Review - Bond Suffers Identity Crisis in 'Quantum of Solace'

Movie Review -

Originially published October 31st 

You have one shot, take a deep breath. Make it count.” – James Bond, 2008.

Trying to heed 007’s advice, the filmmakers behind Quantum of Solace loaded up and set their sights on topping “Casino Royale,” 2006’s sensational recharge of the Bond mythos. Their solution was to make Quantum an amped-up kick in the teeth that barely gives you a chance to settle in to your seat before it takes off. Seriously, there are some jaw-dropping sequences in this film. It’s a tremendous action movie.

It’s just not a Bond movie. A Bourne film maybe, but not a Bond movie.

The action overwhelms any attempts to explore the depths of Bond’s wounded character. Star Daniel Craig spends long stretches not saying a word, listening to others give their amateur analysis of what’s on his mind. The crisp dialogue present throughout “Casino” is almost nowhere to be found here, save for a few precious lines by the always wonderful Dame Judi Dench as M.

In his first outing as 007, Craig was equal parts cold, calculating, and charming. Here he’s just angry and detached. Shaken and stirred by his need for revenge after being betrayed by Vesper in “Casino”, Bond has become a loose cannon, one that M struggles to keep in line.

Potential witnesses keep dying around him and his rapidly dwindling number of allies is all in the crosshairs of Bond’s enemies.

The movie begins in mid-chase, set about an hour after “Casino Royale” ended. Bond is tearing through the winding Northern Italian roads with armed thugs in an Alfa Romeo in pursuit. Director Marc Forster, known for more sedate films such as “The Kite Runner”, succeeds where more seasoned action directors (you know who you are, Michael Bay!) fail: Crafting an effective car chase.

The scene took eight weeks to shoot, and by the time they end up in the 2,000-year-old marble quarry, you’re exhausted. Unlike many of today’s hyper-edited chases, you can actually follow the action here.

The story here is that Bond is seeking revenge on the people who blackmailed Vesper and forced her betrayal. Already reeling from that, he quickly learns there is no one he can trust – except M.

The chemistry between Craig and Dench crackles whenever they appear together onscreen. To Craig’s 007, M is the den mother of MI6, the only person he may be able to open up to. To M, Bond looms as perhaps her biggest disappointment. Yet she still can’t stop herself from protecting him, even to the point of risking her career and tensions with the C.I.A. It’s a fascinating dynamic that deserved more exploration than the four brief scenes they shared.

As for the villain of the piece, Mathieu Amalric gives an uneven turn as Dominic Green. His eco-friendly corporation is a front for shadier dealings that are part of a huge and mysterious cabal of world domination types. For much of the picture, Amalric can’t seem to decide whether to play Greene as a ruthless businessman or as a completely over-the-top lunatic. By the end, he gives in to his broadest impulses.

Bond quickly learns Greene’s motivation: Taking control of one of the world’s most crucial natural resources, in South America . In Bolivia, he meets the equally surly Camille (Olga Kurylenko), who is involved with Greene and has her own agenda.

Bond does his secret-agenting here by land, by sea, and by air, on foot and with fist. At various points in the movie he’s leaping across rooftops, having an airborne fistfight on the ropes of a renovated church, having a closed-quarters knife battle, piloting a DC3 plane, and jumping through walls of fire. Judging from the frequent close-ups, Craig appears to be doing much of his own stunt work.

Impressive for sure, but the whole point of rebooting Bond and getting rid of the more outlandish science fiction gadgets was to bring him back down to Earth and give him at least a scent of mortality. Here he’s like the Terminator with better enunciating skills.

The mood of the film is dark throughout, although it lightens when the action moves to Bolivia and Mathis (Giancarlo Giannini) reappears, albeit briefly.

The climax of the movie finds Bond in rare hand-to-hand combat with the lead villain. The fight between Amalric and Craig – as everything comes burning down around them in a hotel in the middle of the desert -- is savage and uncoordinated. It’s also the most purely believable action sequence in the entire movie.

Everyone has different expectations for a Bond movie. Some like the car, or the Bond Girls, others like to see what new toy he’ll beat the bad guys with. In Quantum Bond’s most effective gadget turns out to be a souped-up cell phone.

But he puts it to good use during the movie’s best sequence at the Opera House in Austria to ‘out’ most of the members of Greene’s top secret organization. It’s a tremendous scene that bounces back between what’s happening on the opera stage and in the seats. Sadly, it’s also the only time we get anything close to the feeling of espionage intrigue we expect from top-shelf Bond.

I couldn’t believe how little attention was paid to character interaction by the director of “Finding Neverland” and “Monster’s Ball.” It was like I was sitting in a Bizarro multiplex. He did show he can handle massive action scenes, but the script failed to take advantage of the fact that Craig may be the only person to challenge Sean Connery for Bond Supremacy. We know he has the action hero chops, let’s see him continue to peel back more layers of 007’s character.

I realize the inherent challenge of trying to top a film that earned near-universal praise for rejuvenating Ian Fleming’s top spy. Quantum of Solace ultimately falls short because the filmmakers felt like Craig’s second outing had to be Bigger, Louder, Faster. They were wrong.

They should have just tried to be Better.

Lucky for them that Bond was wrong. They’ll get more than one shot. Next time, let’s hope they’re on target.

Quantum of Solace opens nationally on November 14th


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