Monday, November 24, 2008

Film Review - QUANTUM OF SOLACE: Or Perhaps Better Known as Marc Forster's "Quantum of Follies"...

In 2006, long-time Bond producers Barbara Broccoli and Michael G. Wilson made an uncharacteristically daring move: they decided to rejigger their forty-plus year-old franchise from the ground up. Gone were the invisible cars, jet-packs and alligator-modelled submarines of yesteryear, along with the legions of villains packing steel dentures, decapitating bowlers and feline fetishes. In addition, nubile, starry-eyed babes with come-hither monikers like Pussy Galore, Plenty O’Toole and Jenny Flex found themselves unceremoniously kicked to the curb. Say nothing of Bond himself, who suddenly seemed a lot more serious... and more inclined to knock a baddie’s teeth through the back of his skull than engage in encyclopaedic discourse regarding the merits of vintage cognac.

Amazingly, the gamble paid off, and the resulting film, Casino Royale, was the kick in the ass that the spy series needed, instantly making Grandpa Bond once again relevant, and dare I say sexy, for the young and old alike. In casting rough-edged, no-nonsense Daniel Craig –Britain’s delayed answer to Steve McQueen- and stressing sophisticated story-telling and naturalistic characterization, audiences suddenly became a lot more invested in when James Bond would return again. Too bad that Bond’s 22nd film, the pompously titled Quantum of Solace, ignores Royale’s strengths and seems destined to moderately dampen the paying crowd’s goodwill for the next instalment.

Once again starring magnetic blonde bruiser Craig, Quantum of Solace picks up about, oh, 007 seconds after the end of Royale, with Bond making a mad dash to safety with the disagreeable Mr. White (Jesper Christiansen), a criminal of questionable ranking in a super-secret criminal group called QUANTUM, who possesses valuable information relating to the death of James’ true love. However, after Mr. White proves more eel-like than expected, and makes a violent getaway, Bond, against the orders of boss-figure M (Dame Judi Dench), embarks on a globe-hopping journey to get to the bottom of QUANTUM’s sinister machinations.

His search leads him to Haiti where, through Bond-ian circumstances, he meets up with Camille (Olga Kurylenko), a beautiful mystery woman with secret ties to creepy-eyed environmentalist Dominic Greene (Mathieu Amalric). Through a scatter-shot series of chase sequences and labyrinthine plot developments, Bond discovers that Greene is secretly planning to use his monopoly over one of Earth’s most precious resources to upset the government of Bolivia, and help the loathsome General Medrano (Joaquin Cosio) achieve dictatorship. As this is a Bond film, subtlety is out of the question, and 007, aided by Camille and CIA man Felix Leiter (Jeffrey Wright), is soon shooting, stabbing and strangling his way through an endless assortment of low-level goons, on a feverish quest to cut Greene off at the knees... permanently.

Dominic Greene and General Medrano aside, Bond’s greatest adversaries in Quantum of Solace are director Marc Forster and editors Matt Chesse and Richard Pearson, who have taken enjoyable material and crafted it into a cinematic Rorschach test. While the series has never been known for having comprehensible storylines, Bond 22 is an often a slightly exasperating experience. In their quest for a faster, sleeker Bond (Quantum packs the shortest running time in the series’ history), the filmmakers chop out all the necessary character beats and exposition and simply attempt to convey information through endless locale changes and about a dozen disgracefully edited action sequences.

And oh, those action scenes are a big problem... From a head-scratching car chase featuring three nearly identical cars, to the film’s (anti)climax in a absurdly flammable hotel, Forster presents endless mish-mashed montages of blurry one-second edits, convulsive camera-work and a cacophonic soundtrack. Only one set-piece, featuring 007 and a nemesis hanging from ropes attached to construction scaffoldings, manages to overcome the director’s ham-fisted style and rouse some genuine excitement. Strangely, the only time the camera actually holds still during an action sequence is in a lingering close up of a would-be rape victim’s crotch. Really, Mr. Forster!

What prevents the film from toppling into the dregs of mediocrity is its brilliantly committed cast. Craig is fully-charged and commanding, and continues to remind the world why he was the man for the job, and Dench is his perfect foil. As Greene, French actor Amalric works wonders with an underwritten character, while Kurylenko follows Royale’s Eva Green in creating a charismatic, three-dimensional Bond-girl. Also, Giancarlo Giannini, as world-weary former-agent Mathis lends unexpected gravitas to an obviously light-headed film.

If only Forster and company had taken a lesson from Royale helmer Martin Campbell and allowed the action and story to speak through the characters. For sure, Quantum of Solace is a causally engaging, if disappointing, vehicle, but it lacks the light touch which confidently eased along the best of Bond's 21 previous adventures. In moulding Bond into a Bourne-again action hero, they’ve lost the joyous exhilaration and witty humour which has kept 007 vibrant since 1962. Hopefully Quantum’s faults will remind producers once again that Bond-fans generally prefer being stirred to shaken.

2.5 out of 5

*Originally printed in SFU's The Peak: Nov. 24th, 2008.

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