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The Secret World of 007
by Alastair Dougal
("From Sean Connery's debonair debut to Daniel Craig's new take on our classic favorite.")
"Quantum of Solace"
Okay, I've seen the film and I still can't make sense of the title. There's a quantum here but the only pity or consolation it deserves is for missing the bullseye. It's a good thing Bond has better aim.
It's not that some of what we expect from a new Bond release isn't on screen, but under Marc Forster's directorial hand, there's a distinct reduction to imitation. The initial sequence, for example, which we've come to anticipate will be a choreographic masterpiece creatively smarter, more death-defying and ingeniously different than the one that preceded it, is based entirely on the acrobatic chase across rooftops and construction cranes which got "Casino Royale" off with nothing less than awe. What we have here is hazardous and muscular enough and, through the agency of Craig's smooth toughness, Bond-like... but not quite worthy of a perfect martini.
This triggers the big chase alluded to above, ending in a clue that leads Bond to Port-au-Prince, Haiti and a search for the members of the mystery organization. Enter the Bond-girl, Camille (Olga Kurylenko), a ravishing exotic behind the wheel of a car bidding him to get in.
But, though posing as an ally, Bond discovers her mission to finish him off before she has a chance to do it. Instead of exacting revenge, he instead obliges the dark beauty to drop him off, quite alive, and then follows her to the fenced and secured dockside warehouse of Dominic Greene (Mathieu Amalric, "The Diving Bell and the Butterfly"), the crooked, bug-eyed CEO of Greene Planet, an eco-front for evil enterprise and a member of Quantum.
Bond watches as she enters the compound and takes up with Greene, then waits on the sidelines as Greene does business with big ugly Bolivian general, Medrano (Joaquin Cosio). Being traded are funds for Medrano's planned military overthrow in exchange for Greene's owenership of a rare lake in the Bolivian desert. Then, as in a gesture of goodwill between businessmen, Greene seems to be handing Camille off to the lustful thug and is taken aboard his skiff.
What ensues is a boat chase, a fusillade of bullets, an unwanted rescue. Camille maintains a distance, unaffected by the Bond super-charm. As it turns out, her real mission is to use Greene as a way to get to the fat general to whom she owes personal payback.
007 now follows Greene to Austria where he engages in a cleverly masked conference embedded in a raucous, high-level party for elites. Only, the members aren't there to revel. With high-tech mics and earphones that clandestinely connect them, they invisibly discuss and devise strategy. But Bond catches on to the scheme by acquiring a set of devices from an expendable participant and listening in. With his super-cell phone, he photographs them for M, and the company's tech geniuses, perhaps conpensating for M's (Bond's handler and erstwhile mother hen) irritation at his habit of killing off bad guys before they can be grilled for intel.
Now armed with identities, he consults his old ally Rene Mathis (Giancarlo Giannini) for assistance in making contacts and penetrating the walls. Mathis' willingness to help Bond is taken at his personal endangerment but his presence contributes added life to the enterprise, though it's not much more effective in the end as the flow of movie blood.
Bond faces more lead than a shooting range target but minus the amusement factor. Which figures, since there's so little one-upmanship in the creative department--nothing at all to match the flashback to 007's origin in the preceding episode, for example. Remember the mesmerizing revelation of that?
Here, he doesn't even get to bed the girl, and doesn't try--as though model Kuryenko had it that way in her contract. He does, however, preserve the heterosexual masculine side of his make-up with a nice tryst with the delicious MI6 girl (Gemma Arterton) who comes to return him to home base. This striking beauty finally injects the film with a welcome dose of hedonism and humor. But the fix, though needed, is too little, too late.
Who, in Bond's world, wants so much of M? I seem to remember this character appearing twice: once in the beginning for the assignment and once in an ironic, peace-making wrap-up. The presence of the artist's contract is felt again, as a Judi Dench demands her time on the screen, to the dissipation of other, valued, components. Where, for example, are the clever gadgets that turn the tide from certain death to slippery salvation? Who said screenwriting is easy?
Woefully, director Marc Forster's ("Stranger Than Fiction," "Finding Neverland") writing team of Paul Haggis, Neal Purvis and Robert Wade, all of whom contributed to "Casino Royale," just doesn't seem up to it this time out. With Bond, It's not just action and escapes!
Maybe it's all those contractual requirements, but somewhere in their process they seemed to have lost sight of the special qualities of their magnificent icon of spycraft and superiority that's kept him alive and going strong through 21 episodes--and, have kept us vividly remembering the highlights of each and every one of them and ensuring our return for more. My advice? Forget the Judi Dench factor. Put M back in her box.
This one however (number 22), will be remembered for the missing ingredients of the cocktail we know as Bond, and for the quantum of special entertainment it only partially provides us. The blame is probably Forster's.
~~ Jules Brenner