Quantum of Solace

November 14, 2008

At least two notches below the artistic level of its predecessor, “Casino Royale,” which was one of the best Bonds ever, “Quantum of Solace” is a sharply uneven movie, in which the sum total is not better or greater than its constituting parts. Essentially a dark (in moments really noirish) revenge melodrama, the 22nd Bond picture delivers the expected goods of the franchise with big action set pieces, glamorous foreign locales, some good punch lines (though not enough), and strong central performance from Daniel Craig, who impressively refuses to turn his character into a standard and iconic creation.

However, under Marc Forster's cold and detached if proficient helming, the machine-like movie lacks an engaging story, an emotional core and soul. It's as if the long-time producers, Michael G. Wilson and Barbara Broccoli, set out to make a movie in the mold of “Casino Royale,” but then also decided to execute it quickly, without paying much attention to characterization, coherent plot or even a solid arc for the fragmented story, which begins and stops and begins a number of times in the course of a relatively short time (running times is less than two hours).

The film's title derives from Ian Fleming's short story, in the collection “For Your Eyes Only,” in which Bond and Governor of Nassau discuss the level of comfort/love (“Quantum of Solace”) needed to keep relationships going, and when is the best time to withdraw.

After a splashy action set-piece at the very beginning¬óa chase scene that is not particularly well shot or edited-¬óand a rather weak and fractured first reel–the movie actually improves, and in the later chapters, Forster is able to demonstrate again that he is a good actor's director. The most effective acting scenes by the gifted ensemble are all in the last reel or so.

“Quantum of Solace” is just as noteworthy for what it excludes out as for what it includes vis-?†-vis the previous chapter and the franchise series as a whole. Do not expect many Martinis (shaken or stirred), quips and catchphrases, and savvy gadgetry. And do not build up expectations for an erotic or sexual sequence, because there's only one brief interlude that depicts Bond in bed.

Marking the first direct sequel produced by EON productions, “Quantum of Solace” picks up the storyline juts one hour after the end of “Casino Royale.” But in many significant ways, the two films could not have been more different, largely a result of the scenario, credited to the team of Neal Purvis and Robert Wade and Paul Haggis.

For those who need a reminder: Fueled, enraged, and saddened by the betrayal of Vesper (Eva Green), the woman he loved and trusted, Bond determines to track down and punish her killer. His determination actually becomes an obsession that almost costs him his humanity¬óhe shoots in cold blood¬óand Craig is excellent in portraying an angry man, who almost plunges to the lower depth of depression and psychosis.

Pursuing his determination to uncover the truth, Bond and M interrogate Mr. White (Jesper Christensen) who reveals the organization which blackmailed Vesper is far more complex and dangerous than they had imagined.

Forensic intelligence links an MI6 traitor to a bank account in Haiti where a case of mistaken identity introduces Bond to the beautiful but feisty Camille (Olga Kurylenko), a woman who has her own vendetta. Camille leads Bond to Dominic Greene (Mathieu Amalric), a ruthless business man and major force within the mysterious organization.

On a mission that leads him to Austria, Italy and South America, Bond discovers that Greene, conspiring to take total control of one of the world’s most important natural resources, is forging a deal with the exiled General Medrano (Joaquin Cosio). Using his associates in the organization, and manipulating his powerful contacts within the CIA and the British government, Greene promises to overthrow the existing regime in a Latin American country, giving the General control of the country in exchange for a seemingly barren piece of land.

The saga piles up incidents of treachery, murder and deceit, stressing how Bond has always allied with old friends in his battle to uncover the truth. As he gets closer to finding the man responsible for the betrayal of Vesper, 007 must keep one step ahead of the CIA, the terrorists and even M, to unravel and then stop Greene’s sinister plan.

True to form, the yarn uses a number of retardation (or delaying) devices to keep the level of suspense high, and the payoff comes at the very end. Hence, Camille's motivation in engaging in such a risky action is initially unclear, and revealed in the last reel in a long monologue. As expected, though attracted to each other, the two separate, but we know it's only a matter of time before they remeet, join forces, and perhaps even exchange a kiss.

The only sex scene in the picture is between Bond and another femme, Agent Fields, nicely played by Gemma Atherton, who brings color and humor to the largely dark and brooding proceedings. Working for M16, Fields is not the typical Bond girl: she's smart and professional, but on another level, she's also naive and vulnerable.

If the trail gets more complicated, it doesn't get necessarily more involving. Ironically named Greene, Amalric plays him as a villain of the old school (with a heavy French accent to match), a greedy capitalist who realizes that there's a fortune to be made out of controlling one scarce resource, water (regards to “Chinatown”).

The filmmakers have gone out of their way to give Green and his henchman, Elvis (Anatole Taubman) some shadings and complexity to mixed results. As interpreted by Amalric, Greene is sort of a schizoid–he is shy and quiet in public, and ruthlessly nasty and vicious in private, as when he tries to kill Camille, when he realizes that she is using him for her own personal vendetta agenda.

