Combustible Celluloid
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With: Daniel Craig, Olga Kurylenko, Mathieu Amalric, Judi Dench, Giancarlo Giannini, Gemma Arterton, Jeffrey Wright, David Harbour, Jesper Christensen, Anatole Taubman, Rory Kinnear, Tim Pigott-Smith, Joaqu�n Cosio, Fernando Guill�n Cuervo, Jes�s Ochoa, Lucrezia Lante della Rovere, Glenn Foster, Paul Ritter, Simon Kassianides, Stana Katic, Neil Jackson, Oona Chaplin
Written by: Paul Haggis, Neal Purvis, Robert Wade
Directed by: Marc Forster
MPAA Rating: PG-13 for intense sequences of violence and action, and some sexual content
Running Time: 106
Date: 10/29/2008

Quantum of Solace (2008)

2 1/2 Stars (out of 4)

Diamonds Are Whatever

By Jeffrey M. Anderson

Being a James Bond fan is much like being married; you take the bad with the good, the richer with the poorer. Like diamonds, you learn to love the films for their little flaws, or their intermittent joys. Thus, we got one of the richer films in 2006 with the series reboot Casino Royale. Now we get one of the poorer ones with Quantum of Solace.

Quantum of Solace keeps up with the new, serious, determined, angry Bond (Daniel Craig) and continues the stripped-down tone with no gadgets or jokes. But overrated director Marc Forster (Stay, The Kite Runner, etc.) badly bungles it. First and foremost, he turns in some of the most slapdash, frankly awful action scenes ever filmed for a major release. Moviegoers used to this kind of jerky, jumpy mess probably won't notice or mind, but taking a closer look at any of these scenes -- for example the one in which Bond has a shootout with another man on a huge scaffolding -- I challenge you to describe exactly what has happened or where anyone is at any given moment. I'm against shaky-cam as a general rule, but it can still be used effectively, as it was in the second two "Bourne" films (The Bourne Supremacy and The Bourne Ultimatum). In those, director Paul Greengrass firmly established the geography and spatial relationships in the scene before he launched into his breakneck filming style. In Forster's style, no two shots ever seem to go together, and often it's impossible to tell the players apart, or where they are in relation to one another. If there are two black cars racing along, it's hard to tell which one is Bond's. And Forster uses fast cutting as an attempt to cover up his ineptitude.

The screenplay, by Paul Haggis, Neal Purvis and Robert Wade, leaves a bit to be desired. It concerns a super-secret organization with moles everywhere, including inside MI6. Bond chases one and follows his nose until he meets Camille (Olga Kurylenko), who tries to kill him (the James Bond version of a "meet cute"). Afterward, she leads him to Dominic Greene (Mathieu Amalric), a bad guy who is posing as an environmentalist in order to take control of a country's water supply. It turns out that Camille was only using Dominic to get her own personal revenge, and that she and Bond are on the same side. The film also directly follows the events of Casino Royale, and so Bond spends a lot of time brooding about the loss of Vesper Lynd, and lusting for revenge. Many reviewers have noted that the film clocks in at 106 minutes, which is -- I believe -- shorter than any other Bond film. But rather than feeling lean and mean, the film just feels rushed and short, as if the filmmakers were simply shrugging, "that's it... that's all we've got right now."

This brings us to another problem, which is writer Paul Haggis. Since he doubles as a director and he's an Oscar-winner for self-important issue movies, he can't help but slip some of his pet messages into the narrative. On the last film, director Martin Campbell, whose streamlined, pop directing also made Goldeneye and The Mask of Zorro work so well, understood the difference between work and play and smoothed out Haggis' writing. But Forster, who is far more susceptible to Oscar-bait pretentiousness, buys into it and plays it up. Thus Quantum of Solace comes across more angry and preachy than it does exciting. When the earlier films in the series turned out badly, they were at least fun and ridiculous and somewhat campy. This one makes you feel bummed out.

Kurylenko is pretty, but she's not very interesting -- or perhaps she's just not around long enough -- and she doesn't particularly have much chemistry with Bond. The second Bond girl, a redhead known simply as "Fields" (Gemma Arterton) -- though the credits call her "Strawberry Fields" -- is barely around at all. Likewise, the great Jeffrey Wright is wasted as Felix Leiter; he gets one scene with Bond, and it's over all too soon.

All that aside, here's what I liked about Quantum of Solace. Craig is excellent as Bond, cool and wounded; he's the first actor to get even close to Sean Connery's league. If the film works at all, it's because of him. He's terrific to watch, and never more so than when he's relating to Judi Dench's M, in a kind of intense, love-hate, mother-son relationship. I wish there were more of this. But my favorite thing of all is the theme song, "Another Way to Die," by Jack White and Alicia Keys. It has all the dramatic builds and craziness and sexiness of the series' best songs ("Goldfinger" and "Live and Let Die"). For fans, Quantum of Solace may ride on the goodwill generated from the previous film, or the hype may drive it for a while, but I predict the song will eventually outlive the film.

DVD Details: MGM's 2009, two-disc DVD comes with a music video and trailers on the first disc. The second disc has several featurettes -- with some actual on-set footage -- and crew files.

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