Sunday, November 30, 2008

Shaken, Stirred, and Still Sexy

Quantum of Solace
Directed by Marc Forster
Starring: Daniel Craig, Olga Kurylenko, Mathieu Amalric, Judi Dench, Giancarlo Giannini, Gemma Arterton
Grade: B

Defiance may still represent a worthy 2008 farewell for Daniel Craig but it also plays a key role in his more renowned blockbuster, a second outing as James Bond, and the franchise's 22nd offering Quantum of Solace. While, prior to 2006's Casino Royale, many die-hard 007 fans were left outraged and panicked at the appointment of Craig in the part, the success of his Bond remains a rather double-edged sword. This man is packed with attitude, charisma, a ruthless edge that's much wilder than Connery, Moore et al. but achieves impact through a relative abandonment of the grace of his predecessors in favour of coarse, arrogant necessity. For some it may be a bitter pill to swallow but it's interesting how this man has shaped Bond, changed the nature of his world, and sought to make his filmmakers obedient recipients to his call. Daniel Craig didn't edit this film but you feel like every burst of action, chase sequence, explosion, is somehow a product of the volatility he has brought to James Bond.

Quantum of Solace doesn't do any backtracking from the path Casino Royale so brusquely lain, and neither does it make any attempt to create a tale as epic or glamorous. Instead it modestly builds upon Casino, beginning with the Bond tradition of a high-speed chase to represent the organisation's chasing of leads. But as soon as that's done we get a development; M is nearly killed by one of her own personal bodyguards, and we quickly learn that there's a major criminal organisation that the British Secret Service know hardly anything about. This admission, as it turns out, is a lot bigger than it at first appears. Solace is the picking up of the pieces, the entrails of the storm, the consolidation, and as such the leads are sparse and there isn't really a clear sense of the scope of the criminality Bond is up against.

Resultantly Solace can sometimes feel stingy and slight in its compactness, giving us a very lineated systematic storyline and barely ensuring that there's enough to think about. But the quality of its troublesome collection of characters; from vengeful Bond girl Camille (Ukrainian Actress Olga Kurylenko playing a Bolivian of all things), to Swept Away's Giancarlo Giannini returning to reprise his Casino role (this time on the side of good), and most notably Mathieu Amalric's excellent turn as a villainous third-world exploit artist, provide a more than hefty sense of notoriety for Craig to digest and decode.

At just under two hours this particular 007 installment feels like a bit of an excursion, an epilogue. The events of Casino has clearly left Bond's heart and pride sorely tested, and this only forces him to become more immersed in his work. But the problem is that his task is a vague and unfocused one. This film is cohesive but what it's detailing definitely is not. Quantum of Solace reads as a preachy and pedantic title yet emerges as pretty apt -- not because the film is as firm and definite as its name (it simply isn't) but because the solace is the main element to extract from it. James Bond is alive; sexually charged, laying the smackdown, doing his job even when his employers would prefer otherwise, shaken and stirred. But make no mistake, this man is recovering, and Quantum is just the sort of firecracking stop-gap he needs.

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