Monday, November 10, 2008
Quantum of Solace ***
Director: Marc Forster
Cast: Daniel Craig
Mathieu Amalric, Olga Kurylenko, Gemma Arterton
Jeffrey Wright, Giancarlo Giannini, Judi Dench
It is only logical, and fair, that as times change so do iconic film characters along with our perception of them. James Bond, once the symbol of nihilist Imperialism, decadent sexual freedom and the alpha male role model of choice by men and women has evolved, in just two films, into the ultimate kind of movie character: the human one.
Kicking off (literally) where Martin Campbell's "Casino Royale" left off, this film starts with a chase sequence along Lake Cuomo, Italy, as Bond (Craig) transports Mr. White (Jesper Christensen) to be interrogated about a recently discovered organization called Quantum.
After revealing that they have people "everywhere" White makes a surprising escape with the aid of an MI6 double agent.
Preoccupied with the intelligence leak, Bond is given precarious clearance to follow their only lead, which takes them to Haiti and a man named Dominic Greene (Almaric) who on the surface looks like an environment friendly philantropist, but might also have deep ties with Quantum and their involvement in a coup d'état set to occur in Bolivia.
While the plot is a continuation of "Casino Royale", especially in Bond's search for the truth behind Vesper Lynd's betrayal and the uncovering of the big bad guys, those expecting a thematic sequel will be highly disappointed.
While "Royale" was all about class and unconventional, almost diplomatic, ways of accomplishing the mission, "Quantum of Solace" isn't afraid to get down and dirty.
In fact it's what it does most of the time; it features action sequence after sequence where Bond moves with disdain for anything that gets in his way, including boats, planes and cars, along with several people who he kills before interrogating (in what becomes a sort of dark joke within the plot).
Fighting hard against what obviously becomes a revenge, Bond must battle with himself without jeopardizing what might be one of the most important missions of his career.
At times the film is a throwback to the first Bond movies in terms of visual style and design, especially with the trademark Bond girl that comes in the shape of Agent Fields (Arterton). Still no Q or Monneypenny though.
But in other elements the film is almost in the extreme opposite of the corniness found in the elaborate plans of the villains which were more about being a pain in the ass for Bond, than actual machiavelic devices of destruction.
In Greene and his truly chilling plan, we find ourselves before the first Bond villain who might exist in real life. Greene moves among political and economic circles where the policies being dealt among the "bad" and "good" guys are scarily reminiscent of dealings going on in actual governments.
CIA agent Felix Leiter (Wright) must face the fact that sometimes the job isn't exactly made of the idealistic dreams kids are brought upon and even M (Dench) finds herself deciding whether to compromise her duty as a British citizen or as a human being.
While everything in "Casino Royale" was more cerebral (which makes simply puzzling and outstanding how they managed to make poker seem so exciting) this film works at a more visceral level.
It's almost rebellious; even a staging of Puccini's "Tosca" shines for the unexpected, bizarreness of its postmodernist setting.
"Quantum of Solace" is at the core a clash of the old and the new, a juxtaposition of encountered feelings, even the theme song (which weirdly pairs Alicia Keys and Jack White) is a collision of elements that shouldn't work together, but somehow do.
"I find you horribly efficient" reveals Bolivian agent Camille Montes (Kurylenko who could kill anyone with her sumptuous tan) to Bond after finding that he, like the labyrintine plot and Forster's somewhat unsteady direction, always manage to get the work done.
Most of the film relies on the power of Daniel Craig who has completely made the part his own and has become a true force of nature. In the previous film he acted like a man who falls in love going against everything he believes in, here he plays James like a wounded animal.
He is as ruthless as he is charming, which might work against the idea of Bond as a perfect hero and bring him down to Earth as an imperfect human being with an inescapable ambiguity.
He doesn't bother with being glamorous and makes his way relying on a selfconfidence that makes impossible for anyone to say no to him. His behavior is so uninterested at times that he doesn't even lust after Camille, setting a sexual tension the film more than lives up to.
The only other person who competes with Craig here on terms of screen command is the always magnificent Dench whose character has become more of a central player and one might even say the source of some Freudian subplot regarding how to deal with authority when you care about them.
While the screenplay (by Paul Haggis, Neal Purvis & Robert Wade) works hard to turn Bond into a globalized version of what he used to be, Craig (who relies on everything he can as an actor, just watch his deliciously wicked smirk after he know he did something wrong) never lets the iconic character completely vanish.
Scarily appropriate for the time of its release, "Quantum of Solace" is sometimes uncomfortable to watch, its attitude becomes blasé and one might argue it follows its lead character's mood.
As the world faces economic recession and there is underlying fear everywhere, a scene where Bond checks himself into a luxury hotel despite a request to be subtle comes off as a disturbing moment of indifference, even if the plot then turns in his favor as he becomes a sort of Socialist hero.
The series now faces the dilemma of going back to the escapism it lived by, or moving forward with the gritty realism that has become staple for action films this century.
Whatever their choice is the truth remains that Craig has become someone you will follow, sometimes even despite what your best judgment tells you.