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Movie Review: Quantum of Solace

Quantum of Solace movie posterQuantum of Solace
Directed by Marc Forster
Starring Daniel Craig, Gemma Arterton, Judi Dench, Mathieu Amalric, Olga Kurylenko, Jesper Christensen
Rated R
Release date: November 14, 2008

Casino Royale for me was the definitive James Bond. It took author Ian Fleming‘s British super spy back to his rough-and-tumble roots while giving him a 21st century makeover and a new direction for a darker post-September 11 world lacking in operatic villains with stylish bases and magnificent science-fiction weapons. Under the direction of Martin Campbell, Daniel Craig became the best cinematic portrayal of James Bond since Sean Connery was first fitted for Agent 007’s tuxedo in 1962’s Dr. No.

Craig had previously been best known as a intense actor specializing in playing characters who existed in the grayest of areas in films like Road to Perdition, Love is the Devil, Layer Cake, and Munich. Born with piercing blue eyes and a distinctly roguish charisma reminiscent of Steve McQueen, Craig was the perfect choice to play a James Bond reborn into a world where the terrors we read about everyday in the newspapers and online far exceed the evils of the would-be world conquerors the suave MI6 agent has faced before on the big screen.

Now two years after Casino Royale brought Bond blazing back to theaters in top form comes Quantum of Solace, the first Bond film that continues the story from the previous one and builds on it, expanding the secret agent’s world beyond the pulp novels that gave birth to him into a bleaker and more dangerous world. Now we have a Bond who sports more than his fair share of scars both on his face and his soul. Quantum, in a way, is like an extension of the third act of Casino, and in the end some of Bond’s questions have been answered but more have been raised. This is a James Bond for a different time. He won’t be sipping champagne on a yacht in bed with a beautiful lady when the curtain closes on this tale. This is the movie where he truly becomes Bond… James Bond.

Picking up only mere minutes after the final scene of Casino Royale we find Bond involved in a high speed chase being pursued by a car full of machine-gun-wielding assassins while transporting Mr. White (Jesper Christensen), one of the key members of the conspiracy behind the events of the previous film (including the death of his beloved Vesper Lynd, played by Eva Green), in the boot of his own vehicle. After eluding the gunmen Bond brings White to an MI6 safe house where M (Judi Dench) is waiting. During interrogation White reveals that the organization he belongs to has members all over the world, one of whom has infiltrated MI6 and helps White to escape. Bond chases the traitor down but is forced to terminate him, much to M’s consternation (this will become a recurring theme in the film).

An investigation of the traitor’s belongings leads Bond to a hotel in Port au Prince, Haiti, where he takes the place of another man he just killed and meets up with Camille (Olga Kurylenko). Camille has been keeping intimate company with tycoon and environmentalist Dominic Greene (Mathieu Amalric) in order to get close to General Medrano (Joaquin Cosio), a brutal Bolivian military dictator who was responsible for the deaths of Camille’s family members and is playing Greene’s political pawn in a calculated attempt to gain control of the nation’s water supply. Bond and Camille find a common ground in seeking revenge for the deaths of loved ones so they become allies in taking Greene and Medrano down and getting to the bottom of what exactly is the mysterious global syndicate known only as Quantum. Bond won’t have the help of M and his compatriots at MI6 so he goes rogue and enlists the help of his disgruntled contact Mathis (Giancarlo Giannini) and his “brother from Langley” Felix Leiter (Jeffrey Wright), who just happens to already be in the country representing the interests of the United States as part of Greene’s master plan.

Quantum of Solace has the distinction of being the shortest of all the Bond films with a running time of 106 minutes (ironically the previous film, Casino Royale , is the longest Bond film) and that’s been one of the many criticisms leveled against it. Although it’s refreshing to have a straight-ahead Bond flick that strips away all the cheesy formulaic trappings that have weighed the series down since the beginning (sorry folks, but one megalomaniac with an army of disposable henchmen, a hot girlfriend, and an impregnable fortress is more than enough) and concentrates on continuing character and story arcs, Quantum at times seems to put the action ahead of the plot. This is not a good thing when you have a plot and characters as complex as the one in this flick. The feeling I had when the end credits rolled was one of an exquisite meal that still left me undernourished. Previous Bond movies have suffered from extraneous baggage, but here is one that could have benefited from a little more meat on its bones.

