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Movie Review: Quantum of Solace
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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.

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