Quantum of Solace

Reviewed By Mel Valentin
Posted 11/14/08 01:54:35

"Call him James Bourne, er, Jason Bond, wait no, call him James..."
3 stars (Just Average)

"Quantum of Solace," the 22nd film in the James Bond franchise, but only the first sequel in the recently “rebooted” Bond universe, is also the first film in the franchise written and directed as a direct continuation of "Casino Royale." Even more action-focused than "Casino Royale," but more than thirty minutes shorter, "Quantum of Solace" depends on moviegoers recalling the events from "Casino Royale" to willingly follow the dramatic and emotional thread of a broken-hearted Bond seeking bloody, brutal revenge for the death of his lover, Vesper Lynd (Eve Green, seen here only in a brief flashback). That gambit, however, doesn’t quite pay off. While the action scenes are skillfully executed (if repetitive), they also hide a thin, Bourne-lite storyline involving the usual assortment of anonymous henchmen, duplicitous spymasters, and a super-secret organization bent on controlling the world’s natural resources.

Like every other Bond film, pre- or post-reboot, Quantum of Solace opens with an action set piece: a high-speed car chase involving Bond (Daniel Craig) and several unidentified men on torturously winding roads in Italy. After the narrowest of escapes, a bruised, beaten, unkempt Bond meets his M16 controller, M (Judi Dench), in an underground bunker. Bond didn’t come alone, though. He managed to kidnap Mr. White (Jesper Christensen), the man responsible for putting Bond and Vesper’s lives in jeopardy. A tied-up Mr. White refuses to divulge the identity of his employers. Before M and Bond can convince him to talk, Mr. White’s employers break him out. Concerned about this new organization’s reach, M assigns Bond to investigate this new organization. After a brief pit stop in London, Bond returns to Italy, where Bond convinces an old associate, Mathis (Giancarlo Giannini), to help in tracking and identifying the mystery organization.

Following a promising lead, Bond ends up in Haiti, where he meets Camille Montes (Olga Kurylenko), a half-Russian, half-Bolivian woman and her associate and lover, Dominic Greene (Mathieu Amalric), the head of Green Planet, an eco-friendly corporation that might be a front for the mystery organization’s activities. Bond soon learns that Greene’s plans include helping an exiled Bolivian dictator, General Medrano (Joaquín Cosio), regain power in exchange for large tracts of seemingly barren desert. The next step, of course, is Bolivia, where Bond runs into Felix Leiter (Jeffrey Wright), the CIA agent he befriended in Monte Carlo. What Bond doesn’t know, however, is that Leiter and his immediate supervisor, Gregg Beam (David Harbour), disagree on their support (or lack thereof) for General Medrano’s return to power. Bond takes time out from pursuing Greene to romance Strawberry Fields (Gemma Arterton), a Brit who works at the British consulate in Bolivia.

For their collaboration on the screenplay, Paul Haggis (In the Valley of Elah, Casino Royale, Flags of Our Fathers, Million Dollar Baby, Crash), Neal Purvis, and Robert Wade (Casino Royale, Die Another Day, The World is Not Enough), lean heavily covers the familiar elements found in earlier entries of the pre- and post-reboot Bond franchise: car chases, gunplay, fistfights, boat chases (no ski chases, though), Bond “girls” (often in pairs, with one suffering an untimely end), exotic locations, and larger-than-life villains with world domination on their minds. As in the pre- and post-reboot entries, action set pieces involve are big, loud, and explosive (often literally). Haggis and his co-writers give Bond a clear motivation, revenge, a motivation used only once before in the Bond franchise in License to Kill, and borrow heavily from the wrong-man/double-chase formula Alfred Hitchcock introduced in 1935 with The Thirty-Nine Steps and perfected twenty-four years later in North by Northwest.

What’s missing from Quantum of Solace is just as obvious: the clever one-liners, the sly sexual innuendo, the friction between Bond and one or more female characters, a villain with world domination on his mind, and the high-tech gadgets introduced by “Q,” the nameless weapons expert who gave Bond his new gear and carefully explained what each gadget did (more for us than for Bond, of course). Then again, the Bond in Quantum of Solace isn’t the pre-reboot Bond, except superficially. The “new” James Bond is brutal and cruel; a dispassionate, efficient killing machine. Gone are the clever (and not-so-clever) one-liners uttered the moment before or after he dispatches a villain or his henchmen. Like Jason Bourne, Bond is a man of few words, living (if ‘living” is an apt word here) by a self-destructive, ultimately unproductive motto: shoot or maim first and ask questions later (or never, as happens more often than not).

Marc Forster (The Kite Runner, Stranger Than Fiction, Stay, Finding Neverland, Monster's Ball), a director better known for small-scale character studies, seemed like an odd, idiosyncratic choice to direct Quantum of Solace. Forster made up for his inexperience in directing action scenes by hiring the stunt choreographer and editor who worked on the Bourne franchise (and it shows). The action scenes are shot with a maximum of camera angles and quick cuts. Thankfully, Forster didn’t carry over the Bourne franchise’s shaky cam style (well, he does, but only to hit certain action beats, as opposed to an overall stylistic choice). While the rapid-fire editing will leave anyone with attention deficit disorder scratching their head in puzzlement, everyone else will have less trouble in following the action scenes.

"Quantum of Solace" suffers from a shallow storyline, frenetic pacing that takes Bond all over the world for no apparent reason, a weak, underwritten villain, and the set-up of "Quantum of Solace" as the middle chapter in a trilogy (or more). Structurally that makes "Quantum of Solace" similar to the Bourne franchise, with Bourne tracking down various moles or corrupt, duplicitous officials within the CIA and rogue black ops or kill squads. Dominic Green is just a mid-level bureaucrat for the “Quantum” organization. Presumably, “Quantum’s” higher ups will be revealed in the next chapter. Although the film’s producers lifted the title from an Ian Fleming story, "Quantum of Solace" the film bears little resemblance to Fleming’s short story. Apparently, “quantum of solace” refers to the residual feeling of goodwill necessary to remain in a romantic relationship (that’s from the press release, not from dialogue in the film).

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