Tuesday, March 24, 2009

The New Bond : Spotlight on Quantum of Solace

An interesting thing happened last year when Quantum Of Solace arrived in theaters: it was critically trashed.  Popular opinion, on the other hand, was favorable and now that it's available on DVD I would encourage you to take a second look.  Those of you who know me are well aware that I do not take Bond lightly.  It's hard work being entertaining and nobody knows this more than the Producers of the James Bond franchise.    This Bond, the 22nd, represents Bond's 47th year in cinemas -- making 007 the longest running series in film history by a long shot.

For many,  the previous entry (Casino Royale) represented the freshest take on the character since Connery made it his own in From Russia With Love and Goldfinger -- and deservedly so.  Daniel Craig redefined the role by going back to the roots of the character in Ian Fleming's novel and connecting with the idea that Bond's suave exterior is a front to disguise the brute animal, the "blunt instrument" as M calls him.  Bond's uncanny grace under pressure and his knowledge of the finer things have always been at the core of his appeal, but Craig is the first actor to make us understand that 007's stylish exterior is a carefully constructed mask to hide behind.  His feelings for the women he beds and the enemies he kills are more complicated than his suave persona would let on.  

Quantum Of Solace picks up minutes after Casino Royale leaves off and instantly hurtles us into a visceral, high-speed car chase.  Bond is on a mission to avenge the death of Vesper Lynd, his lover who tragically betrayed him at the end of the last film.  His mission finds him pursuing a mysterious organization called Quantum that takes him from Sienna, Italy to London, to Port Au Prince, Haiti and ultimately Bolivia.  Quantum, like the SPECTRE of the Connery era, is a secret organization with powerful, high-ranking, operatives working in various government agencies around the world.  So clever are they at covering their tracks, that initially Bond finds himself going undercover to infiltrate their ranks, without even knowing who he's supposed to be impersonating.  

On his journey, Bond meets Camille (Olga Kurylenko), who is more than just a pretty face.  Like Vesper, she is a canny heroine who we learn is out for some vengeance of her own.  She introduces Bond to Dominic Greene (Mathieu Amalric), the sinister tycoon who is also the slippery mastermind behind Quantum's latest scheme.  A scheme that implicates the U.S. government, providing ample opportunity for fireworks between Bond and series regular Felix Leiter (played to perfection by Geoffrey Wright).  

Compared to the exhaustive character development of the previous film it is easy to overlook how much character this new film actually has.  But, for true aficionados of the series there are many engaging touches, including an especially prominent role for Judi Dench's M, a surprise twist in which the Americans actually turn against Bond and a wrenching death scene where Bond loses someone very close to him.  The key to appreciating the film is in the close-ups. 

Mark Forster's frenetic direction has invited unfavorable comparison to the Bourne trilogy -- the critical assumption being that the wildly imaginative action sequences somehow diminish the subtler innovations of Casino Royale.  But, writers Paul Haggis, Neil Purvis and Robert Wade, continue to push 007 in a new direction.  The only difference here is that they do it organically, revealing new layers of his psyche through action rather than exposition and Forster is the right director to bring it off.  His close-ups never let us lose sight of the characters amidst the carnage -- an innovation few modern directors have the patience to cultivate.  Quantum of Solace is the best action movie of last year and one of the best of the franchise.  It delivers more than a quantum of satisfaction.