Quantum of Solace: Film Review

Directed by: Marc Forster, Runtime: 106 minutes
Grade: B

Quick admission: I'm not much of a classic James Bond guy. Sure, some of Sean Connery's 007 films have tickled my fancy -- From Russia With Love and Goldfinger especially, along with moments from Thunderball and Dr. No -- but the entire rhythm of gadgets, girls, and gratuitous one-liners has never completely satisfied my palate.

That is, until Martin Campbell rebooted the series with Casino Royale, crafting a James Bond that was free to make mistakes and act out with braying ferocity through his coy, martini-sipping demeanor. It's probably Daniel Craig's departure from the archetype that drew me in, along with an entrancing performance from Eva Green as a different spice of female accompaniment for the spy in Vesper Lynd. This puts me in a unique position, since it'd be reasonable to assume that a film that steps even further from the formula -- Quantum of Solace, directed by Marc Forster of Monster's Ball and Finding Neverland fame -- should satisfy me even more. I was wholeheartedly poised to do so, even psyched at seeing an even more gadget-free, "authentic" James Bond instead of the debonair Double-0.

But, as mentioned in my review of Alfred Hitchcock's To Catch a Thief, every great director has a departure from their pre-established formula that just doesn't quite work the way it should. It's a daunting task to cradle this beloved franchise as an alternative project, but his capacity to rustle up emotionality within high-profile star power appears to be an appropriate, if odd, choice. And he does a respectful job at staying true to this sleek, nerve-searing 007 -- you know, aside for a smorgasbord of spasm-inducing action sequences that encompass roughly a third of this brief but breathless play at breakneck espionage.

Quantum of Solace follows the events directly after Casino Royale, capturing James Bond (Daniel Craig) as he's caught up in an out-of-character revenge mentality. After the death of his first real love, a woman that nearly pulled him into retirement from MI6, he goes on a vengeance-fueled bender against an organization entitled "Quantum" that, coincidentally, nearly claimed the life of the organization's head, "M" (Judi Dench), by way of assassination. With Bond blinded by rage and gunning for the threat, it's hard to make heads or tails of this trained killing machine with a motive -- and whether he'll be able to keep his posture long enough to successfully mix vengeance with his work.

MI6's new threat interconnecting with "Quantum" is "Greene Planet", a faux-environmental group lead by slippery entrepreneur Dominic Greene (Mathieu Almaric) that centers on an effort to ensnare a stretch of potentially oil-rich land in Bolivia. As a villain, Dominic Greene isn't nearly as iconic as some of the rest -- even the recent, fairly successful Le Chiffre. Instead, Forster molds him into a more "realistic" snake-like villain that pulls strings in a high-dollar environmental climate, one who worms his way around all the corners without lifting much of a finger. But his place in the narrative feels slight and unfocused, though his more realistic roots are compelling enough to hold our interest. Mathieu Almaric builds Dominic into a sneering, cunning little weasel, but he doesn't offer up a grand sense of antagonistic energy to fuel Bond's vengeful push to "solace".

Forster's work in shaping the transitioning James Bond is certain to go largely underappreciated, especially since it diverts so heavily from his iconic archetype by giving fans very little satisfaction in character indulgence. But, plain and simple, Quantum of Solace is a buffer zone for Bond post-heartbreak, one that intentionally swerves out of the way of the rebooted architecture that Martin Campbell structured for the series. Instead of slyly wedging in grin-worthy quips and giving him a chest of toys to play with, it zeroes in completely on him as an angry, love-thwarted secret agent with a taste for vengeance and a mission that happens to intersect with his whims. This is a serious and bloodthirsty Bond, one that shares little chemistry with Dominic's feisty trophy girl Camille, our primary Bond girl played poised and punchy enough by Olga Kurylenko, while chewing up and spitting out a semi-innocent errand girl for the British government, Strawberry Fields (Gemma Arterton).

It's reasonable to look at the events turning within Quantum of Solace as a gun-wielding rogue's shot at closure in a fallen relationship, a volatile time period where he's desensitizing to the effects of emotion and breaking his ever-present jumpiness from Casino Royale into the cool-as-a-cucumber agent that makes woman swoon and villains shiver. Darkness feels proper following the events at the end of Casino Royale, especially in Forster's hands, but it also tries extremely hard not to be a Jason Bourne knockoff. It's hit-and-miss in that regard; while taking on the signature Bond-like infiltration into the "Greene Planet" organization, we're persistently reminded that he's a loose cannon, or "damaged goods" in Dominic Greene's words, that could fly off the handle at any moment due to his scrambled identity issues involving his love life.

As much as it might rub 007 aficionados the wrong way, it's a graspable changeover in plot that helps substantiate the suaveness of Bond's character as it develops leading into successive entries. When it comes to James' moments of red-eyed reflection and the embittered conversations with "M", Marc Forster shows why he was cherry-picked for this entry in the franchise. He carries the few socio-upmanship scenes in the film with his signature drama-based electricity, giving us some pointed moments with Bond scattered throughout.

But that coldness and emotional turmoil isn't exactly what most come to see in a kinetic James Bond film, even fans of the more "grounded" Casino Royale. While Forster nails the stiff vigor present in all the nail-biting banter, he folds under the pressure whenever he steps into the action arena. As the adrenaline picks up, the jerky editing becomes the film's chief blight. Forster's inexperience in this realm shows: most action sequences -- from chases on asphalt, on the sea, and in the air, to the cluster of hand-to-hand fights -- showcase the fact that Forster has two, three, even four cameras rolling by flipping and slicing to death between them. These quick flashes aren't as seamless as he'd like them to be, instead turning into a scissored-up collage of images from the Bond film that we'd really like to see.

A dilemma arises that largely mirrors Christopher Nolan's issues with fight sequences in Batman Begins, being that the drama-minded Forster isn't aware that he needs to pull back a bit to let his audience soak in the action and, in essence, let them make heads or tails of what's going on, all instead of jamming frame after frame into their vision in hopes that it'll knock the result into their minds. Consequently, the rapid cuts and darting movements feel like the nauseous aftereffects of a spasm-inducing rollercoaster that looks like it'd be a hell of a lot more fun that it ends up being. It's all still gratifying in a very top-loaded, popcorn-munching kind of way, yet they don't showcase the same kind of addictive endurance that the rafter chase and the Venice scramble ensnare in Casino Royale.

It's obvious that Forster and regular cinematographer Roberto Schaefer shot well-designed and engaging sequences at their numerous locales in Italy, Bolivia, and Austria, which almost makes me wish that Quantum of Solace was about twenty minutes longer so that they'd have the chance to let this striking camerawork linger enough for us to really absorb it. Somewhere in these all-to-brief slivers of well-composed action is a strong espionage film filled with raw vengeance, containing the same grasp on interactive tension that Forster nails within his 100-minute dash through the Bond franchise. It's a quick sprint, too, one that could've easily benefited from more deliberate pacing and an emphatic, slower focus.

In this form, however, Quantum of Solace rarely steps above being an average, erratic cloak-and-dagger film. It oozes with lush style and slick performances, especially the ever-solidifying Daniel Craig as our new James Bond, but it can't help but fall short from the high expectations left at the end of Casino Royale. It's largely because of Forster's half-successful attempt to mold his directorial style to something out of his element, which shines a spotlight directly on his strengths and weaknesses. This is one of the rare times, maybe the first, where I wished that a piece of cinema did a few things more like a James Bond flick.


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