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Film Reviews: Wednesday, November 12, 2008
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Daniel Craig makes his way through an inferior Bond sequel, Quantum of Solace.
Quantum of Solace
Starring Daniel Craig and Olga Kurylenko. Directed by Marc Forster. Written by Paul Haggis, Neal Purvis, and Robert Wade. Rated PG-13.
Bond Issues

A grieving 007 isn’t nearly as much fun the second time around.

By KRISTIAN LIN

Two years ago the James Bond series was re-launched with a new star, Daniel Craig, and a back-to-basics attitude, and we all cheered. I wrote that it was nice for the Bond movies to be relevant again, and that thought came back to me as I walked into Quantum of Solace, the latest adventure. However, about halfway through I started to think a different thought: “Well, that didn’t last long.” This second film starring with Craig as 007 is better than the late-period Pierce Brosnan affairs. That’s not saying much, though, and after the series’ apparent rejuvenation, the disappointment of this entry is particularly deflating.
The story picks up shortly after the end of Casino Royale, after Bond’s beloved Vesper Lynd has been killed. The operative responsible for her death (Jesper Christensen), having been captured by Bond and placed under interrogation, cackles about a worldwide conspiracy shortly before proving its existence by getting himself assassinated. His information puts Bond on the trail of Dominic Greene (Mathieu Amalric), a businessman posing as an environmental philanthropist who’s secretly using his organization to undermine left-leaning Latin American governments — with the CIA’s blessing — so that he can install dictators and then extort them after they’re in power.
The novelty of Craig-as-Bond was always going to wear off at some point, but who knew it would be this soon? This isn’t entirely the actor’s fault — Bond’s still grieving over his loss, and his way of working out his grief is to snuff a string of people whom he’s only supposed to bring in for questioning. This development is fine as far as it goes. The unfortunate side effect, though, is that Bond comes off as a giant wet blanket when there’s no action going on, even while he’s seducing a comely redheaded British consulate employee (Gemma Arterton). Craig seems uncomfortable playing 007 with this type of burden, and he turns uncommunicative and glum. (This is strange if you remember how good he was playing a similarly tormented character four years ago in Enduring Love.) The Bond insouciance comes through only once, in a two-line exchange when he finds himself standing next to a hit man and engages the guy in friendly conversation before upending his motorcycle. Craig isn’t helped by being paired up with Olga Kurylenko as a Russian-Bolivian operative who’s seeking murderous revenge on Greene’s current pet dictator (Joaquín Cosio). The lithe Ukrainian leading lady is simply too lightweight to hold the screen with Craig.
This wouldn’t matter nearly as much if the movie’s action sequences were up to scratch. The director responsible is Marc Forster, who’s new to the series. This versatile helmer of such widely disparate movies as Monster’s Ball, Finding Neverland, and Stranger Than Fiction can do many things, but action simply isn’t one of them. The opening car chase (with carloads of thugs firing automatic weapons speeding after Bond’s Aston Martin on winding mountain roads) is so choppily edited that you can’t discern where the pursuing cars are, much less the strategy of the drivers. Forster tries to intercut a production of Tosca with a shootout in the lobby of the opera house where it’s being staged, and it comes out as a huge mess, with Puccini’s opera neither commenting meaningfully on the real-life violence or enhancing its visceral impact. Forster even botches it when he’s given a creative scenario, like the scene near the start with Bond fighting an enemy while they’re both dangling from the scaffolding and swinging from the ropes at an Italian building under renovation.
The film does have its share of incidental pleasures. Production designer Dennis Gassner creates a cool-looking and extremely flammable hotel in the middle of the desert for the climactic sequence. Amalric, the French actor who played the stroke victim in last year’s The Diving Bell and the Butterfly, makes for a nice leering Eurotrash villain. Also, there’s a clever fake-out in the plot. (Warning: minor spoiler alert.) Everyone assumes that Greene is hoarding oil, but it turns out he’s blackmailing banana republics by cutting off their sources of water. Control of water for drinking and farming is fast becoming a cause of crisis in Third World countries, and the movie deftly incorporates a tidbit of social commentary about that into the story.
Still, none of this is near enough to make Quantum of Solace into superior entertainment. Not only do the filmmakers fail at trying to make this superspy adventure into a character-driven piece; they also leach all the fun out of this expensive globe-hopping thriller. As another fictitious British secret agent would say, James Bond has lost his mojo. Now he has to find it again.


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