What is on this particular plate is really something to savor and enjoy. Daniel Craig continues to own the role of James Bond in a way no other actor who has come before him has since Connery. Maybe it’s because none of the others between Connery and Craig really brought anything different to the part to make it their own. They basically let the tuxedo and the Aston-Martin do all the heavy lifting. Craig on the other hand brings his A-game in the form of a lifetime of acting experience and the chiseled good looks and steely presence of a classic cinematic tough guy (not a polished pretty boy here) with a pair of blue eyes that could penetrate deep into your soul and put the fear in you. He was given free reign to break down the Bond of old and rebuild him from the ground up, bringing a soulful intensity and brute physicality to the part.

The story for Quantum of Solace, courtesy of returning scribes Neal Purvis, Robert Wade, and Paul Haggis, makes for a swift and bruising adventure with 007 facing a dark night of the soul as he transforms into a roaring rampage of revenge armed with a license to kill. Combined with Craig’s resemblance to the movie tough guys of yesteryear, Quantum could almost be a distant cousin of John Boorman’s 1967 thriller Point Blank with Lee Marvin as a professional criminal betrayed on a job by his partner who has to work his up the hierarchy of organized crime to get his satisfaction. Dominic Greene’s character could be the John Vernon character and Camille could be a stand-in for the Angie Dickinson character. 

Marc Forster, the director of Monster’s Ball and Stranger Than Fiction, does an outstanding job with the actors but that is to be expected from the guy who could get an Oscar-worthy performance from even Halle Berry. But when it comes to the practically non-stop action sequences, Forster — with an assist from his second-unit director and veteran stuntman Dan Bradley, best known from his work on the Bourne films and Indiana Jones and the Kingdom of the Crystal Skull – demonstrates a flair for high-speed car chases, violent gun battles, and punishing fisticuffs many who consider themselves “action directors” couldn’t make happen on their best days. What really makes us get hooked into these adrenaline-fueled sequences is our investment in the characters. We’re not just watching the flawless work of the best stuntmen and second-unit directors in the business, but we’re generally concerned about Bond and Camille and hope they survive. The filmmakers get us to actually care about the outcome of the action. Forster has proven himself to be a first-class director time and again and Quantum of Solace is just another of many bright spots on his resume. His next project is an adaptation of Max Brooks’ stellar horror novel World War Z. That really makes me excited.

Surrounding Daniel Craig is an impressive international supporting cast. Olga Kurylenko (Hitman) proves to be more than luscious eye candy with her performance as revenge-driven Bolivian Secret Service agent Camille. Kurylenko brings a sad and haunting veneer to the character that “Bond Girls” of the past have sorely lacked in. Of course that was because the previous Bond girls were in the movies mostly to be eye candy, colorless babes for the super spy to bang and kick to the curb to make room for the next one. Camille is a real woman with a personality and a drive to avenge the death of her family who happens to be pretty damn good in a fight. Her government training certainly comes in handy when she’s called upon to kick some ass. Kurylenko gives a fine performance and has some good chemistry with Craig, even if her character doesn’t leave the impression on Bond and the audience that Eva Green did as Vesper Lynd in Casino Royale.

Mathieu Amalric (The Diving Bell and the Butterfly) doesn’t exactly score an acting knockout but as the charming and odious Dominic Greene, the latest of many scumbag villains to oppose James Bond, he’s better than he has any right to be. For most of the movie, he lets his ever wide eyes do the acting. He has a great speech at the end when he coolly explains to someone who’s thinking about backing out of signing a crucial contract that it would be a fatal mistake to do so. Greene isn’t an evil mastermind but rather one of the many cogs that run the machine-like hydra that is Quantum. He clearly enjoys his position of power while knowing full well his place in the grand scheme of things. Amalric makes for a terrific villain.

The rest of the cast is all aces. Jeffrey Wright plays it handsomely as the wily CIA agent Felix Leiter, someone who you can tell by the look in his eyes has lived the life of loneliness that Bond is only beginning to experience. Gemma Arterton plays the lovely MI6 rep Strawberry Fields, the film’s solitary link to Bond Girls of the past. Arterton gives Fields a refined, swingin’ 60’s-era Carnaby Street quality that stands out in the otherwise dark and gritty Quantum of Solace. Plus she’s cute as hell to boot. Giancarlo Giannini returns with some welcome world-weary humor and poignancy as Bond’s capable ally Mathis. David Harbour displays a dry sense of sarcastic humor as Leiter’s fellow CIA lackey Gregg Beam. Joaquin Cosio almost outdoes Amalric in the sleazebag stakes as the vicious dictator General Medrano.

