Sunday, November 09, 2008

QUANTUM OF SOLACE: MOVIE REVIEW

Cast: Daniel Craig, Mathieu Amalric, Olga Kurylenko, Dame Judi Dench
Director: Marc Forster
Runtime:
Rating: ***1/2
Genre: Action, Thriller

        Look, there’s no point to movies in the first place if all we seek down from that auditorium is to provide us with a product that fulfills most or all of a set of preconceived criteria. I am listening to reviews, am listening to opinions, and they claim they are disappointed with Quantum of Solace because there’re no gadgets (in other words deus ex machina), there’s no “Its Bond, James Bond” (though there’re some super one-liners), and that Bond gets his suit rumpled and that he bleeds. I’m finding that question being raised from quite a few corners – Is this Bond? It is a question that is borne out of a mindset that is disappointed because a film doesn’t adhere to some commonly accepted checklist. Believe me when I say this, and I mean here no offence to anyone, that this is simply a wrong way to enter the movies. Movies ought to be looked at for what they are and not to be judged for what you want them to be. Pure and simple.
        Now, then, is this James Bond?
        As I have asked for quite a long time now, what was James Bond? Was he even a character, or was he a set of attributes that moved along in an uneasy paradoxical relationship to each other and oblivious to the other’s presence. The Bond movies of yore probably weren’t aware of the formulaic path they treaded, and the suave cold blooded spy wasn’t supposed to be cold blooded, I guess. He was just a hero who would finish of the bad guys, and wouldn’t feel nothing because one never felt nothing when they killed bad people then. Killing bad guys was the good thing to do. Those films had wafer thin morality that was more simplistic than black and white. And that is why they ended up being mindless fun. And fun only for a short while, before you couldn’t watch a Bond film.
        Pierce Brosnan entered with Goldeneye, in a franchisee reinvigoration of sorts, and I remember Roger Ebert’s review when he said it was the first film that actually and with great pride acknowledged its unabashed slavishness to the Bond formula. He said it was the first Bond film that was self aware, and that acknowledged the sadness of its hero.
        With Casino Royale, and now Quantum of Solace, the Bond movies have finally completed what I believe was their mission with the franchisee reboot – to charter the territory that made Bond the cold blooded bastard who wouldn’t flinch before loading lead into someone point blank. These are films that are trying to break into the character and trying to decipher what makes this guy such a paradox. And in the process, they’re at once making him a real flesh and blood character and a larger than life superhero. It is a tough ask, and in this climate where Jason Bourne has all but stamped his authority as the premier spy of our times, it requires someone to take the tough decisions. That is why I believe it is important to juxtapose these two films, and that is for two very important reasons – one because of the significant departure in tone in the latter, and two, Quantum of Solace doesn’t have to so much live up to the first twenty Bond films as it has to Casino Royale.
        So, my answer is this. And with an overwhelming yes I say, this is James Bond. This is the Bond I have been wanting for since the day I saw From Russia with Love. And he doesn’t have to spell out his name to prove it. You might as well wipe the slate clean. And that is because for the first time in my acquaintance with James Bond, I’m getting to know a person rather than hitting a blank screen that is all exterior and zero on the interior.
        Quantum of Solace picks up straight where Casino Royale left us, and puts us dead smack in the middle of action. To be more precise, in the middle of a car chase, as Bond’s Aston Martin is being chased by an Alfa Romeo as they speed through the roads of Italy. The prized cargo in Bond’s vehicle, as you would have guess till now, is Mr. White (Jesper Christensen) and he reveals there’s an organization that has crept into the crevices of every major organization of the world. As they so often say in the movies, and here too, they have people everywhere. And if you ridicule the line as a cliché, you might be committing the same mistake that M (Dame Judi Dench) does. It is a secretive organization, mind you, and it nobody down at MI6 even has the slightest idea about its existence.
        So you might think here that finding as much as the tentacles of such a secretive organization with such greatly sinister motives would need some real spectacular effort. And herein lay the fundamental problem with Quantum of Solace. The hastily concocted plot, and the resultant script stink, as if they are remnants of one of those Roger Moore Bond films. It is supremely mechanical, and Bond and co. find it so ridiculously simple to unravel clues that you might wonder if the intelligence fraternity is a bunch of blind overpaid idiots for not having locating such blatant a threat to the world. All that the bad guy Dominic Greene (Amalric) could have done worse is to finance a new TV channel and indulge in propaganda. Speaking of which I feel obliged to lend a note of appreciation for Amalric who is superb. And it is all in his searching eyes.
