Saturday, November 15, 2008
QUANTUM OF SOLACE
OK, so I'm a James Bond fan. Have been since I was a kid. They've varied in quality, sometimes quite remarkable, sometimes almost painful.
I loved, loved, LOVED the last film, CASINO ROYALE. It had just the right mixture of action, intrigue, suspense, and character development to absolutely thrill me. I saw it three times in theaters. I pre-ordered the DVD from Amazon...and am now kicking myself since the Special Edition just came out.
I was quite interested to see where they went with the next one. I admit....I groaned, loudly, when I heard the announced title. Good grief, not QUANTUM OF SOLACE!!!! For those who don't know, it's one of Ian Fleming's short stories about Bond, actually quite a good one but devoid of any real action or intrigue; it's basically Bond hearing a story about a dysfunctional marriage and pondering how normal life can be more dramatic than his own. (The story uses the phrase to indicate a tiny amount of comfort.)
But c'mon...using that for a title? In this day and age? Holy crap. What the hell were they thinking? Some of my fears about public reaction to it were justified, as it seems most of the public who weren't fans of the literary Bond either had no idea what it meant, or thought the movie would deal with space travel or time travel (thanks a lot, QUANTUM LEAP), and critics used terms like "forbidding" and "pretentious" when describing the title.
Still, I hoped the movie would be good. I really did. I wanted to like it.
But alas. I am SO disappointed by QOS.
There's lots of action, to be sure, but most of the action scenes are so over-edited that it's hard to keep track of what's going on, or who's doing what to who. In the opening chase scene, for instance, Bond's car loses a door, and I have no idea how, because the editing is so frantic that it's almost impossible to make out. This has been pointed out by many critics and fans, and I went in feeling actually fairly skeptical that it could be so bad...and it was. It was just all wrong.
I guess some of the blame for that can be laid on the shoulders of director Marc Forster, who has never directed an action film before. Yup. He's good when it comes to exploring emotions and relationships (I thought his work with FINDING NEVERLAND was exceptional), but he was so out of his element with a Bond film. He seemed to be aping the style of the MATRIX films (which I detest, btw), and the Bourne series (which I think are OK) with the shakycam work and the frenetic editing. He often seems to be afraid of pulling back and just letting the camera sit and watch, so we can see for ourselves what's going on.
The plot is OK...Dominic Greene, who hides behind a facade of environmental charity, is really part of a vast criminal network called Quantum, and is plotting to seize control of Bolivia's water supply and reap billions. Really, not all that bad a plot, esp. when you consider the concern in the scientific community about a potential water crisis in the real world, with parts of the world potentially becoming uninhabitable due to water shortages. It's a little spooky. But the film fails to focus enough on the plot; it's really secondary to the real plot. Bond is out for revenge on the criminal network that deceived the woman he loved in the last film, and drove her to commit suicide.
Now, I thought, since they called it QUANTUM OF SOLACE, we'd get some real exploration of Bond's feelings as he went after the villains. There is some, I'll admit...but not enough. It often seems perfunctory, especially coming from someone like Marc Forster. That sort of thing is his bread and butter; he SHOULD have done better with it.
The REAL emotional link in this film is the prickly relationship between Bond and his boss M, negotiating their trust for each other and dependence on each other. In fact, a much more appropriate title would have been A MATTER OF TRUST or something along those lines, as that's really as much a theme in this film as Bond's search for comfort. Early in the film, M is betrayed by her own bodyguard, and is angry over her trusting a traitor, even though there was no reason to doubt him, as they find out. M doesn't trust the CIA. Bond gives trust in Mathis. The CIA doesn't trust Bond. There's even issues of trust among the villains. It's everywhere in this film, and deserved more playing up than what it got. Even the film's final scene is more about trust than solace.
There are some good parts. The scene at the performance of Tosca, where Bond eavesdrops on a conference of Quantum officials, works well. There are flashes of nice scenery in Italy and Bolivia, although they're not used to best advantage. I did like the final bit with Bond confronting Vesper's lover Yusuf, who had played her and abused her trust. (See? Trust again!) Agent Fields' tripping of a henchman, followed by a wide-eyed "So sorry!" The imagery in the opening credits scene is often quite clever.
But when it goes wrong, it goes very wrong. There's a lot more that's wrong. The horrible theme song from Jack White and Alicia Keys. A henchman who's more of a buffoon than a menace. A confrontation between Bond and Greene that lacks any real heft or impact. Gemma Arterton's negligible role as Agent Fields (we never actually hear her first name, but she's listed as "Strawberry Fields" in the credits, which had my friends gagging). A few overobvious homages to past films, that started to seem forced and clumsy. Bond's inexplicable ability to overhear a conversation several hundred yards away (the prelude to the big boat chase in Haiti...how the hell did he know what Greene had planned for Camille?) And the absence of the phrase "quantum of solace" from the film, and an accompanying explanation, that would help clue audiences in as to what the hell it all means.
In fact...a bit of trivia...the title was not settled on until the film had been shooting for a week or so. Not long after that we heard that the evil organization was called Quantum. Ah ha, I said, they must have named that after they figured out the title. No no no, said some other Bond fans, they had that figured out all along, really! But in the movie, the organization is not referred to as "Quantum" until almost the end...in fact, that's the first time we heard the word used in the movie at all. Even if they had named it before choosing the title, it really looks like it was a last minute piece of retrofitting.
Well, I'm hoping the next one will be better. Ever since they rebooted the series with CASINO ROYALE, I've expected a few missteps and miscalculations as they find their way and redefine the series. I don't miss some of the slapstick comedy or overabundance of gadgets or cheesy one-liners that had come to dominate the series and turn it into a parody of itself. I do kinda miss the old opening gunbarrel visual, the presence of Moneypenny and Q (but please, don't bring back John Cleese, I hated him as Q), and some other bits, and I hope they come along. But I really think they lost their way somewhat with this film. It's not quite as bad as some reviews make it out to be (MOONRAKER, DIE ANOTHER DAY, YOU ONLY LIVE TWICE and LIVE AND LET DIE are the worst of the Bonds in my view, and QOS is better than them), but it's most definitely not a brilliant piece of art or the greatest Bond film ever. It's too confused and unfocused, the work of a director out of his element. Let's hope they fix what went wrong and get things back on track with the next film.