Best of them all is the always wonderful Judi Dench as Bond’s tough but forgiving spymaster M. One of the many things I loved about Casino Royale was that M and Bond were actually allowed to develop a relationship not based on mere antagonism the way it was when Pierce Brosnan first inherited the mantle of 007 in Goldeneye. Here we’re watching M compelled to be Bond’s moral guiding light as she nurtures the still rough-around-the-edges agent through his extended trial by fire. M knows she has to be harder on Bond than anyone else because she rightfully knows he has the capacity to be the best of her agents and Dench plays the character beautifully. This is a great performance.

The behind-the-camera talent Forster has assembled for Quantum of Solace is second to none. Cinematographer Roberto Schaefer gives the sparkling oceans, expensive villas, and vast lunar deserts the look of a moving painting. Editors Matt Cheese and Richard Pearson keep the action hurting forward fast and furious, maybe a little too much so at times. David Arnold, who has composed every Bond film since Tomorrow Never Dies, literally hits all the right notes with another stellar orchestral score. Production designer Dennis Gassner opens up the world of Bond with lush and beautiful sets aptly assisted by a globe-hopping list of locales that takes us from Italy to Austria to a Bolivian desert.

Quantum of Solace may feel slightly incomplete for me, but it’s still a really good entry in the continuing adventures of James Bond. Daniel Craig still remains my favorite Bond yet and I hope he and the producers keep taking the character in this interesting new direction to greater movies and beyond. This movie definitely has my recommendation.

BAADASSSSS will return.


  1. It may be too short for a Bond film, but as you say it has to savor and enjoy.
    Good analogy to Point Blank.
    Excellent review!!

    Comment by Jerry — November 16, 2008 @ 4:30 pm

  2. FANTASTIC review!

    For me, the story felt tight and well-serviced, especially when compared to the bloated Bonds of yesteryear. It’s more of a character piece than any of the past films, so I was happy to see the world domination plot moved to secondary position to make way for the great character bits.

    Still, that’s just me, and other than that, your review expresses EVERYthing I’ve been stutteringly trying to relate to people when describing the movie.

    Well done.

    Comment by NeverWanderer — November 17, 2008 @ 2:06 am

  3. Havent seen it yet, cant wait.
    How is the game? has anyone played it yet?

    Comment by Siah — November 17, 2008 @ 5:44 pm

  4. OK. Perhaps my last comments were really a review of Casino not having seen QoS. Now I have seen it and there are so many problems with it I do not know where to begin. All the chases are herkey, jerky, shaky stuccato film clips. You can never really see what is going on. This is contrary to the taditional Bond flick replete with detail. And if Craig is gritty, moody, mean & vindictive one can still see a path by which he becomes a cooler if not cold uber-professional agent with a dry, sardonic sense of humor. This Bond clearly appeals to a feminine perspective that escapes me. I understood him not becoming ‘involved’ with the other women in the 2 flicks as having high standards and was at least relieved to see his response to Fields as, what we would term a normal orientation! (The women seem to love that Bond does NOT ‘hook up’ with the main girl). Even the opening chase, usually one of the best, is almost visually incomprehensible. Car chase, rooftop chase, sewer chase, apartment knife fight, certainly they were purloined from the Bourne genre but somehow Bourne’s were more believable.

    The opening graphics were not as bad as I feared, but were definitely not 007 quality. Far too much of Craig shooting his Walther PPK .380; (don’t make me go into why that is a problem). We have grown accustomed to the sultry, sexual/sensual and awesome graphical intro to the Bond films. This one was not of the same caliber. Ditto on the theme song. I was fearing worse and it was actually passable relating somewhat to the general theme of the film. The barrel scene was placed at the end of the film. I prefer the beginning but in either case it should be presented with high quality graphics and punctuated with 007 theme song riffs. It was not.

    Lots of chases. Most are barely watchable. I actually liked the reference to the traditional 13th century Italian Palio horse race in which the riders can use their longer wooden canes to encourage their steeds or discourage their oponents; and the actual event was supposed to be occuring outside of the chase area.

    The knife fight was lame. How did the baddie die anyhow? Please tell me not with the little pair of cuticle scissors Bond had. And if the death blow was to the only wounded area shown, the left jugular, where did all the blood go as Bond let him ‘bleed out’. Not worry the details because we are soon introduced to THE BOND GIRL. Well, a little anti-climatic because she is not quite as attractive as we are used to although she has very pretty lips. The rest of her seems strangely disporportionate for some reason. It’s also strange that she would return to the baddie who just tried to have her whacked. That has little probability for success for someone who we later learn is “Bolivian Secret Service”. Oh well, not to worry, we are off on another chase, this time with boats. It is perhaps the best done but for the last scene in which the grappling hook is somehow thrown onto the rubber speed boat and flips it from the front of Bond’s boat over the top to the rear…… can’t quite figure the physics out on that one. Not to worry, we’ve docked and Bond mysteriously hands the unconscious maiden who he has just rescued over to a dock attendent…what?

