Sunday, April 5, 2009

In Brief: QUANTUM OF SOLACE (2008)

Upon its release, Marc Forster's film was accused of sins of commission and omission. Some said it was too much like the Jason Bourne movies in its frantic pacing, and that it virtually plagiarized the Bournes in some scenes. I can't judge. The fact is, I haven't seen any of those films. What can I say? I'd always understood that Robert Ludlum's novels were crap, so why should I see films based on them? Even the mighty Paul Greenglass's participation in two of them hasn't swayed me. So I know them only by reputation and from the clips I've seen in advertising. But anyway, I wasn't aware that someone had patented fast-paced action or chase scenes. I'll grant that the chases in Quantum of Solace are almost too fast-paced, or at least too briskly edited. The film as a whole gallops along that way, coming in at well under two hours. Whether that's in imitation of Bourne I can't say.

But I suppose some critics also indict the attitude of the new James Bond film. They may feel that by going rogue as he seems to for most of the film Bond is imitating Bourne's adversarial relationship to his employers, but I don't know if this is really a new approach for Bond. If there's an attitude problem, this may have something to do with the perceived sin of omission, the film's alleged failure to be like a James Bond movie. That was the feeling of some reviewers, Roger Ebert most notably, and it's as if they were willing to give Martin Campbell's Casino Royale a pass as an interesting experiment or one-time-only variation on the usual theme, but expected Daniel Craig to be a proper Bond thereafter. I understand what these critics were looking for, but I don't know if the producers could give them the sort of film they seem to want without it looking like a great piece of camp to the rest of us. They wanted suaveness and more witticisms from Bond, and a villain larger than life, or at least larger than Mathieu Amalric's quite plausible corporate menace and the shadowy Quantum organization behind him. For all I know they wanted Dr. Evil, but for my part I tire quickly of the taunting and charismatic master villain who gets the good lines. And it should be clear now that Eon Productions isn't interested, for now, in doing that kind of Bond film.

But without any memory of the Bourne films to judge the new Bond against, I was impressed by the continuities with past episodes. This picture trots the globe as ardently as any, serving up plenty of pure touristy spectacle from the Palio race in Siena to an eccentric staging of Tosca. Quantum of Solace looks as lavish as you could want unless you're looking for Amalric's Dominic Greene to have a super-cool headquarters and a private army to match. Meanwhile, Craig can wear formal clothes as well as any Bond, though he still isn't the conoisseur of booze that he ought to be. In one scene he doesn't even know what he's drinking. Maybe he doesn't bed enough Bond girls by traditional standards, but there are still plenty for us to ogle. The introduction of Quantum as the modern equivalent of SPECTRE speaks for itself as a continuation of tradition.

Nevertheless, there's clearly a new attitude, a hard-boiledness, that's going to stick around a while. Perhaps this shows the influence of Paul Haggis, Clint Eastwood's protege and partner in purveying cinematic darkness, who co-wrote the script here as he did with Casino Royale. But the producers run the show on Bond, so this is what they want above all. You could not ask for a stronger visual statement of the new approach than the death of Strawberry Fields, the only character in the picture with one of those allegedly cute names, in darkest parody of a famous moment from Goldfinger.

It's the kiss of death from Mr. Oilfinger!

For some reason, the production seemed to be in a hurry this time, the studio crowing about getting Quantum into theaters a month earlier than previously planned. The film does look rushed, and is perhaps shorter than it should be. If people left asking why they should care about the Bolivian water supply, it was up to the filmmakers to take more time to make the stakes more meaningful for the casual viewer. Some cartoonish exaggeration might have been helpful here; I'm fairly certain an old school Bond film would have ended with that dam in the desert bursting and everyone imperiled by the flood that followed. Not that the actual climax was sedate or anything -- but I'm just saying.

Quantum of Solace shows the growing pains of the Bond series as the producers and their creative talent grope toward redefining their franchise for our time. For all that I think it was a good try and a solid action film. I don't watch the Bond films in a nostalgic mood unless I'm looking at old ones, so I didn't miss certain things that others did. I look forward to seeing the series continue to evolve, unless word of mouth frightens the bosses into chickening out.

No comments: