 2006 “Casino Royale” reboot and that tragic backstory, as well as familiarity with what happened in the last one, “Spectre” in 2015 – especially about his girlfriend Dr. Madeleine Swann, daughter of nemesis Mr. White, and sinister mastermind Blofeld (Christoph Waltz), Swann’s dad’s boss.

The script by Neal Purvis and Robert Wade, as well as Fukunaga, is noticeably impacted by the contributions of screenwriter Phoebe Waller-Bridge (heralded creator of “Fleabag”), who brings a refreshing female perspective to the well-documented male patriarchy of the Bond franchise.

This entry is far more female-forward than previous Bond installments – and there is a new 007, Nomi, and she is a feisty, ferocious machine, with Lashana Lynch in a dandy performance, the first black British agent in the film’s 58-year history. No, he may be legendary, but they did not retire Bond’s number, 007.

The iconic ID has been around since Ian Fleming’s first novel, “Casino Royale,” in 1953, and he went on to write 11 novels and two short story collections. Other authors have carried on Bond’s missions.

What direction the Bond franchise goes after Craig’s swan song is anyone’s guess – but post-credits, producers are emphatic: Bond will return in 2022. Debate rages over the possibility of Idris Elba or Rege-Jean Page, or even a female agent. Hmmm…anticipation grows.

In the meantime, Craig fans will enjoy his final emotionally charged performance. He’s been a fine Bond, one of the best, displaying an intensity about dedication to duty, a wily intelligence and a tiny chink in his reserved demeanor about feelings, which is endearing. His orphan roots and lovers’ betrayals have exposed his internal wounds.

While he might not be as memorable as some previous villains, Rami Malek is an interesting adversary as mad genius Lyutsifer Safin, warped by his father’s zeal for using chemicals as weapons.

As the other Bond villain, Blofeld, Christoph Waltz is far better here in one confrontation than he was in the entire “Spectre,” which was a disappointing film after the extraordinary “Skyfall” in 2012.

Not everyone is sold about French actress Lea Seydoux playing the love interest, a rare second appearance for a girlfriend, but it deepened the Craig finale.

This foray features a solid cast, with the always-exceptional Ralph Fiennes returning as a conflicted M, Ben Whishaw as tech whiz Q, Naomie Harris as loyal assistant Eve Moneypenny, Rory Kinnear as government wonk Tanner and this time around, Jeffrey Wright compelling as CIA pal Felix.

Besides a take-notice turn by Lynch, Ana de Armas is sensational as a rookie CIA operative helping Bond in Cuba. She is not given as much screen time as she deserved, and her captivating sequence had viewers wanting more, ushering in a new type of “Bond girl” in a changing era.

Bond may be a relic from a distant past, but the fact that filmmakers acknowledge that change is necessary, makes for a fascinating future.

The franchise, known for stylish escapism, may be forced to adapt to keep relevant in a brave new world, but viewers will always want engaging stories of right triumphing over might – no matter if it’s good girls AND guys.

And wow, are those car chases fun to watch.

Daniel Craig as James Bond in “No Time to Die”

No Time to Die” is an action-adventure directed by Cary Joji Fukunaga and stars Daniel Craig, Rami Malek, Lea Seydoux, Lashana Lynch, Ben Whishaw, Naomi Harris, Christoph Waltz, Ralph Fiennes, Jeffrey Wright, BIlly Magnussen and Ana de Armas. It is Rated: PG-13 for sequences of violence and action, some disturbing images, brief strong language, and some suggestive material. Its run time is 2 hours, 43 minutes. It is in theaters on Oct. 8. Lynn’s Grade: A


By Lynn Venhaus
The little things do matter in this gritty cat-and-mouse thriller where three Oscar winners deliver strong nuanced performances.

What starts out as a crime procedural takes a more unusual approach, shaking up the genre as a former detective teams up with a big-deal LA detective to catch a serial killer. Young women are being hunted and murdered. The crime scenes are grisly. The trails are mostly dead ends.

Deke (Denzel Washington) is now a deputy sheriff in rural Kern County but once was a crackerjack LA detective. He becomes involved in the hunt for a serial killer and begins helping hotshot LA detective Jim Baxter (Rami Malek), much to the aggravation of Captain Carl (Terry Kinney).

Deke has a troubled history – he had left years ago after questions were raised about his methods during another string of murders. He had a triple bypass, a divorce and a suspension within six months. He’s haunted by the old case – but his intuitive skills – for the ‘little things’ – prove eerily accurate. However, his willingness to not play by the rules will impact the case for Baxter as they chase prime suspect Albert Sparma (Jared Leto). And he can’t really escape the past.

Writer-director John Lee Hancock decides to circle around the case, preferring to offer minimal nuggets, with limited disclosures, which is frustrating. The climax is unsatisfying and the overall execution is a mixed bag.

Yet it’s the performances that are compelling,  so that we become invested in the characters if not the methods.

The dance each character does around the other ones adds intrigue, particularly with how the creepy suspect Albert Parma messes with the two cops’ heads in such a disturbing way. Jared Leto, with some facial prosthetics, gives off eerie vibes as an odd loner, who takes great delight in his effect on them. Leto masterfully gets under their skin. His stares leave burn marks.

As the two sharp investigators doggedly chase down evidence, it’s clear Deke has considerable baggage, but his skills at profiling are superb. Denzel Washington knows this guy – but we don’t ever understand why his peers turned on him during a brutal manhunt years ago, because he’s really good at what he does.

We are left hanging. However, he and Rami Malek are convincing as two opposites who pair up well.

A crucial scene depends on us believing Malek’s Jim Baxter’s missteps. Not so sure such a meticulous by-the-book operative, slick on the outside and cool on the inside, would err that way.

Hancock, best known for “The Blind Side,” wrote this script 30 years ago, after he worked on the Clint Eastwood drama “A Perfect World” starring Kevin Costner.

He kept “The Little Things” set in 1990, so there aren’t any fancy technology tools to use, which adds an interesting element without cell phones or DNA evidence.

Your ultimate response will be how far you are willing to suspend belief and whether you are OK with loose ends. Unfortunately, expectations aren’t met.

““The Little Things” is a crime thriller written and directed by John Lee Hancock, starring Denzel Washington, Rami Malek and Jared Leto. Rated R for violent/disturbing images, language and full nudity, the movie is 2 hours, 7 minutes. Lynn’s Grade: B. Warner Brothers will release in theatres and on HBO Max on Jan. 29.