Quantum of Solace (2008)

Better than average

Content written by Tony Macklin. Originally published on November 13, 2008 in Fayetteville Free Weekly.

Quantum of Solace is the most obtuse title of the year. Maybe it means kick-ass action. If so, it's a very apt title. Don't be late arriving at the theater. The pre-opening credit sequence to Quantum of Solace goes just 15 seconds before the action begins with a violent, careening, lethal car chase in Italy. It gets the heart racing. This 007 doesn't throw clever witticisms at his adversaries; this 007 kills them.

Forty-six years and 22 movies later, James Bond is still "The Man." Daniel Craig is right behind Sean Connery as the iconic James Bond. Quantum of Solace is Craig's second outing as 007; he debuted as Bond in Casino Royale (2006), which was a major international box office success.

Craig does many of his own stunts. Like Connery, Craig is a man's man; Pierce Brosnan was a woman's man, a lot of style and little substance. Roger Moore was 007 as The Saint.

Like Connery, Craig is a credibly human 007. He is a Bond who earns belief. No matter what the danger, he will jump, leap, fall, and soar to escape. Cars crash, boats explode, planes plummet, and a hotel becomes a conflagration. But Bond remains cool.

Quantum of Solace is the palpitating tale of how James Bond goes on a mission to reveal and destroy a nefarious group that -- under the guise of ecological protection -- is trying to control water at the planet's peril.

At the same time Bond is on a personal vendetta to find the villain behind Vesper Lynd, the woman who loved him, betrayed him, and died for him.

Bond is haunted by what happened to her. He's unable to sleep even after seven drinks. He has to come to grips with his conflicting feelings about Vesper. And he has to avenge her.

In a world of chaotic action, the movie is grounded by three performances. Craig is substantial, and Judi Dench is outstanding as M. Bond answers a queston about a woman (M) he is defending, "It's not what you think."

Questioner: "Your mother?"

Bond: "She likes to think so."

Bond is like a bad boy son to M, whom he often totally exasperates.

Also delivering a very human performance is Giancarlo Giannini, who plays Mathis, a character also from Casino Royale.

What has been missing from the Bond movies for a long time is a great villain like Auric Goldfinger, Blofeld, Scaramanga, or villainess Rosa Klebb. Also absent are henchmen like Oddjob or Jaws. The villainy in Bond films has become corporate and dulled. That's a real loss.

The writers, Paul Haggis, et al, do make an allusion to the death Jill Masterson (Shirley Eaton) in Goldfinger, but this time, it's oil not gold.

Director Marc Forster sometimes has a shaky hand. He directed the underwhelming The Kite Runner (2007). Forster enlists some of the people who worked on the Bourne movies, and the action sequences harken back to them.

Since there is no Bourne movie this year, Quantum of Solace will suffice. It's not as rich as the Bournes, but it has a lot in common with them.

Quantum of Solace is a travelogue of many lands; it was shot in Mexico, Panama, Italy, Chile, and other venues. One of the signature action battles is a gunfight at the Bregenz Festival House in Austria during a performance of Tosca. Opera rocks!

Craig as Bond is like Matt Damon as Bourne, a serious, credible avenger.

But unlike the Bourne movies, there is no footage from the previous movies to set the stage. If you don't remember Casino Royale, you're on your own. It would help to have footage of Vesper's drowning in the car with Bond unable to save her, but perhaps this seemed too much like Bourne.

Also, two major scenes occur off screen, the death in the desert of one villain and the end of Bond's crucial encounter with another villain that releases 007 from some of his demons. For such an in-your-face movie, these two voids are disconcerting.

Actually the title is not quite as obtuse as it may seem. Quantum of Solace is the title of a short story by Ian Fleming that was published in the collection For Your Eyes Only (1960). It is a story in which Bond and the governor of Nassau have a discussion about relationships.

The governor says, "I've invented a high-sounding title for this basic factor in human relations. I have called it the Law of the Quantum of Solace."

Bond replies, "That's a splendid name for it.. Quantum of Solace, the amount of comfort. Yes, I suppose you could say all love and friendship is based in the end on that."

When comfort ends, so does the relationship. It's time to go. But there's no reference to this in the movie.

I still think Quantum of Kick-Ass is a better title.


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