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REPOST: “Quantum of Solace”

November 11, 2015

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“The job is done, and the bitch is dead.”

Those words—Bond’s penultimate line of dialogue from Casino Royale– provide the engine for Quantum of Solace. The 22nd film in the franchise follows James Bond on a mission of vengence for the death of his lover Vesper Lynd, but also one of forgiveness and personal rehabilitation. Throughout the film, Bond seems to be desperately trying to believe those words, and finally contending with the emotional consequences when he can’t. In the end director Marc Forster uses that engine to deliver a fast, flawed, and occasionally frustrating movie, but ultimately the most fascinating addition to the James Bond canon.

Picking up an hour after CR, QoS eschews the Bond gunbarrel sequence for a helicopter pan over the West coast of Italy, before joining Bond in the midst of a rolling gun battle with security guards for Mr. White, the mysterious underworld figure who glided through Casino Royale (if you haven’t committed that movie to memory the way I have, you should probably re-watch it before you see Quantum). A brief, ill-fated interrogation of White leads to a thrilling chase through Siena, Italy and provides MI6 with the evidence of the existence of a vast underworld organization called Quantum. It also provides Bond with a slim, but serviceable lead on one of their operatives. Pulling away at the threads of the organization leads Bond to Haiti where he runs across the two other leads in the film. First is the villain, Dominic Greene, a smug Euro-weenie played to smarmy perfection by Mathieu Amalric (who played Eric Bana’s French contact in Munich). Greene is some kind of eco-industrialist with an interest in installing a military dictatorship in Bolivia. The second is Camille (Olga Kurylenko), daughter of the soon-to-be military dictator’s old (and murdered) associate. Camille is a dusky beauty whose sexual magnetism is all but short-circuited by her desire for revenge against her father’s killer. In this, she makes the perfect companion for Bond in this outing.

But tangling with Greene, puts Bond on the wrong side of a CIA operation run, in part, by a discontented Felix Leiter (Jeffery Wright. After a surveillance op at an Austrian, avant garde production of Tosca goes wildly (and hypnotically) wrong, Bond ends up railroaded by the CIA and on the run from MI6. Now an international fugitive with little in the way of support, he turns to Mathis (Giancarlo Giannini), his avuncular contact from CR (“Just because you are dead, doesn’t mean you can’t still be helpful”). There’s still some bad blood between the two of them, since Bond had Mathis arrested and interrogated as a traitor at the end of that film, but they get past it the way two men in their business would. With Mathis’s support Bond chases Greene to Latin America, and, eventually, to a final confrontation in the Bolivian desert.

Since I’m an eternal optimist we’ll get the film’s missteps out of the way first. For the most part, they’re a result of the movie’s pace and tempo. Making it a dead sprint leads to a couple of scenes that simply don’t make sense (a boat chase in which there’s no way Bond could know who the bad guys are from his vantage point; a colleague sleeps with him moments after meeting him for the first time; some sympathetic characters are offed for no reason other than to move things along). Forester also doesn’t always know how to handle his action sequences. He had the Paul Greengrass disoriento-vision trick down pat, but while the Bourne movies always made clear the outcome and collateral damage of his action scenes, several action setpieces in QoS leave the viewer wondering just what happened to whom (one chase involving a tactical team doesn’t even conclude, so much as Forester seems to lose interest in it and changes the scene). Finally, in hewing—even marginally—to the Bond formula, QoS offers us an end knock-down in the villain’s exploding headquarters. Not only is it far too familiar, it suffers in comparison to CR’s genuinely unique finale with a sinking building.

But thankfully, the whole is more than the sum of its parts, and Forester deserves some props for making QoS the first Bond movie with a distinct visual style beyond simple kinetic action sequences. He brings an existential, meditative quality to the film that plays like a fusion of Michael Mann and Gus Van Sant (imagine Collateral crossed with Gerry). The shootout at Tosca is easily the most stylized sequence ever included in a Bond film, and several scenes leading to the finale featuring a post-modern hotel in the middle of a featureless desertscape border on the surreal. The locations feel gritty and authentic (unlike the Brosnan-era habit of using an establishing shot, then transitioning to a soundstage), and the onscreen titles identifying the locations are done in different scripts and fonts and float over the scene rather than just appear in the corner of screen. For the first time in a long while, we have a Bond film that’s interesting to look at.

The movie also pays off in the quieter scenes when it always itself to breathe and brood along with its main character. Much has been made of Daniel Craig’s brutish, bruising interpretation of bond, but the most interesting observation I’ve heard came from TenFeet, who pointed out that Craig’s Bond was so emotionally vulnerable he necessitated the physical bulk to be taken seriously as an action hero. That vulnerability is on display in several scenes in QoS, establishing him as a deeper, more interesting Bond than we’ve ever had before. No other actor could pull off the heartbreaking, death’s bed conversation he has with one character (nor the nerve-deadness of the following scene where he disposes of the body). Likewise, in no earlier Bond film have we had a scene of such emotional complexity as the one in which Bond drinks alone and pores over a photo he’s stolen from M of Vesper and her boyfriend. Bond and Camille’s terse, Hemingwayesque dialogue before setting out on their twin missions of retribution is probably the most blunt, honest exchange ever written for a Bond film. The final scene, while not nearly as iconic as that of CR, is nonetheless bold in its own right by being an intimate, internal conclusion to Bond’s character arc (can’t say much more without spoiling the movie, but suffice it say that we’re a long way from “Who says Christmas only comes once a year?”).

Quantum of Solace is a frustrating movie. I wish the plot hung together more tightly. I wish Bond’s gun-handling skills were more realistic, as they were in CR. I wish Jeffery Wright had more scenes and that his boss, the CIA station chief, didn’t look like he’d just stepped out of a ‘70s cop show or a ‘90s gay-porn film. I wish they hadn’t tried to work in a half-assed homage to Goldfinger. But none of those things are deal-breakers, because Quantum left so many scenes stuck in my mind like nettles the way any good film should. It also pushes the franchise closer to a maturity it’s never had, which makes it interesting to speculate where the next film will take the character. It’s unclear at the end whether Bond has earned his quantum of solace, but I know I have. 

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