Saturday, November 15, 2008
MovieWatch: "Quantum of Solace"
"Quantum of Solace"
Director: Marc Forster
Fien Print Rating (Out of 100): 68
In a Nutshell: [Yup. I've been a bad blogger. I have a half-finished review of "Changeling," a couple stray paragraphs of a review of "Synecdoche, NY," an a chunk of writing on "Waltz with Bashir" that I may still get to use at some point. I've also funneled a few things into various Zap2it blogs. And, probably much more than I should, I've left potentially fertile ideas go half-baked on my Zap2it Twitter feed (http://twitter.com/Zap2itDaniel). My apologies. I have other excuses as well, but I may get into those later.]
A thought (or maybe a meditation): When "The Bourne Identity" came out in 2002, an impressive number of the positive reviews shared a similar sentiment, one that said that this was a James Bond movie done right. Interesting how many reviews of "Quantum of Solace" already seem to be complaining that the new James Bond movie isn't a James Bond movie at all, but a Jason Bourne movie. But if a Bourne movie was a good Bond movie, when did a Bond movie being a Bourne movie necessarily become a bad thing?
Full review after the bump...
I'm not going to try to argue that "Quantum of Solace" *isn't* more Bourne than Bond, at least if your idea of Bond is limited the Pierce Brosnan and Roger Moore versions of the Ian Fleming Franchise. The things that many people love in Bond movies are absolutely absent in "Quantum of Solace."
This version of James Bond isn't spectacularly suave like Sean Connery or witty like Roger Moore. He doesn't have the endless string of gadgets and gizmos that the Brosnan Bond had instead of a personality. The movie's over-the-top, but it isn't cartoonish or outlandish. The villain is malicious and power-hungry, but he isn't colorful or terrifying and he doesn't have any bizarre sidekicks.
And you know what? I'm not going to get too annoyed with certain Bond fans turning on "Quantum of Solace" because it isn't popcorn-y fun in the way that the franchise generally has been.
Daniel Craig's first jaunt as 007, "Casino Royale," is viewed through rose-colored glasses for three reasons: The first is that it followed in the aftermath of the Brosnan films, which started off so-so with "GoldenEye" and eventually became unbearable. The second is that thanks to its endless loops on pay cable and DVD, you can tune in for the awesome sequences an ignore that the movie is a minimum of a half-hour too long. And the third is that Daniel Craig is the epitome of Ian Fleming's Bond and should be revered, at least a little.
But the overrating of "Casino Royale" (a film that I admit was No. 10 on my Top 10 for 2006), both at the time and in retrospect, has led to an underrating of "Quantum of Solace."
"Quantum of Solace" isn't a Bond movie with a mission so much an personal agenda. Yeah, there's the baddie (Mathieu Amalric's Dominic Greene) with an agenda involving world domination (something about water and oil in Bolivia), but his master plans are decidedly secondary. Yeah, it'd be bad if Dominic Greene and his company started taking over the governments in various countries, but there's no imminent threat that requires the attention of James Bond. No, Bond is out for revenge, or at the very least, answers. I'm not sure if he's upset that a woman he loved died at the end of the last movie, or if he's pissed off that he was duped and misled at the end of the last movie. Either way, he needs clarification before he can move forward.
Throughout his nearly two-dozen movies, James Bond has often been fooled by double-agents, often witnessed the death of women he'd bedded and often had friends killed in the line of duty. As a rule, the character has been able to get closure by the end of the movie, starting essentially fresh the next time. "Quantum of Solace" is such a pure sequel that it makes almost no sense without memory of the events of "Casino Royale," so while it may not actually be the first Bond movie to follow directly after the events of a previous movie as some have suggested, it's the first Bond movie to be this totally dependent on what came before.
This is really the most Bond franchise has let Bond deal with 007 deal with the consequences of what came before, which makes Bond even more of the "blunt instrument" Fleming (and M) described him as. The character is driven and resolute and he doesn't have time for gags or caring how his martinis are prepared.
This is tailored well toward Craig's strengths, which emphasize the coarseness of Bond's personality. As one character observes, he's efficient and Craig's physical performance amplifies that aspect of the character. His fighting style is brutal, he's quick to kill and if he wants to have sex with the first attractive girl who shows interest, he doesn't need to play games.
Forster is similarly efficient as a director. Much has been made of how the "Kite Runner" and "Monster's Ball" director were somehow an atypical choice for the franchise, as if Michael Apted and Roger Spottiswoode were action veterans when the helmed (badly) "The World Is Not Enough" and "Tomorrow Never Dies."
Only adding to those Bourne comparison, Forster is clearly trying to channel Paul Greengrass, with the hard, jarring cuts and intentional sense of disorientation in which action scenes. He isn't a natural at it, lacking Greengrass' ability to confuse while also maintaining a certain measure of visual continuity. Forster and editors Matt Chesse and Richard Pearson often lose track of their characters and render the more tightly cut action scenes just a mish-mash of stuntmen and Steadicams.
The film's most memorable set piece is actually its least violent, with Bond infiltrating an Austrian production of "Tosca" to uncover pieces of a vast conspiracy. The sequence is mostly a marvel of cross-cutting and sound design. I also liked the early chase scene across the roofs of Sienna, as well as a fine speed boat sequence. There isn't anything quite on the level of the parkour opening of "Casino Royale" or that film's Venice climax, but Martin Campbell simply a better action director than Forster and so it goes. The ending "Quantum of Solace" is plenty explosive, but it feels abrupt.
It feels abrupt because the script by Neal Purvis & Robert Wade, with occasional nuance from Paul Haggis, has been stripped to its bare bones. There are only a few quiet and expositional scenes, which you'd expect Forster's indie pedigree would have helped him in. But the quiet scenes are very stagnant, sometimes inappropriately so.
Part of the problem with the quieter scenes is with the Bond girls, I guess. Olga Kurylenko most certainly looks the part, but I was distracted by the fact that she only has a single expression (pouty) and she seemed to be playing the part (half-Latina/half-Russian) in brown-face. Kurylenko's character, like Bond's, has a revenge mission and, as such, she probably had a clearer arc than many/most Bond Girls usually do, but she's resolutely unfun and she and Craig aren't really supposed to have any chemistry. Gemma Arterton is sadly unused as an agent with the unlikely name of Strawberry Fields. She instantly lit up the movie.
The real Bond Girl in "Quantum of Solace" is Judi Dench's M. Dench had really only a cameo in "Casino Royale," but she's quite important to this new movie. You won't ever hear me complain about too much Judi Dench.
Amalric has all the right stuff to be a great Bond villain, but the script doesn't give him much depth. Of course, he's positively over-used compared to Jeffrey Wright, whose Felix Leiter continues to wait for the chance to actually be a viable character.
As I've been writing this review, I've slowly been lowing my rating with each thing I've thought of that didn't quite work. I think my Bottom Line is going to be that I like what "Quantum of Solace" is in context. It raises the stakes for the James Bond franchise, not the global stakes, but the personal stakes. It shows that Bond is a character capable of change and evolution, rather than that well-dressed British guy who pops up in a movie every two or three years. The execution? It's a bit spottier, outside of Craig, who is absolutely my favorite Bond at this point. Forster and cinematographer Robert Schaefer handle all of the location shooting well and the movie has more visual depth than Campbell's colorful-yet-flat "Casino Royale." But is it memorable? Is it awesome? Dunno...
Sigh. These always get long, don't they?