“How long have we got?” The James Bond blogs: ‘Quantum of Solace’ (2008)

11 Nov

Quantum of Solace is a James Bond film that wants us to forget it’s a James Bond film. Whereas Casino Royale raised our expectations of what a modern Bond film could be, Quantum of Solace seems almost embarrassed to be in the company of the franchise’s other entries; as if it’s determined not to be in any way formulaic or even representative of the series. On one hand this sounds a refreshing proposition; why should a new Bond film be a slave to past expectations and practice? What Quantum of Solace actually does is throw us uncompromisingly and suddenly into the action from the very first scene, and takes bold risks within its economical running time (Quantum harks back to the punchier duration of Dr. No or Goldfinger). These ‘risks’ with the overall presentation, render the film unlike most entries in the series. Difference is often a very good thing, and is welcome, as we’ve seen before with On Her Majesty’s Secret Service and Casino Royale, to name but two. But alienating your audience in the pursuit of being different, and sometimes sacrificing a clear narrative, is not welcome at all.

From the rapid editing of the film’s initial car chase through to the Goldfinger homage of an oil painted Gemma Anderton, Quantum of Solace appears unwilling to let our eyes settle on any one scene for too long. Strong, potentially iconic imagery is sped past in a sometimes confusing race to the finish. While the haste often gives the narrative impetus and show’s Bond’s mission to be truly nerve shredding, it left this viewer unsatisfied and disgruntled, like a visitor to an exhibition who is ushered hurriedly to the exit and misses all the best bits. Sadly, due to its frantic and sudden cuts, and confusing close ups, Quantum is likely to leave you feeling this way. My feeling was that there was another Bond film that I’m never going to see, and Quantum shows you just a fraction of it; a quantum of a film.

The theme song this time is presented by the considerable talents of Jack White and Alicia Keys, giving the title song a more subversive feel than usual and its slightly discordant quality suits this uncompromising entry. David Arnold again provides the music score, although this is far from my favourite work of his. The impressive title graphics lead straight into the previously mentioned car chase, where the discordant feel continues, with screeching tyres, gun fire and little sense of place or purpose.

The film does often look great, when the camera lingers long enough for us to appreciate the work. Dennis Gassner takes over from Peter Lamont, who had served as production designer for many years, and he is one aspect of the film that comes up trumps with some impressive work reminiscent of Ken Adams’ earlier Bond sets. Marc Forster is the director this time around; and it’s worth mentioning the editing work of Matt Chesse and Richard Pearson as this film strongly bears the hallmarks of their work, for better or worse.

This, of course, is the second outing in the 007 role for Daniel Craig. Here, in a direct continuation of the story in Casino Royale, Bond is still grieving for the death of Vesper. The title of the film suits the themes therein; Bond is seeking peace. Taken from Ian Fleming’s short story, which has nothing in common with the film, the film’s title explicitly compounds the closure Bond is looking for; a little bit of solace. Craig is great, but then again he is a great actor. I’m still not his hugest fan as Bond, but he is here now and he’s doing a very good job with the material, so it’d be churlish to criticise too much as I’m talking more aesthetic preferences than anything else. Although I don’t think he looks much like my idea of Bond (or perhaps Ian Fleming’s), he usually convinces when he opens his mouth or gets into a fight, and that’s what counts I suppose. Having seen Skyfall (one last review to come), I can now say that this is his weakest outing as Bond, but I’m not convinced that’s really his fault. The jarring direction and editing sometimes takes  away space for performances to breath, in my view, and he’s not alone in that respect. Saying that, Forster’s work can sometimes pull a really inspired image out of the bag, such as when Craig’s Bond swirls round, dangling on a chain, and shoots his opponent, dangling above him. Such balletic moments of action are well captured and choreographed, and Craig handles himself well throughout these demanding scenes.

The story concerns the shadowy organisation hinted at in Casino Royale, who are revealed to be called Quantum (nice coincidence that). The main villain this time round is Quantum member Dominic Greene, played by Malthieu Amalric as a spoilt child of a villain, bullying those weaker than himself, including his girlfriend Camille, played by Olga Kurylenko. Like Lupe in Licence to Kill, she is a character I quite rightly expected to bide her time until her time of freedom comes, in the shape of Mr. Bond. The other ‘Bond girl’ role is filled by Gemma Anderton, as Mi6 operative Fields, whose exchanges with Bond supply some of the film’s rare moments of humour. As mentioned, her death is graphically marvellous, but squandered by presentation.

Greene’s plans are nefarious in the extreme. A purveyor of  ‘green technology’, Greene is more interested in profit and power (hey, he’s a bad guy after all). Greene is helping an exiled Bolivian general,  Medrano, who is also responsible for the deaths of Camille’s family. However, Greene’s true plan, sanctioned by his organisation, is to control the majority of Bolivia’s water supply, and force Medrano to accept a new contract making Greene Bolivia’s sole water utility company at significantly higher rates.

The story is a good one, and often the action and performances transcend the confusing presentation. Judi Dench is back as ‘M’, and Bond recruits the help of two returning allies in Rene Mathis and Felix Leiter (played again by Giancarlo Giannini and Jeffrey Wright respectively). Wright actually becomes only the second actor in the franchise’s history to lay Leiter twice, the other being David Hedison. Rory Kinnear also makes his debut appearance as MI6 Chief of Staff Bill Tanner. With all these recognisable characters in place, it’s ironic that there’s still no room for Q/Major Boothroyd or Moneypenny in Daniel Craig’s reboot. Incidentally, any considerations of continuity get very confused when we get to the third Craig film Skyfall, but I’m getting ahead of myself a little bit.

Quantum of Solace fails to offer a satisfactory conclusion or continuation to the story so well told in Casino Royale. Perhaps if Martin Campbell had also directed this entry there may have been a more cohesive structure, as it is Forster’s vision is far too different. However, to completely dismiss Quantum of Solace would also be a mistake; it is a Bond film after all. Some great set pieces and worthy action, not to mention a more emotionally satisfying ending than usual, make up for its faults. A bold risky statement in the long running cycle of Bond films, Quantum of Solace certainly compounds Daniel Craig as the new ever so different James Bond. While I feel it’s an inferior film to Casino Royale, Quantum of Solace certainly can’t be ignored. Like Daniel Craig’s portrayal, you will most certainly have an opinion of it once you’ve seen it. I suspect it may improve greatly with subsequent viewings, as I liked it better the second time and was more able to handle its approach. So whether you’ll be as keen to go back and re-visit this entry as much as some of the others, is perhaps the true litmus test for Quantum of Solace.

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