"Quantum of Solace," the new James Bond movie starring Daniel Craig, is a lot more exciting than its title would suggest. Review by Mark Rahner.
Sure, the title isn’t exactly thrilling. In fact, I sat through the end credits wondering if I’d see, “James Bond will be back in A MODICUM OF ALLEVIATION.”
But “Quantum of Solace” is such a smart and brutal Bond movie that it kicks the “Bourne” movies — which had previously made Bond irrelevant — in the crotch. With a steel-toed boot.
One of the last of Ian Fleming’s titles that hadn’t been used in the previous 21 movies, it’s from a short story that consists of a man-to-man conversation between Bond and an older guy at a dinner party. This is not a movie about a dinner party.
Finally, for the first time in Bond’s 46-year movie history, a quantum of continuity. The story opens right after the events of “Casino Royale” with a hair-raising car chase and no foreplay. Bond has taken hostage Mr. White (Jesper Christensen), whom he’d shot at the end of the previous film. The agent’s smoldering with rage, and he wants answers about the death of the only woman he’d ever loved.
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But before you can say “extraordinary rendition,” a mole in MI6 shoots up the joint and sparks an exhausting, parkour-esque chase. He was from an evil organization — not SPECTRE, not SMERSH, but Quantum (no explanation) — that’s got people everywhere. With M (Judi Dench) questioning Bond’s focus — “If you could avoid killing every possible lead, it would be deeply appreciated,” she says dryly — he’s pulled out of action and “goes rogue.”
With MI6 and the CIA both on his tail, Bond inadvertently hooks up with the only person as pissed off as he is: Camille (Olga Kurylenko), who’s sleeping with slimy business mogul Greene (Mathieu Amalric) to get revenge of her own against a sadistic South American general (Joaquín Cosio) who did some remarkably impolite things to her and her family.
Some people who claim to be Bond fans might complain about the absence of a few familiar things: cheesy quips, gadgets (not to mention “Q”), getting it on with the heroine. And Daniel Craig isn’t a charming Bond. He’s grim and tough, and that’s refreshing. The filmmakers appear to be interested in character, which, along with continuity, was never previously a strong point in the series.
They’re playing it smart. “Casino Royale” was a relaunch that rescued Bond from being an outdated joke of a cliché. Instead of simply recasting him like the next Dr. Who and getting on with business-as-usual, they showed how Bond started becoming the character we all know.
There’s a ruefulness behind his quips, a self-destructive urge behind his hedonism and a pain behind his skirt-chasing that were forgotten as the movies became emptier and sillier copies of each other. Craig’s second outing as a hurt and ruthless Bond is another step along the way, and he’ll be even closer to Bond’s familiar groove in the next one.
There’s also a debate running through the story — largely with Bond’s CIA ally Felix Leiter (Jeffrey Wright) — about the necessity of doing business with bad guys. Again, refreshing: nicely relevant but not hammered home.
Oscar-winner Paul Haggis (“Crash”) collaborated on the screenplay with his “Casino Royale” co-writers, Neal Purvis and Robert Wade. It doesn’t take a superspy to attribute the quality to Haggis, since Purvis and Wade were also responsible for the awful “Die Another Day” and “The World Is Not Enough.”
Known for “Monster’s Ball” and “Finding Neverland,” Marc Forster seems like a counterintuitive choice to direct an action spectacle. But any doubts I might have had flew out the window and splattered onto the hood of a parked car during an early, hellacious brawl between Bond and a lead he follows to Haiti.
Complaints about the movie all come with qualifications. Amalric (“The Diving Bell and the Butterfly”) isn’t a particularly colorful villain. He vibes Roman Polanski circa “Chinatown,” and I kept imagining him calling Bond “kittycat.” But then the time’s past for cartoonish Bond villains like Ernst Stavro Blofeld and his actual kitty cat.
Amalric’s plot — something to do with real estate and controlling water — isn’t so gripping, either. But it’s a lot less preposterous than irradiating the gold at Fort Knox (see “Goldfinger”).
And Bond is just a little too indestructible. A plane battle and subsequent free fall are too Indiana Jones for the rest of the movie’s no-nonsense grittiness. But at least they still show him cut and bleeding. Hey, Roger Moore never even got his hair messed up.
Mark Rahner: 206-464-8259 or firstname.lastname@example.org