Monday, October 22, 2012

"Quantum of Solace" (2008)

Starring Daniel Craig, Olga Kurylenko and Mathieu Almaric
Written by Neal Purvis, Robert Wade, and Paul Haggis
Directed by Marc Forster
Rated PG-13 - Violence, language, sex
Running Time: 106 Minutes

Following immediately on from the events of "Casino Royale," "Quantum of Solace" opens as James Bond (Daniel Craig) is transporting Mr. White (Jesper Christensen) to be interrogated by MI6 agents, including M (Judi Dench) herself.  After Bond eludes White's agents, he's shocked to discover that White has people everywhere - including inside MI6, as one of their own agents is revealed as a traitor and tries to kill M.

Bond chases him down, but kills the man in the process.  M sends Bond to follow the agent's money trail, which takes him to a hired killer in Haiti.  Unfortunately, Bond kills him, too, and is forced to impersonate the man in order to learn more about his job. Bond meets Camille Montes (Olga Kurylenko), the lover of one Dominic Greene (Mathieu Almaric), a powerful businessman and philanthropist.  It seems Greene wants her dead, and she doesn't particularly have happy wishes for him in return.

Bond suspects that Greene is part of White's organization, and vows to dig deeper.  But M, frustrated with Bond's inability to bring back leads alive, cuts him off.  On his own, in need to help and contacts, Bond goes to a former ally, Rene Mathis (Giancarlo Giannini), and his friend in the CIA Felix Leiter (Jeffrey Wright), in order to discover Greene's plans and shut down the mysterious organization that seems one step ahead of MI6 at every turn.

"Quantum of Solace" is something of an anomaly in the Bond franchise.  To date, it's the only direct sequel to a previous film.  Though other films have referenced earlier adventures, usually with a wink and a nod, this is the first time a Bond film has actually continued the story from the previous.

Unfortunately, although it continues directly from "Casino Royale," it's a markedly lesser film.  If such a thing is possible, the movie features almost too much action, much of which is lost in shaky camera work and confusing editing, to cover up for the fact that the plot is rather slim.  The film runs a full 40 minutes shorter than "Casino Royale," and with so much action, is much slighter on character and story.

The film opens with a rollicking car chase through Italian seaside highways as Bond in his Aston Martin is chased by White's agents. Ultimately, this turns out to be the film's best action sequence.  No sooner are we past this and the opening credits than we are in another chase as Bond chases a traitorous MI6 agent on foot through Italy, then a few minutes later Bond is killing someone else in Haiti, then a few minutes after that there's a boat chase, and so on and so on.  In all the clutter, Bond's motivations for doing all this killing are mostly lost until later on.  It's very easy to forget that he's trying to find out who turned Vesper and get revenge after her death for the first half of the film, then the script starts to beat us over the head with repeated references to Bond "losing someone very important."

Bond is colder, quieter, here than he was in "Casino Royale," and rightly so after the trauma he sustained in that film. But the script gets so wrapped up in having him trot around the globe getting into one scrape after another that it forgets that we need a bit more than we're given about him as a character.  There are a few touching moments between Bond and Mathis, but "Quantum of Solace" feels like it needs a few more minutes of breathing room.  Some of the best scenes in the movie are conversations between Bond and M, and Craig and Dench work excellently together.

For a film with so much action, it's also a shame that so much of it isn't all that interesting.  Most of the fights are quick and brutal, and Craig shows off his Bond's skills as a brawler quite ably.  But the film's many action sequences suffer from director Forster's inability to keep his camera steady and confusing geography.  The boat chase in Haiti is nearly unintelligible as we have no idea where these boats are or what kind of route they're taking, it's all revving engines and crashing and splashing, all sound and fury but no substance.

There is a rather artful and impressive shootout at an opera in Austria that's very cool, it's one of the film's better sequences and it shows off something Forster tries to do several times in the film, which is cut the action parallel to things going on in the area around Bond's mayhem.  Note how many times he cuts to the crowd and horses during the foot chase in Italy.  Otherwise, "Quantum of Solace" is a very good looking film, taking Bond through a number of attractive locales.  The sets and locations are gorgeous; the interiors at MI6 are full of incredible high-tech gadgetry, there are plenty of scenic vistas, and the climax takes place in an intriguing desert hotel.

Overall, "Quantum of Solace" is enjoyable enough adventure for Bond, but it's lacking.  Some of the action is quite cool, but much of it is also rather confusing.  There's just not enough going on under the hood here, and Forster's direction saps the action.