Quantum of Solace (2008), 007 Is Back, and He’s Brooding

Movie review from NY Times

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Published: November 14, 2008
A reviewer may come to a new James Bond movie — “Quantum of Solace,” directed by Marc Forster and opening Friday, is the 22nd official installment of the series in 46 years — with a nifty theory or an elaborate sociocultural hermeneutic agenda, but the most important thing to have on hand is a checklist. It’s all well and good to reflect upon the ways 007, the Harry Potter of British intelligence, has evolved over time through changes in casting, geopolitics, sexual mores and styles of dress.

But the first order of business must always be to run through the basic specs of this classic entertainment machine’s latest model and see how it measures up.

So before we proceed to any consideration of the deeper meanings of “Quantum of Solace” (or for that matter the plain meaning of its enigmatic title), we need to assess the action, the villain, the gadgets, the babes and the other standard features.

The opening song, performed by Jack White and Alicia Keys (an intriguing duo on paper if nowhere else), is an abysmal cacophony of incompatible musical idioms, and the title sequence over which those idioms do squalling battle is similarly disharmonious: conceptually clever and visually grating. The first chase, picking up exactly where the 2006 “Casino Royale” left off, is speedy and thrilling, but the other action set-pieces are a decidedly mixed bag, with a few crisp footraces, some semi-coherent punch-outs and a dreadful boat pileup that brings back painful memories of the invisible car Pierce Brosnan tooled around in a few movies ago.

Picturesque locales? Bolivia, Haiti, Austria and Italy are featured or impersonated, to perfectly nice touristic effect. Gizmos? A bit disappointing, to tell the truth. Technological advances in the real world may not quite have outpaced those in the Bond universe, but so many movies these days show off their global video surveillance set-ups and advanced smart-phone applications that it’s hard for this one to distinguish itself.

What about the villain? One of the best in a while, I’d say, thanks to a lizardy turn from the great French actor Mathieu Amalric, who plays Dominic Greene, a ruthless economic predator disguised as an ecological do-gooder. The supporting cast is studded with equally excellent performers, including Jeffrey Wright and Giancarlo Giannini, both reprising their roles in “Casino Royale.”

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Karen Ballard/Columbia Pictures- “Quantum of Solace” stars Daniel Craig as James Bond and Olga Kurylenko as a potential romantic interest.

And the women? There are two, as usual — not counting Judi Dench, returning as the brisk and impatient M — one (Gemma Arterton) a doomed casual plaything, the other a more serious dramatic foil and potential romantic interest. That one, called Camille, is played by Olga Kurylenko, whose specialty seems to be appearing in action pictures as the pouty, sexy sidekick of a brooding, vengeful hero. Not only Daniel Craig’s Bond, but also Mark Wahlberg’s Max Payne and Timothy Olyphant’s Hitman.

James Bond is a much livelier character than either of those mopey video-game ciphers, but he shares with them the astonishing ability to resist, indeed to ignore, Ms. Kurylenko’s physical charms.

This is not out of any professional scruple. The plot of “Quantum of Solace” is largely propelled by Bond’s angry flouting of the discipline imposed by his job, and anyway when did James Bond ever let work get in the way of sex? No, what gets in the way is emotion. 007’s grief and rage, the source of his connection to Camille, are forces more powerful than either duty or libido.

Mr. Brosnan was the first actor to allow a glimmer of complicated emotion to peek through Bond’s cool, rakish facade, and since Mr. Craig took over the franchise two years ago the character has shown a temperament at once rougher and more soulful than in previous incarnations. The violence in his first outing, “Casino Royale,” was notably intense, and while “Quantum of Solace” is not quite as brutal, the mood is if anything even more grim and downcast.

The death in “Casino” of Bond’s lover Vesper Lynd (Eva Green), along with the possibility that she had betrayed him before dying, provides an obvious psychological explanation for his somber demeanor in “Quantum.” But while the exploration of Bond’s psychology makes him, arguably at least, a deeper, subtler character — and there is certainly impressive depth and subtlety in Mr. Craig’s wounded, whispery menace — it also makes him harder to distinguish from every other grieving, seething avenger at the multiplex.

Which is to say just about every one. And here, I suppose, the deeper questions bubble up. Is revenge the only possible motive for large-scale movie heroism these days? Does every hero, whether Batman or Jason Bourne, need to be so sad?

I know grief has always been part of the Dark Knight’s baggage, but the same can hardly be said of James Bond, Her Majesty’s suave, cynical cold war paladin. His wit was part of his — of our — arsenal, and he countered the totalitarian humorlessness of his foes with a wink and a bon mot.

Are these weapons now off limits for the good guys? Or can moviegoers justify their vicarious enjoyment of on-screen mayhem — and luxury hotels, high-end cocktails and fast cars — only if there are some pseudoserious bad feelings attached? The Sean Connery James Bond movies of the 1960s were smooth, cosmopolitan comedies, which in the Roger Moore era sometimes ascended to the level of farce. With Mr. Craig, James Bond reveals himself to be — sigh — a tragic figure.

“Quantum of Solace,” a phrase never uttered in the course of this film (though it has something to do with Greene’s diabolical scheme, itself never fully explained), means something like a measure of comfort. Perhaps that describes what Bond is looking for, or maybe it is what this kind of entertainment tries to provide a fretful audience. If so, I prefer mine with a dash of mischief.

“Quantum of Solace” is rated PG-13 (Parents strongly cautioned). Its scenes of violence and sex are carefully edited to avoid showing too much gore or skin.

QUANTUM OF SOLACE

Opens on Friday nationwide.

Directed by Marc Forster; written by Neal Purvis, Robert Wade and Paul Haggis, based on characters created by Ian Fleming; director of photography, Roberto Schaefer; edited by Matt Chessé and Richard Pearson; music by David Arnold; production designer, Dennis Gassner; produced by Michael G. Wilson and Barbara Broccoli; released by Columbia Pictures. Running time: 1 hour 46 minutes.

WITH: Daniel Craig (James Bond), Olga Kurylenko (Camille), Mathieu Amalric (Dominic Greene), Judi Dench (M), Giancarlo Giannini (Mathis), Gemma Arterton (Agent Fields), Jeffrey Wright (Felix Leiter), Jesper Christensen (Mr. White), Anatole Taubman (Elvis), Rory Kinnear (Tanner) and Joaquín Cosio (General Medrano).

Source : NY Times

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