As noted, throughout the story, Bond is in contact with his supervisor M, again played by Judi Dench, in a part that seems bigger and bigger with each installment. M has never really trusted Bond, and in this picture, she even fires him from his job, only to be told that you can't fie James Bond! It takes some time for M to realize how crucial is Bond's role in the politics of the new, ever-shifting world, in which you can trust no one.

Bringing in some ideas from the Cold War, “Quantum of Solace” posits The U.S. versus the British government and First World versus Third World countries. The political context doesn't make much sense, and you feel that the scribes are paying a lip service to political revolutions and decadent military regimes. Also shallow is the use of au courant ecological and environmental themes, which often come across as mere reflection of the zeitgeist.

The exotic locations (a staple of every Bond picture) distract attention from the schematic, unengaging story up to a point. Reportedly, this production shot in more locations overseas than any other Bond movie in the 46-year-James Bond franchise (Still the longest series in film history). Included in the touristy views are such places as Panama City and Colon in Panama, the Atacama Desert in Chile, Sienna (where the story begins), Carrara, Lake Garda, and Fonteblanda in Italy, Bergenz in Austria, and one spectacular aerial sequence, in which Bond's aircraft is about to explode in the air, in San Felipe, Mexico.

In general, “Quantum of Solace” is an old-fashioned vengeance saga in the guise of a postmodern yarn that goes out of its way to be fresh, but ends up reminding us how calculated a machine the James Bond picture has become, with or without its products placement, which in this film are kept to a minimum.

The producers and filmmakers should be careful, for in this picture, especially as played by Craig, Bond, stripped of humor and style, comes perilously close to the Bourne character in Paul Greengrass's popular (and better) franchise, which obviously has cast a shadow on all American actioners by raising the bar to another level. At least two set-pieces in this film are imitative, done in the style and speed, of the Bourne series.

The impact of the Bourne series on this mediocre Bond is quite direct, through the editing by Matt Chesse and Richard Pearson, and the second-unit work was done by Dan Bradley. Pearson and Bradley worked on the “Bourne” films, and Perason also had worked on Greengrass's Oscar-nominated “United 93.”

As noted, acting-wise, “Quantum of Solace” belongs to Craig and Judi Dench. It's too bad that at least two great character actors are wasted in this picture: Jeffrey Wright's CIA agent Felix Leiter has little to say or do, and ditto for Giancarlo Giannini, also reprising a role from “Casino Royale,” as Mathis.

At this point in the series, Bond has deviated so much from the Ian Fleming and the early films in the series that soon audiences may wonder if it's still the cool, suave, stylish, and witty superspy we all loved in the 1960s and 1970s.

For the record

I need to check again my records of the James Bond films, all of which I have seen. But if memory serves, with a running time of 104 minutes, “Quantum of Solace” is the shortest Bond picture ever. Regrettably, it feels this way–too short and truncated.


James Bond – Daniel Craig
Camille – Olga Kurylenko
Dominic Greene – Mathieu Amalric
M – Judi Dench
Rene Mathis – Giancarlo Giannini
Agent Fields – Gemma Arterton
Felix Leiter – Jeffrey Wright
Gregg Beam – David Harbour
Mr. White – Jesper Christensen
Elvis – Anatole Taubman
Bill Tanner – Rory Kinnear
Foreign Secretary – Tim Pigott-Smith
Gen. Medrano – Joaquin Cosio
Police Colonel – Fernando Guillen-Cuervo
Lt. Orso – Jesus Ochoa
Craig Mitchell – Glenn Foster
Guy Haines – Paul Ritter
Yusef – Simon Kassianides
Corrine – Stana Katic
Gemma – Lucrezia Lante Della Rovere
Mr. Slate – Neil Jackson
Receptionist – Oona Chaplin


Sony Pictures Entertainment release of an Albert R. Broccoli's Eon Prods. (U.K.) presentation of an MGM, Columbia Pictures (U.S.) production. Produced by Michael G. Wilson, Barbara Broccoli. Executive producers: Anthony Waye, Callum McDougall.
Directed by Marc Forster.
Screenplay: Paul Haggis, Neal Purvis, Robert Wade.
Camera (color, widescreen), Roberto Schaefer; editors, Matt Chesse, Richard Pearson; music, David Arnold; production designer, Dennis Gassner; supervising art director, Chris Lowe; costume designer, Louise Frogley; sound (Dolby Digital/DTS Digital/SDDS), Eddy Joseph, Chris Munro, Mike Prestwood Smith, Mark Taylor; sound designers, Martin Cantwell, James Boyle; special effects supervisor, Chris Corbould; visual effects, Double Negative, the Moving Picture Co., Framestore CFC, MK12, Machine; visual effects designer, Kevin Tod Haug; visual effects supervisors, Angela Barson, Alex Wuttke; stunt coordinator, Gary Powell; associate producer, Andrew Noakes; assistant director, Michael Lerman; additional unit director, Simion Crane.

Running time: 104 Minutes
Rating: PG-13.