Status: In theaters (opened 11/14/08)
Directed By: Marc Forster
Written By: Paul Haggis and Neal Purvis & Robert Wade
Cinematographer: Roberto Schaefer
Starring: Daniel Craig, Olga Kurylenko, Mathieu Amalric
I remember reading when Die Hard With a Vengeance came out that screenwriter Jonathan Hensleigh had originally written a standalone action movie called Simon Says, which was then adopted to fit in the character of John McClane and tie in his backstory in order to make it into the third Die Hard film. Quantum of Solace, the 22nd James Bond film, feels like it might have had a similar pedigree, although it does not. That is to say, this might as well not be a James Bond film, so little does it share with the other films in the franchise beyond the basic formula of “government agent fights international bad guys.” There’s not much to differentiate it from other recent thrillers that have become so in vogue in recent years (e.g., Body of Lies) except for style, and unfortunately director Marc Forster has chosen to go over the top in that department, to his film’s detriment.
This is supposed to be a direct sequel to 2006’s Casino Royale, though there is almost nothing in the plot that relates back to the previous installment, other than the fact that Bond (Daniel Craig) has suddenly lost—more or less— his libido, still mourning the death of his most recent love interest. The one exception to this character trait is a brief tryst with a diplomat named Miss Fields (Gemma Arterton), whose first name (Strawberry) we don’t learn until the end credits, for reasons unknown (I presume there was supposed to be a “Strawberry Fields” joke of some sort that got cut). I think this was an attempt at fitting into one of the traditions of the Bond franchise (that of Bond encountering—and usually bedding—women with silly, occasionally clever names), but it’s a really half-assed one if that’s the case. There’s also a return of the Mathis character from the previous film (Giancarlo Giannini), but it’s brief and unsatisfying.
The most interesting aspect of Quantum of Solace is the character of Camille (Olga Kurylenko), with whom Bond establishes a relationship that is very un-Bond-like: they partner with each other to foil the plans of Dominic Greene (Mathieu Amalric), a power-hungry environmentalist on the surface with diabolical schemes to control the natural resources of Bolivia for his own profit. Bond and Camille develop a rapport that feels more brother-and-sister than love interest, and indeed they function as partners in crime-fighting rather than romantics. There is an attempt to establish a dichotomy between Bond’s recent heartache and Camille’s backstory, but it feels very tacked-on in the sense that the characters’ immediate motivations and actions would be no different if these aspects of their stories were completely unknown. Nevertheless, the story works well enough to drive the action
Stylistically, Quantum of Solace oscillates between big-budget action spectacle (or perhaps a Bourne wanna-be, in an ironic twist) and film school experiment. Forster, along with editors Matt Chesse and Richard Pearson, play sophomoric games during a couple of the major action sequences, inter-cutting between the events that are driving the plot and overtly metaphoric yet unrelated ambient goings-on. There are ways to do this effectively; what is on display here is not one of them. Instead it just feels like an artificial injection of confusion, trying to add excitement that the primary action isn’t providing on its own. There is action here in spades, though—generic as it may be—and the global scope of the story (and the myriad exotic locales) keeps things interesting enough, while maintaining the modern Bond feel. It’s just that there’s not much to distinguish it from a non-Bond movie, and somehow that makes it not as intriguing as its contemporaries, despite their similarities.