Quantum of Solace – how’s it looking 5 years later (or this just became my favourite…)

OK, so in the interests of full disclosure upfront;

1) I am a James Bond fan. Moreover, I’m a James Bond purist in the sense that I will always defer to the character created by Ian Fleming as the reference point, and not the cinematic Bond.

2) As a result of #1, my tastes are somewhat different to others. My favourite Bond film is the 1969 On Her Majesty’s Secret Service (which seems to be the official fanclub’s favourite too), followed by 1989’s Licence to Kill (I don’t understand how Daniel Craig’s Bond gets so much praise and this film, which is a proto-Craig film, gets so much scorn). Previously the third placed film was Casino Royale, but this has changed.

3) As a result of #1, pt II – my favourite Bonds tend to be Timothy Dalton or Daniel Craig, depending on the mood. I can’t stand Roger Moore; Sean Connery was great in the first two films but started to increasingly dial it in; I wish Pierce Brosnan had been able to play the Bond he wanted to play, and Lazenby could have been great had he not resigned after one film.

4) Yes, ok, fine, so I’m basically a 007 hipster. Whatever.

I recently discovered Nerdist.com’s James Bonding podcast. So tragic is my fandom that I’ve tweeted once and resisted the urge to tweet a dozen times over factual errors in the trivia they quote. Help. Anyway, I had a soft spot for Quantum of Solace despite not really liking it on first viewing (subsequent viewings softened my opinion) and their podcast on that film made me go back and review it.

(I will write up some of the podcasts I listen to shortly; I’ve neglected this blog so very horribly. It’ll grow up to hate me, I’m sure. But since I can’t read on my journey to work podcasts have become a life saver)

Quantum of Solace has overtaken Casino Royale to be my favourite Daniel Craig Bond film. Skyfall is pretty and all but the plot is astonishingly stupid as is the villain’s omniscient timing.

So why QoS? It’s regarded as dour and too serious, missing the light hearted quips that other films had. OK, let’s touch on this. The quips are a cinematic invention, used to soften the blow of what was, in 1962-65, very violent cinema. Case in point – Goldfinger (1964). Bond electrocutes a man in a bathtub (to be fair, it wasn’t just Bond being a dick; the guy did try and kill him) and leaves the room muttering “shocking. Positively shocking”. The quip is designed to mitigate the impact of what you just saw; you let our a sigh of relief, laugh, and don’t dwell. Easy.

Later, when it was clear Roger Moore wasn’t able to carry off Bond’s menace (watch him try in The Man With the Golden Gun; it’s pitiful) they made the quips and one-liners part of his character. It’s not really a 007 thing; it’s something Connery did out of necessity and with regards to the cultural norms of the time, and Moore carried over because it suited him.

For those who forgot the plot of QoS, it begins maybe 2 hrs after Bond shot Mr White in the leg at his Lake Como home on the edge of Lake Garda. Bond’s slate grey Aston Martin DBS V12 (goddam the car sounds sexy in this scene) is pursued by two Alfa Romeo 159s. Bond dispatches them, and arrived in Siena (which I think it what, 3hrs drive from Garda?) to get Mr White out of the boot. White is a member of Quantum, a SPECTRE-like organisation who were responsible for the death of Vesper Lynd from Casino Royale. Bond tracks Quantum to Dominic Greene, played with the kind of jealous, petty insecurity one loves to hate by French actor Matthieu Almaric (who was also with Daniel Craig in Munich). Greene’s utilities company is a front for a plan to monopolise Bolivia’s water supply and give Quantum increased control over the world.

Quantum works well as a new SPECTRE (the SPecial Executive for Counter-intelligence,  Terrorism, Revenge and Extortion). SPECTRE was dropped from the films following a lawsuit stemming from Thunderball and Kevin McClory’s input to a storyline; Wikipedia has a good article on this. But the idea of an organisation who use economic power over physical power to control matters is compelling, very modern and very Bond-esque.

The title, however, comes from a short story in the For Your Eyes Only collection. Bond attends a dinner in Nassau, where he remarks to his host that if he ever were to marry, it would have to be to an air hostess (this is before he married Tracy in OHMSS). The governor tells him of the story of a civil servant, Philip Masters, who also married an air hostess. They lived in Bermuda and she embarked on an open affair with the eldest son of a rich Bermudan family. Incensed and hurt, Masters work goes to hell and so does his health. Given an assignment in Washington to distract him, he returns to the Bahamas later and segregates the house into two portions where they bot reside, free of interference from the other. Eventually Masters returns to London, leaving his wife stranded and with unpaid debts; an act he couldn’t have performed months earlier. The Governor explains to Bond that when the quantum of solace in a relationship drops to zero,  “When all kindness has gone, when one person obviously and sincerely doesn’t care if the other is alive or dead, then it’s just no good”.

This is adapted to the film in the sense that Bond lost that quantum of solace. Vesper died and Bond, finding out he’d been betrayed, lost any respect for her and in effect, any caring if he lived or died. He felt Vesper, more crucially, didn’t respect him. It takes Mathis’ death, and the confession Bond extracts from Yusef Kabira at the end, for Bond to realise Vesper did love and respect him.

It’s true that this is a grimmer film. It’s true that it’s less fantastical than the others, and that Craig spends a lot of the film just getting through things. In that, he’s acting the shit out of this role, playing a Bond whose attempts to cover up the extend of his depression and fragility go further to extremes the more he’s pushed, and become paper thin before he figures out how to achieve that quantum of solace. Craig is at his best here, playing Bond like nobody has done before, even Tim Dalton.

Tosca opera scene.

There are other elements to love; the Tosca set in Bregenz is an amazing, astonishing sight to behold. The four major action set pieces are tied thematically to the four elements; the car chase at the beginning is earth (arguably so is the chase across the rooftops of Siena, with their terra cotta tiles and earth tones on display). The boat chase in Haiti is water; the fight with the DC3 is air. And finally, the assault on the hotel in the Bolivian desert is fire.

The song is astonishingly fucking awful. But the score? Excellent. David Arnold should have remained the composer – Thomas Newman might have done those magical piano queues in American Beauty (sampled by Jakkata in the song “American Dream”) but he didn’t capture the story as well as David Arnold does.

Hell, Olga Kurylenko’s Camille is a much more progressive Bond girl than we’re used to. Unlike the rest, who go to bed with Bond in the film, she never does. Her quest for revenge mirrors Bonds, but it drives a mentoring and protective side out in him. Bond counsels Camille on how to kill someone:

The training will tell you that when the adrenaline kicks in, you should compensate. But part of you’d not going to believe the training, because this kill is personal. Take a deep breath. You only need one shot. Make it count.”

You get the sense he knows she’ll get closure before he does. Camille does, and the beauty of their relationship is shown when she is paralysed with fear and Bond prepares to end their lives before they burn to death. She quotes his lines back to him (“Take a deep breath. You only need one shot. Make it count”) before a section of wall collapses and exposes their way out. Freed, after Greene is dealt with, Bond and Camille share a kiss. She says she wants to help him, but he’s battling demons and she can’t. This to me was a turning point – Bond realises he’s nothing to anybody until he closes that chapter, properly.

So rather than being a helpless serving of sexy cake for Bond, the “Bond Girl” is an equal of sorts. Not as used to killing as Bond, but still quite capable and more emotionally adjusted. She walks away from it all without looking back.

As I think about it… I’m more convinced that this film will age as OHMSS did, finding love from fans over time. It’s biggest sin on release, being a sequel to Casino Royale, is the expectation it’ll be Casino Royale Take 2.

Watch it again, tell me if I’m wrong…

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