Quantum Of Solace (MGM/Columbia Pictures, 2008)

It has become very trendy in recent years to re-invent characters from popular series, getting a whole new cast and crew and often restarting the story. The new Batman movies, in particular, have been enormous commercial and artistic successes. The most surprising and intriguing reinvention, though, has been of James Bond. The celebrated British spy has been entertaining movies audiences for nearly half a century with his dry wit, numerous gadgets, countless trysts with beautiful and exotic women, and the ability to escape from any situation and save the world many times over. As entertaining as the twenty-plus Bond movies were, though, you could make the argument that James Bond was the most static character in all of cinema. That is no longer the case, though. First with Casino Royale and now with Quantum of Solace, actor Daniel Craig gives Bond an element of depth he never really had before. And for the first time, the behavior Agent 007 is influenced by the events of a previous movie in the series and the relationships he developed in it.

In fact, a good memory of what happened in Casino Royale is required if you want to understand much Quantum of Solace. For starters, the wonderful Judi Dench returns as M, the head of the intelligence agency called MI6. Jeffrey Wright also returns as sympathetic CIA agent Felix Leiter, and Giancarlo Giannini intriguingly reprises his role as René Mathis, an agent that Bond mistakenly had arrested in Casino Royale. Of course, Casino Royale climaxed with the death of agent Vesper Lynd, for whom Bond had genuine feelings of affection for (a radical departure from most Bond movies). It is this event which fuels Bond's anger for most of this movie.

I don't think Bond begins the movie quite as hell-bent on revenge as some reviewers have made him out to be. He doesn't actually use any sort of excessive or unjustified force; rather, like in any Bond movie, he disposes of people who are coming after him. But the fact remains that in the early part of the movie, most of the bad guys who get in Bond's way don't live long enough to provide any information on Quantum, the shadow organization that MI6 is trying to investigate, and M becomes suspicious of Bond's motivations. Bond has enough of a trail of clues to find Dominic Greene (played by Mathieu Almaric), a sinister entrepreneur and high-level Quantum member, but not before bumping into Greene's lover Camille Montes (played by Olga Kurylenko). Greene had sent somebody to kill Montes, who is actually a Bolivian spy, before Bond intervened. It turns out that Greene is supporting an imminent coup attempt in Bolivia, led by a deposed dictator, in exchange for some land whose value to Greene is not immediately apparent.

With the main thrust of the plot in place, Bond spends the next hour and a half or so in a series of escapes, rescues, chases, fight sequences, etc. While the pace could get blistering at times, there was enough room for plenty of dialogue and character development, to a far greater degree than most Bond movies. Indeed Quantum of Solace may be both the best written and best acted movie in the entire series. Craig and Dench are both superb, especially when interacting with each other, and Kurlyenko holds her own as well. Unfortunately, the cinematography got very aggravating during the action sequences. I don't know who thought changing the camera angles faster than moviegoers can process what they are seeing was a good idea, but it severely compromised what was otherwise a great movie. Being caught up in the fast pace and intensity is only exhilarating when you have some clue what's going on.

I have no problem at all with Bond movies getting more cerebral and thoughtful. I certainly don't understand people complaining about the title; all Bond movies have cryptic titles, and I thought Quantum of Solace as a title made perfect sense in the context of what happened in Casino Royale. So many things about Quantum of Solace were done right that I would still strongly recommend going to see it. It's rare that an action movie succeeds as well in the fine details like plot, characterization, and dialogue as this movie does. But that only makes the movie's shortcomings in visualization that much more perplexing and frustrating.

Overall grade: B+

reviewed by Scott

1 comment:

digitaldoc said...

If I'm not mistaken, it should be pointed out the Quantum is the 1st Bond film that wasn't based on an Ian Fleming novel. After all these years, they ran out of books to make into films.