November 12, 2008

Quantum of Solace

Worst first date ever...

Grade: B

Director: Marc Forster

Starring: Daniel Craig, Olga Kurylenko, Mathieu Amalric, Judi Dench, Giancarlo Giannini, and Jeffrey Wright

MPAA Rating: PG-13

Running Time: 1 hour, 46 minutes

Theaters: Spring Lane Cinemas in Sanford; Sand Hills Cinemas in Southern Pines; Crossroads 20 in Cary

A woman lies prone on a bed, her naked, post-coitus body facedown and completely coated with a precious natural substance suffocating her skin, killing her in the process. This scene from Goldfinger is among the most recognizable in the James Bond canon, and, interestingly, it is replicated meticulously in the latest Bond entry, Quantum of Solace. But, instead of Jill Masterson being lacquered in gold paint, today a British agent named Strawberry Fields is soaked cap-a-pie in black gold.

The recycled image is obviously nostalgic, but it also speaks to the passage of time rather than just a rewind of it. Today’s wars are fought over oil, and enemies of Western civilization are funded by oil revenues paid by the very governments they detest. Still, like much in Quantum of Solace, the episode is iconic without triggering the requisite level of iconography.

Still smarting from the betrayal by the late Vesper Lynd at the end of Casino Royale, Bond (Daniel Craig) throws himself headlong into rooting out those responsible for corrupting and killing her, a shadowy global terrorist conglomerate named QUANTUM. While dismantling QUANTUM is also the aim of British Intelligence, this sets the stage for the “Don’t make this personal” lecture M has been giving 007 since the Sean Connery days. When Bond goes rogue to escape the strictures of his MI6 minders, it recalls the defrocked Bond in Licence to Kill.

One can adore Bond lore while also recognizing the need to conjure a new paradigm. And, after its heralded reboot in Casino Royale, the Bond franchise seemed poised to reclaim its cinematic spy thriller crown. But, inside its opening 10 minutes, QOS reverts to some of the atrophy that plagued the Pierce Brosnan and latter Roger Moore eras. The pre-credits sequence – filmed with a neo-Bourne, camera-in-a-blender flair – is a car chase that goes nowhere. From there, it’s onto the regrettable return of the shopworn title sequence with its bevy of silhouetted dancing girls and phallic gunfire.

The rest of the remarkably short (106 minutes) film is a rather truncated affair filled with conservative fodder. Evoking the Red Scare fears of the 1950s, QUANTUM converts infiltrate the highest levels government worldwide, including the inner circle of M (Judi Dench). The CIA gets in bed with one arm of the terrorist organization in hopes of securing oil rights in the countries they disrupt, to the consternation of agent Felix Leiter (Jeffrey Wright, still channeling the righteous indignity of his Colin Powell in W.). And, the villain du jour is Dominic Greene (Mathieu Amalric), a QUANTUM appendage masquerading as an environmentalist who specializes in hijacking the water supplies of Third World countries and then exacting hefty ransoms out of the despots he props up.

One significant area where this Bond film wisely distinguishes itself from its predecessors is adopting a continuity of storyline back to Casino Royale. However, only once does a new Bond order really manifest itself. Against the stunning backdrop of a production of Puccini’s “Tosca” taking place on the floating Seeb├╝hne along Lake Constance in Bregenz, Austria, Bond manages to unmask members of QUANTUM as they carry on a furtive meeting in plain sight among the throng of regular opera-goers. It is one of the most sublime sequences in the entirety of Bond films, both in its Hitchcockian execution and the choice of “Tosca,” an opera dealing with deception and revenge.

That said, director Marc Forster (Finding NeverlandMonster’s Ball) fails to fully realize the film’s thematic potential before Bond and gal pal Camille (Olga Kurylenko, Hitman but memorable – at least for me – as the sexy vampiress in Paris, je t’aime), herself on a related revenge mission, veer into the proverbial climactic showdown inside the villain’s lair (here, a giant eco-hotel in the desert powered by hydrogen fuel cells). The script is the product of 5 screenwriters and multiple rewrites, which generates several showcase scenes that never mesh into a cohesive whole.

What elevates even this middling Bond chapter is Craig, making his sophomore appearance in the series. His 007 is taciturn and seemingly emotionally cold, but he is actually a more human Bond, one who bleeds when injured and constantly does silent battle with his stifling neuroses. Quantum of Solace draws its name from the third short story in Ian Fleming’s For Your Eyes Only compilation. Although its narrative bears no relation to the film, the crux of the simple story rests on Bond’s sudden recognition that his adventure-filled life lacks even the smallest unit of compassion and pales in comparison to everyday human drama. Moreover, Bond implicitly realizes that no one has a “quantum of solace” for him, either.

In essence, the ongoing charge to revive the Bond films is a search for its own quantum of solace beneath the patina of glitz and brand marketing. For all its strengths, this latest effort tries to have it both ways. Instead, Quantum of Solace is further proof that oil and water just don’t mix.

Neil Morris


Anonymous said...

Quantum of Solace is entertaining at least... a lot of high quality visuals, but the movie as a whole could stand to lose six or seven fewer chase scenes

Anonymous said...

Undisputably one of the worst Bond films ever !