Saturday, June 20, 2009

"You look like hell"

QUANTUM OF SOLACE (2008)

 Olga Kurylenko is a revelation in the new Bond.

MARTIN Campbell’s reboot of the 007 phenomenon - CASINO ROYALE (2006) - not only redefined the series but gained international praise that the Bond films had never enjoyed even in their 1960s heyday. Its direct sequel, Marc Forster’s QUANTUM OF SOLACE, deeply divided fans and critics alike, and carries on the story seemingly minutes later, with the elusive Mr White (Jesper Christensen) now in the boot of Bond (Daniel Craig)’s Aston Martin. It’s a high-speed, hyper-edited opening typical of the whole film; with a total running time of just over one hundred minutes, it moves with insulting velocity across Italy, Haiti, Austria and Bolivia; but consider how many Bonds - including Campbell’s film - that run out of steam as they drag themselves drunkenly across the two hour mark.

In Haiti, Bond observes pouting Camille (Olga Kurylenko) - actually a Bolivian agent - and boyfriend Dominic Greene (Mathieu Amalric), a petulant eco-criminal busily finessing the oil and water reserves of South America for his own gain under the manipulation of his overlords, the Quantum organisation. At the inception of the cinematic Bond, successive villains were revealed to be minions to Ernst Stavro Blofeld, head of Spectre. But with the rights to Spectre currently under dispute, their place is taken by the mysterious Quantum, who can even infiltrate to the level of M (Judi Dench)’s private bodyguard. We learn nothing of the organisation, yet there is a complication - hinted at in the novel Thunderball (1961) - that Spectre is a subcontractor for the British Secret Service and the CIA. This notion that M’s superiors and allies are as likely to back Quantum as oppose it is underpinned by world-weary spy Mathis (Giancarlo Giannini), when he states, “When one’s young, it seems very easy to distinguish between right and wrong. As one gets older, it becomes more difficult.”

Gemma Arterton offers Daniel Craig his only sex scene.

Ian Fleming wrote about pain, fear, and the combination of courage and endurance. That is very much what we see in Craig’s Bond. Craig’s engaging performance is the glue that holds the film together; he's even more intense in this revenge-based tale, traumatised almost into a dream state over the betrayal of Vesper in the last instalment, motivating a morose martini binge which seem to provide Bond with the recipe for dulling his feelings while still keeping his reflexes sharp. The closest to any tenderness displayed by Bond is in the scene where he hugs a dying Mathis before he disposes of his corpse in a dumpster (“He wouldn’t care.”) Kurylenko also greatly impresses, not only with her smouldering beauty, but with the ability to hold an onscreen presence with Craig. Camille, having had her family raped and burnt alive by a deposed Bolivian dictator, also has her mind on retaliation; Kurylenko’s scarred heroine is so fixed on murdering her enemy that it’s possible she technically doesn’t even count as a Bond Girl. As the main villain, Polanskiesque Amairic is erudite, charming but ultimately a physical weakling, his smirk bringing a wickedly childish spite to this role. Greene is an interesting foil but underwritten, never really getting the chance to have the kind of show-stopping scene his predecessors have enjoyed, even within the climax set in an Adamesque Bolivian desert hotel.

The overall scheme by Greene may not be very compelling (water rights in Bolivia, anyone?), and there is no development arc to any of the characters, but QUANTUM OF SOLACE is so refreshing because it departs from many conventions: it is a Bond Film, rather than a Bond Movie. There is no introduction of “Bond, James Bond,” no gadgets, cringe worthy quips or scenic padding, nor does he sleep with the leading lady (instead, there's a just-for-fun fling with MI6 emissary Ms Fields (Gemma Arterton), who enters in an impossible trenchcoat and exits in a surrealistic homage to Shirley Eaton). But QUANTUM OF SOLACE is cursed by the worst theme ever in the Bond canon - a first-ever duet - teaming Jack White and Alicia Keys for Another Way to Die. This makes Madonna’s song for DIE ANOTHER DAY (2002) seem like Goldfinger, as the duo screech like banshees through inane lyrics and embarrassing disjointment.