        Back again with the script, one thing leads to another as if it is a line of bicycles in a stand waiting to be given the slightest push. Their motives ought to have been left for a sequel, or it should have been a long film like The Dark Knight where things unravel relentlessly and surprisingly. 100 minutes for such a plot is simply too less to be fleshed out to let audiences feel the heat. It is not long before Bond not only manages to locate the head of the organization, i.e. the bad guy, but also find out his secret motive. And when I found out what it was I hung my head in great despair.
        I believe there’s a deeper reason to this problem that plagues Quantum of Solace. And that is that it is not too concerned with the plot elements as it is with the character. It is desperate to portray, rather than measure, the depths of his rage and the kind of cold blooded morality he would eventually live by. That is how it ends up just like its character – cold, lean and mean. There’s one action sequence after another, and they are strung together so densely you might not even care after a while. Not that the action sequences are spectacular either. Rather, they’re quite predictable, and there’s a grit missing from it that very much was a part of its predecessor. The editing sometimes is confusing which might lead you to lose your bearings in the set pieces, and neither are they shot particularly well so as to allow you to map them out with a involving degree of clarity. This film isn’t organic, and it feels like a strange uneasy ride of a film that intends to be driven by its character but is unfortunately seated in a car with only automatic drive. The real world doesn’t dissolve fully into that broad framework of the Bond canon, and that is because it just isn’t given enough time. It is an efficient, involving film, but had it been fleshed out to its fullest, it might have been quite easily the best Bond adventure of all time.
        And I say this, and say this again, that Quantum of Solace is a good entertaining film. It is, if my memory serves me well, the first entry to the canon that acknowledges the moral ambiguity of the world it deals with. The CIA and the MI6 aren’t exactly a happy couple, and when it comes to a conflict of interest, there might be a crack here and there. Jeffrey Wright lends great wit and a great presence to Felix Leiter. M, portrayed ever so powerfully by Dame Judi Dench, does suspect that Bond might have defected, that he might very well be a rogue agent. The relationship between them is one of the great features of the film. There’s so much happening in it, and it is so dense, that it is almost criminal not to give it at least another 50 minutes. The way I see it, the new Bond isn’t about casually and often unintentionally hinting down at a whole lot of themes, but actually getting dirty in the mud. And then coming out of it even colder and deadlier than before. When the female lead Camille is trapped inside a burning house and her own personal horrors, look at what James Bond is about to do had a window of opportunity not presented itself. You will understand what the man is capable of.
        And that is where and that is how Quantum of Solace shines. Not as a whole but much like its name, in its quanta. And the secret to it is Daniel Craig, who might very well be the best Bond of them all. He is a dedicated actor, and it shows in the way he performs his own stunts. There’s a steely resolve to his blank stare that I am not sure I have seen anywhere else. The lips are sealed and the eyes do not offer much by the way of emotion. It is a great performance by an actor who understands the character, and as Roger Ebert says here, he is more analytical about Bond than the other Bonds. His portrayal draws inspiration from Ian Fleming’s books more than anywhere else. Roger Ebert uses a great word to describe his version of Bond, one that might describe Jason Bourne too, and that word would be coiled. I think these two films brought and quenched his rage and tamed the beast inside. And since it is now on a tight leash, I believe the next Bond adventure will see the best of the character. In the final moments Bond walks into the cold, into the dark, and I believe when we see him the next time it will be in an altogether different light. And then, he will be Bond. James Bond. As never before. So ruthless and professional you might have to say to yourself – be careful what you wish for.


Note: Do read Ebert’s fascinating essay. The link is below.
http://rogerebert.suntimes.com/apps/pbcs.dll/article?AID=/20081105/PEOPLE/811059962

1 comment:

srikanth said...

Yes, Even I'm fed up with all the people saying (even the once who've not heard of Connery, Lazenby, Moore and Dalton) "Ah, they don't make movies like that anymore", "Ah, no gadgets, No Q, NO this no that" and when they are given all this load of cliches they say "yawn, another typical Bond."

Good to see at least one review in harmony with my own.