Appellate Judge James A. Stewart likes a good chase scene at the opera—sans real bullets, of course.
Our review of Quantum Of Solace (Blu-Ray), published March 27th, 2009, is also available.
M: "Bond, if you could avoid killing every possible lead, it would be appreciated."
James Bond: "Yes, Ma'am. I'll do my best."
James Bond, in case you somehow don't know, is a British secret agent with a license to kill. He also likes martinis, shaken not stirred, and beautiful women. He was created by Ian Fleming in the 1950s novel Casino Royale; his big-screen career started with 1962's Dr. No. Since then, Bond has become one of the most famous and most enduring characters in the world.
While his longevity might be admirable, it presented the makers of Quantum of Solace with a problem. How do you bring an iconic character in the twenty-first century?
Facts of the Case
James Bond (Daniel Craig, Road to Perdition) and his team have captured a man who may have information about a secret organization known, barely, as Quantum. The man laughs at Bond and M (Judi Dench, As Time Goes By), telling them, "The first thing you should know is that we have people everywhere. Am I right?" Almost on cue, one of said people kills the man before he can tell them anything.
The trail eventually leads to Haiti and Dominic Greene (Mathieu Amalric, The Story of Matthew O), whose eco-friendly business is somehow involved with Quantum, not to mention a coup in Bolivia. Bond also finds the beautiful Camille (Olga Kurylenko, Paris Je T'aime), who will join him on his adventure.
A trip to Austria to take in the opera leads Bond to a bad guy within British government. After a shooting incident and the deaths of two associates, he finds himself on the outs with M and his agency.
Meanwhile, Bond's mourning Vesper, the woman he loved in Casino Royale, and he may have his own agenda: Revenge!
After watching Quantum of Solace, it hit me that James Bond doesn't wind up with the girl at the end. Huh? C'mon, Bond always gets the girl. It's part of the ritual that is a Bond movie. He's a nice guy, even lending the lady his jacket when she's shivering, but he's too busy brooding over Vesper to pay Camille, who is set up as his soulmate-in-mourning, much mind. He does manage to fit in a blink-and-you'll-miss-it quickie with neophyte agent Fields (Gemma Arterton, St. Trinian's), sent to rein him in. Oddly, though he's mourning Vesper, he doesn't seem too concerned about Fields' death, staged in a manner reminiscent of Goldfinger. With the short shrift Arterton gets in the movie, the scene has less impact than its predecessor in the Connery era.
The idea of Bond pretending to go rogue to go after a villain with ties to the administration takes a page from 24. The villain had an oddly modern familiarity as well; the character seems intended as a caricature of Al Gore by way of Ben Linus. Mathieu Amalric only gets one really memorable scene, playing hardball in negotiations over water rights, and the final confrontation leaves him weak and defeated where he should still be arrogant. His scheme, something about becoming a water baron in Bolivia, seems rather small, probably because it's just a setup for chases and fights. I'm beginning to think it wouldn't have mattered much if I'd watched the movie in Bulgarian (not available on this DVD).
It's also not necessary to frequently remind us that "everything he touches seems to wither and die" when we're talking about James Bond. The link between death and James Bond is part of the global cultural consciousness. What else would you expect when a guy has a license to kill?
Daniel Craig makes a good Bond, even though his performance consists of small touches between fight scenes. He gives bandaging himself up and cleaning himself up a sense of dignity and appears to really care as he comforts Camille as they're caught in a fire. His performance is always credible, even when the situation isn't. While his Bond is more serious, Craig can pull off a gag as well; his cover story to snag a better hotel suite while undercover should make you smile. Olga Kurylenko's Camille makes a good counterpart to Bond, handling stunts as well as tender moments with equal ease.
All those action scenes are breathtaking, with a range of intriguing and unusual backdrops. The filmmakers were wise to choose both glamorous locations, like an outdoor opera festival and an opulent hotel, and gritty urban streets. Everything looked good, even in my screener. The sound quality's good, especially considering that they tried to avoid redubbing, as mentioned in an extra.
For extras, we get a lot but a little. If you look at the menu, there are dozens of shorts on everything and everyone involved with the picture, but you get less than 90 minutes total, and only "Bond on Location" is substantial. Many of the remaining featurettes are informative, but stop about the time you're getting interested. Among the most interesting are: "Olga Kurylenko and the Boat Chase," which shows the actress training and performing her first big action scene; Ana Endora's discussion of extras casting in remote locations; director of photography Roberto Schaeffer's discussion of the film's "retro future" look; Tim De Zeeuw's perspective on having his observatory used as a Bond movie location; Chris Munro's bit on recording dialogue in busy cities; and Bregenz Festival artistic director David Pountney's description of filming at his festival. A few others—camera driver Dean Bailey's discussion of the opening chase; SFX supervisor Chris Corbould's discussion of building a DC3 at the studio; and a visit with Ben Radatz and Tim Fisher as they shoot the intro sequence—give viewers a peek of something interesting about filming, but not enough. Most of these were for an online video blog or for other promotional purposes, but they still could have been allowed to run at their natural lengths. You'll also find a music video and two trailers.
The Rebuttal Witnesses
I'm picking on Quantum of Solace a lot, but it's actually a nifty action picture, stuffed with fast-paced, well-choreographed chases and fights. It'll give the Mythbusters team lots of material sometime down the road, but I wasn't too worried about it while it unfolded on the screen. It looked good. Even with something like ten big action sequences, the movie knows enough to slow down at the end and show a more reflective Bond.
Quantum of Solace is exciting, no doubt about it, but Daniel Craig's first appearance in Casino Royale worked better because it had the frame of an Ian Fleming story, not to mention a parkour chase I doubt the Bond series will ever top. Even so, Daniel Craig inhabits the character well enough to make it worth a look for Bond fans, and viewers looking for an action fix won't have complaints.
I appreciate the need to keep James Bond out of a creative rut, but I'd really like to see the makers pull back a little on the fast modern pace.
Making James Bond a little less perfect has its good and bad points, but
ultimately Quantum of Solace is not guilty.
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