Program Notes: Quantum of Solace (2008)

Quantum of Solace (2008) is the second James Bond movie starring Daniel Craig, and it both reinforces Craig’s excellence in the role and points out some problems that the franchise needs to deal with tout suite.

Its immediate predecessor, Casino Royale, jettisoned many of the franchise’s hokier elements. No Q and his gimmicky toys. No travelogue-pretty footage of foreign locales. No mindless king-and-country patriotism.

Heck, Craig’s de-mythologized Bond doesn’t even seem to enjoy sex all that much.

In place of those cheesy but audience-friendly elements, the filmmakers have come up with ... well, that’s the problem. They’re still searching for something to hold it all together.

As directed by Marc Forster, Quantum plays a bit like a Bourne movie with the reels in the wrong order. It’s frantic but never goes anywhere.

Film Screening:
Quantum of Solace (2008)
Monday, Nov. 5 at 6:30 p.m.
Central Library

Craig remains the bright spot. The movie doesn’t really let him do much acting – his Bond has become a grim action hero of the hit-first-think-later school – but Craig exudes such a dangerous charisma that he’s watchable even in a misfire.

Plots never have been incredibly important in Bond movies, but this one, created by the Casino Royale team of Paul Haggis, Neal Purvis, and Robert Wade, borders on the ridiculous. (Reportedly the film went into production before the script was completed. It shows.)

As far as I can tell, it goes something like this: Still smarting from the death at the end of Casino Royale of fellow agent Vesper, Bond is on the trail of the super-secret criminal enterprise that corrupted Vesper and then killed her. M (Judi Dench) fears that 007 is taking this all a bit personally.

The bad guy this time around is the appropriately-named environmentalist Greene (French star Mathieu Amalric). Under the guise of doing good, Greene actually is sponsoring a coup in Bolivia so a rapist general can seize power. All Greene and his unseen cohorts want in return is a patch of seemingly worthless desert.

Along the way Bond teams up with Greene’s girl toy Camille (Olga Kurylenko), who has her own grudge against the general. There are brief appearances by Giancarlo Giannini as a former foe who helps our man, Gemma Arterton as a fellow agent with the unlikely name of Strawberry Fields, and Jeffrey Wright reprising his role as CIA agent Felix Leiter.

Quantum unfolds in a grimy universe where Bond appears to be the sole honorable man. Washington and London are only too happy to back brutal dictators as long as American and British interests are unimpeded.

Director Forster – whose resume has been packed with talk-heavy titles like Monster’s Ball, Finding Neverland, and Stranger Than Fiction – appears to have no aptitude for action.

The fights and chases are busy but make absolutely no sense. The editing is so spastic that we can’t tell who’s hitting whom.

Amid the general alienation are a few arresting scenes. At one point M conducts a phone conversation while slathering on face cream. It’s a rare human moment in an absolutely chilly movie.

Bond’s one carnal encounter ends badly, with a visual tip of the hat to Goldfinger.

Can Craig be a great Bond? Absolutely. But he’s going to need a script and a director who can celebrate the genre’s clichés even as they poke holes in them.

Other films in the series “The Man Who Would Be Bond”

Saturdays at 1:30 p.m.:

 

Mondays at 6:30 p.m.:

 

Admission to these films is free.

About the Author

Robert W. Butler is a lifelong Kansas City area resident, a graduate of Shawnee Mission East High School and the William Allen White School of Journalism at the University of Kansas. For several decades he was the movie editor of the Kansas City Star; he now writes a movie-themed blog at butlerscinemascene.com. He joined the Library's Public Affairs team in 2012.

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