Monday, June 22, 2009

A Quantum of Solace

The most substantial element in this 2008 film is the title, taken from an otherwise unrelated Ian Fleming short story. The plot here is one of revenge—James Bond’s quest for vengeance against the individual responsible for the death of his lover Vesper in the predecessor to this film, Casino Royale (2006). To say that this film lacks substance is not a complaint. This is an action film centered on exotic European and South American locales, constant travel and action and suspense, and the acting of Daniel Craig.

Let’s be clear: never has there been in the long series of films based on the Fleming novels a James Bond as persuasive, well-rounded, and enigmatic as Daniel Craig. He is the definitive James Bond. In Casino Royale he reinvented and resurrected the failing series. In A Quantum of Solace he carries it forward. Craig is an excellent actor, and the two scripts for him thus far have been effective vehicles for his talents. No predecessor—most decidedly including Sean Connery—is his equal. A Quantum of Solace is well made, beautifully photographed, tightly edited, aptly paced. If there is a weakness, it is the script, which is not as carefully or deeply developed as it was for Casino Royale, which was about the first assignment in the young James Bond’s career. But those weaknesses are lost in the energy and furor of the action.

Fleming’s Bond novels were premised on the intrigue of cold war between the United States and the Soviet Union. In the absence of that tension, the new Bond films focus on international crime syndicates, eco-terrorists, global criminals. In this film, the bad guy is stealing water and hording it in caverns beneath the Bolivian desert. He plans to sell it back to the Bolivian government at a high price. Various shots of suffering and thirsty Bolivian Indians make clear the damage he is doing. We know that he is evil, not only because of the sneer on his craven, rat-like face, not only because he helps overthrow governments hostile to his interests, but because he killed Bond’s woman.

If production values this high can be sustained, and if Daniel Craig remains interested, all the James Bond novels should be re-filmed.

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