Friday, November 14, 2008

Minding our Qs [Quantum of Solace]

Quantum of Solace [PG-13]
Grade: B
Cast: Daniel Craig, Judi Dench, Olga Kurylenko, Mathieu Almaric, Jeffrey Wright, Gemma Arterton
Director: Marc Forster

Yes, I know, there is no Q in the re-booted James Bond series. But we mind nothing but our Qs (not even our Ps) in this review of the new flick Quantum of Solace.

Quandary - Having so effectively re-booted its franchise with its last entry, Casino Royale, producers Barbara Broccoli and Michael G. Wilson find themselves wondering where to go with Quantum of Solace. Royale mixed the perfect vodka martini of action-film zest and tough-guy noir. With an electrifying Daniel Craig, it looked like the series found the right balance between its traditional fantasy and the grittier modern style. So it’s kind of disappointing to see Bond going the New Coke route, a product of thinking too much about the competitor’s virtues( Jason Bourne) and not enough about its own.

Quick – Among the shortest James Bond films, Quantum banks on its light, quick editing. Action sequences are punchy and relatively short. The opening car chase really is intoxicating, but characteristically abbreviated.

Quirky – describes the direction of Marc Forster (Finding Neverland). The film looks artier than any other Bond film, as well as most action films. I appreciate the way he varies the action style from scene to scene. Some action sequences are designed for a traditional vicarious response. But a memorable opera house chase – with Bond fleeing and firing, intercut with a performance of Tosca – feels more like a dream sequence. It’s lovely, and unexpected.

Questionable – is the script partly from Paul Haggis. His script for Casino Royale played to his strengths – giving juice to the dialogue, working on character, and developing some solid themes. Yet Quantum has some unfortunate “Haggis moments.” Storylines are obvious. Motivations aren’t clear. And if you want to know the plot, Haggis will stuff it straight into the bad guy’s mouth. So much for spying, seducing, or having Goldfinger proudly blab over a diorama of Fort Knox.

Still, the plot itself is novel and intriguing. The new Bond enemy Quantum, led by a shady, bulgy-eyed businessman (Mathieu Almaric), tries to seize control of Bolivia’s water supply by staging a coup to insert their favorite general. Try selling a water domination plot to a Hollywood executive under other circumstances.
The film also treats Bond as an interesting enigma. Is he looking for revenge for the death of his beloved Vesper, or is he doing his duty? It also has its share of witty lines, with shades of dark humor, and Craig confidently delivers them.

Quietly – The film develops themes, but does so quietly. It plays Royale in reverse, walking Bond back toward humanity. Images echo those in the first film. In Royale, Bond ditched a bloody shirt out of guilt, rinsing his sin down with a drink. Here, he wears blood without a second thought. In Royale, he comforted his love Vesper by holding her in a shower. Here, he comforts a dying man, then tosses the corpse into a dumpster. Royale opens with Bond waiting in the dark for a kill. This film closes with Bond in the same place, but with a different outcome. The legendary Bond gunbarrel sequence even appears at the end, rather than the beginning.

There also is more character development here than it will get credit for. If Casino Royale is about the process of Bond closing emotionally, Quantum is a story of his return to some semblance of moral responsibility. At the end, Bond will be forced between to choose between taking life and preserving it.

Quality – Nowadays, the quality of the Bond series lies in its actors. Compare them to Bourne – Daniel Craig, Judi Dench, and Jeffrey Wright versus Matt Damon, Laura Linney and Julia Stiles. This is, by far, Bond’s greatest advantage. Some of the most sizzling scenes in Quantum involve their chemistry. The key is to take full advantage of this advantage.

The film’s biggest positive is Craig’s complete occupation of the role. While the new Bond formula seems uncertain, the new Bond is perfectly formed, a dead-eyed, ferocious killer with the glimmer of an inner life. Yet we do not get enough that lets Craig push his portrait, no scene like the-torture scene of Casino Royale, which tested the resolve of the character and the limits of the actor. To reduce Craig to Matt Damon-level stiffness is Her Majesty’s disservice.

Qualified – is my approval for Quantum of Solace. As an action film, it shouldn’t disappoint viewers. Yet Royale proved there’s more to this series than it is willing to give here. It’s a sufficient placeholder while the Bond powers-that-be hunch over their storyboards and work on the future.

4 comments:

Alexander Coleman said...

"So it’s kind of disappointing to see Bond going the New Coke route, a product of thinking too much about the competitor’s virtues( Jason Bourne) and not enough about its own."

Yes, that hits it quite well. It's sad to see such a rich film series borrow so liberally from one that spanned a mere five years with three movies, but I suppose one shouldn't be too surprised.

The acting talent here warranted a much better screenplay, as you note.

Sam Juliano said...

A complete mind-numbing waste of time in the cinema. Craig is listless and unintreresting. But for those who love bombastic noice and explosions, it is divine.

media boy said...

Quantum of Solace is entertaining at least... a fantastic job with the styling and picture quality, but the movie as a whole could stand to lose six or seven fewer chase scenes

K. Bowen said...

It's not that I wouldn't change things if I could. But it worked for me as it is.