Personal blog - and temporary home page until new website is finished - of writer, editor and graphic artist Christopher Mills

Thursday, November 27, 2008

Quantum of Solace

I don't recall being so underwhelmed and disappointed in a James Bond film since sitting through A View to A Kill in 1985. And at least then I liked the theme song.

Quantum of Solace isn't quite a disaster, but it's a remarkably inept piece of filmmaking, and a frustrating film to watch. The script clearly needed a few more passes through the word processor, but being rushed to completion just before last year's writer's strike prevented that. Also, the decision to hand arguably the most action-driven Bond film ever to a director whose sole previous credits are art house indie dramas was a major miscalculation. And that theme song! Inane lyrics can be tolerable if they're accompanied by a memorable melody, but Alicia Keyes and Jack White's "Another Way To Die" (a rejected film title?) has no discernible melody at all.

Much has been written comparing Quantum's action scenes to those in the Jason Bourne films, but they really have nothing in common besides frenetic, rapid fire cutting. In the various Bourne films, the action is fast and brutal, but it can be tracked. The action scenes in Quantum are so badly edited that the viewer is uncertain as to how many players are in the scenes (how many cars were chasing Bond in the teaser?), the geography of the sequence (the rooftop chase), or what's actually happening (can anyone tell me exactly what the grappling hook in the Haiti boat chase was actually hooked to?). Coupled with director Marc Forster's arty cut-aways, the action sequences of Quantum have no sense of place, no rhythm, no rise and fall, no cohesion at all.

The plot has tons of potential, but is riddled with subplots and elements that are introduced and then promptly forgotten, non-sequiter dialogue (what exactly was the hood in Haiti supposed to "pay better attention" to?), unmemorable supporting characters (Mr. Greene's henchman, "Elvis"), and tediously repeated exposition (how many times do we need to be told how our governments have to deal with bad guys or how M just isn't sure she can trust 007?). As in Casino Royale, Bond once again comes across as a thug, indiscriminate in his use of violence, and, now in this film, a klutz who can't seem to hang onto his gun. (Surprisingly, though, he's now invisible – able to tail suspects in plain sight and never be noticed!) The script also fails by not giving Bond and villain Dominic Greene (Mathieu Almaric) any good face-to-face confrontations – they only exchange dialogue twice; the first time Bond has two or three lines, and the second is at the climax.

Oh, and putting the gunbarrel at the end? Yeah, I know what they were going for there, but it was stupid decision. The whole point of that trademark sequence is to kick off the movie on a note of eager anticipation; here it just felt like a rerun of Casino Royale's closing scene. And what was with that horridly tepid title sequence? Daniel Klienman, where did you go?

So, did I like anything? Well, yeah. The cast, almost without exception, rises above the limitations of the script, delivering excellent performances across the board. Forster obviously knows how to work with actors. Daniel Craig, who has to work with probably the least amount of dialogue ever given to Bond, still manages to carry the film on his intense, thoughtful performance. The death of Mathis (Giancarlo Giannini) is powerful stuff, well played and directed. Olga Kurylenko's Camille is one of the best and most interesting Bond girls in the series – a marred beauty with a mission and motive of her own, and her climactic scenes with Bond are magnificent. Jeffrey Wright returns to the role of Felix Lieter, even if this time his part mostly consists of silently scowling; his one scene with Bond in the bar shows great chemistry, though, and is a highlight of the film. Judi Dench, as usual, shines.

David Arnold's score was excellent – he seems to actually get stronger with each film.

And I do like the introduction of the Quantum criminal organization; it's almost like having SPECTRE back again, even if the name's not nearly as cool, and Mister White's (Jesper Christensen) a pretty humdrum substitute for Ernst Stavro Blofeld.

Now, bear in mind that I've only seen the film once so far, and maybe upon subsequent viewings, my opinions will change. But, I've had mixed feelings about this "Bond: Year One" approach all along, and Quantum of Solace seemed to really emphasize the elements I've had the most misgivings about. All this talk about returning the character to his Ian Fleming roots is just a lovely-sounding PR routine – Fleming's Bond wasn't the near-sociopathic killer/imitation Bourne that Craig has been given to play. And, while I've always preferred the more down-to-Earth Bond films – From Russia With love, Thunderball, On Her Majesty's Secret Service, For Your Eyes Only, Licence To Kill – part of the charm of the Bond franchise has been its slightly bigger than life quality; it's what separates Bond from the other spies. Mister Greene's plot to corner the Bolivian water supply just doesn't seem worthy of 007's attentions.

I hope that they've got this tyro-Bond thing out of their system now, and that the next film opens with the gunbarrel, brings back Moneypenny and Q, and gives Daniel Craig's Bond a chance to save the world – or at least England – from a dire threat.

Bond will truly be back.


J. Spath said...

When a friend and I saw this last weekend, we thought it was far weaker than Casino Royale. But, after discussing it for a bit, we decided that it was probably for the best, and might have even been planned to be a weaker film than CR.

Casino Royale HAD to be amazing. Simply because they had to sell the new Bond and the new direction for Bond. It would have been easy to fall into the trap of previous Bond films by trying to surpass the previous movie, eventually leading to some dismal affair in a few years (Moonraker or Die Another Day bad). But by making merely a good movie, and not a great one, after a huge success in Casino Royale they've allowed themselves space to grow.

I doubt the producers really thought it through this way, but I think the point stands.

Stewart Sternberg said...

Well written review. You have a good eye and a laser way of pointing out detail. That being said, I have a slightly different take, although I do agree with some of the editing problems, the score, and the acting. I believe this film was the perfect bridge between Fleming's "Casino Royale" and "Dr. No". Fleming's character evolved. If you read the first novel, Bond is a grim man, haunted by his indifference, hating himself and those around him. Vesper saves him from himself, which makes the betrayal all the more tragic.

Bond evolves in this film. He is showing signs of a relationship with M, he is starting to show a dry wit and a commanding presence (the scene at the Opera). That being said, I agree 100 percent, the next Bond needs to open with the gun barrel, it needs Moneypenny and Q. It needs a reprise of some of Barry's musical motifs (during the aircraft chase I was dying to hear the theme from Thunderball).

Good review. Peace to you.