    Well were off to track this baddie and somehow reconnected with the GIRL in Bolvia where we eventually learn that the baddie, Mr. Greene of the evil Greene corporation in conjunction with the even eviler Quantum Criminal Consortiuum LLC has concocted a plot wreaking with the venom of true corporate greed, evil captialism and nefarious financier-ship; to wit, steal all the fresh water in where? Why Bolivia of course and sell it back to them Bolivans at double the price! MUAHHAHAHAHAHA (evil laugh). We learn at a big party that times are tough in Bolvia because it is costing a weeks wages for an average Bolvian to buy a gallon of clean water! As I remember, the average Bolvian earns about $0.25 per day making the water cost about $1.75 a gallon; pretty much on par with market values in Cleveland. Perhaps this is not the best country for our get richer quicker scheme.

    No matter, we are off to the evil opera where the evil baddies are meeting to plan, well, evil. This is where we reference a modernistic version of the Tosca operatic bloodshed whilst Bond dabbles in the real thing dispatching the body guards of the evil biggies who, now discovered, are making a hasty retreat for the exits faster than attendees at an Al Gore speech.

    No matter, while in Bolivia we are matroned by the closest thing to a real Bond girl, agent Fields. Unfortunately we never really figure out what is beneath that trenchcoat although it appears that Bond does. Also unfortunately for Fields and us, she is quickly eliminated by the baddies in what can only be termed as a ‘crude’ theft of the Goldfinger movie. I would have expected more of a mess but why waste camera time on the slickened Fields when you can spend it on bathroom scenes with….who else….M. Perhaps the most difficult what seemed like 15 minutes of the film was watching M in her bathrobe apply & remove cold creme. The threat itself would have sent Mr. Greene into pro bono philanthropy. Not finished with us yet, M draws her bath and the tension in the theater built noticably as we all began to fear that we would be greeted with an au natural scene of her slipping out of the robe into the tub. Fortunately we were spared that experience (wait for the unedited version coming to DVD soon!). However, it just calls into question what fob with a mommy complex of some sort is calling the shots in these films.

    M continues to demostrate why she should not be “M” vacillating from suspecting Bond to needing him back in 00 some 4-5 times during the movie. We did get a glimpse into the possible personality of M’s hubby when he meekly announced, “the calls for you dear on your private line”. Whatever.

    M may welcome Bond back with open arms or have him captured or killed, no matter, the BOND GIRL is rescuing Bond in her getaway car, a 1964 VW Beetle. I guess the Bolivian Secret Service does not get to roll like the 00’s in MI6. At least it was a 40HP!

    No matter. We are now off to a hotel in the middle of a high plains Bolvian desert. Time to charter a plane…no, not the little Beachcraft Bonanza. Choose the DC-3 with a load of cargo on board. Watch out though, you’ll get shot down by the Bolvian Air Force in a single engine Cessna. I guess the BAF doesn’t get to roll like the 00’s at MI6 either.

    No matter because we are both jumping out of this crate with the only parachute. Somehow everything turns out ok because the chute opens about 20 feet off of our LZ, a nice big soft slab of granite.

    Its off the the hotel to find the baddies. The hotel, located in the high plains desert of Bolvia, is called the Plaza del Sol. It is completely self-sufficient and powered by…solar….no you idiot, hydrogen fuel cells. In fact, each room appears to have its own hydrogen fuel cell and its accompanying hydrogen supply tank. The maids must make your bed and refill your hydrogen tank when they replace the shampoo in the bath, I guess. Naturally the hotel, located in the high plains Bolvian desert is made substantially of steel & stone. Unfortunately, the steel & stone in Bolvia is not quite as durable as the steel & stone you and I have grown to love as we discover when Bond causes a baddie car to crash through a wall igniting a hydrogen tank. The rest of the hydrogen tanks ignite sequentially. Darn it, I hate when that happens, you just can’t get good hydrogen tanks anymore. Again, unfortunately, the Bolvian steel & stone burns more like paper mache. Bond battles the Greene baddie but aborts to rescue the BOND GIRL who is caught up in her own subplot vendetta too trite to be explained here.

    You would be better off waiting for this to hit DVD. At least then you can slo-mo or replay the chase scenes making sense of them, spend more time with the slick Agent Fields and most importantly, FFW or skip over M’s bathroom escapades. You have been warned.

    Comment by s — December 8, 2008 @ 3:26 pm

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