Sunday, October 28, 2012

Quantum of Solace: A Review (Review #458)


Quantum Leaps and Falls...

Please visit The James Bond Film Retrospective for reviews on all Bond films. 

I know people have gone crazy for Quantum of Solace, but from my perspective, this isn't a James Bond film.  It's one thing to treat the material with a little more seriousness, but it's another to make our hero a borderline depressive. 

Quantum of Solace is, in a technical sense, the first Bond film I actually reviewed, back when I first started blogging.  I wrote a review for the Esperanza Acosta Moreno Library site, shortly after watching it in the theaters.  Now four years have passed since I left QOS, and this retrospective has given me a chance to revisit my early views.

I find that a second viewing only confirms my original view of the film.  Quantum of Solace is a fiasco of a film that seeks to disprove Billy Wilder's maxim from Sunset Boulevard: in this case, it DOES look like the actors are making it up as they go along.

At this point I usually describe the plot of a film, but I can't do that for Quantum of Solace because it simply has no plot, no story, just a series of action scenes strung together featuring the same people.  I truly was amazed at QOS's inability to say anything.  A half hour passed by and we still didn't even have a semblance of what is called 'a plot'.  However, here's what I gleamed:

Quantum of Solace starts right from where the previous film, Casino Royale, left off.  MI6 agent James Bond 007 (Daniel Craig) races to a secret facility in Siena, Italy, bringing Mr. White (Jesper Christensen) with him.  Mr. White if you remember, was the man who had Bond's great love Vesper Lynd killed.  White escapes thanks to a secret double agent he had: one we the audience could never have known existed because we didn't know White's secret organization existed and whom we'd just been introduced to less than five minutes ago.   Well, White escapes, and after that...

...well, who knows and who cares.

We jump around the world where Bond keeps bumping into people who show up in the film.  We see Dominic Greene (Mathieu Amarlic), who is involved in something and with someone.  We see Camille Montes (Olga Kurylenko) who is involved with Greene and with something.  We get Miss Fields (Gemma Artenton), who is involved in all this somehow.  We get the return of Mathis (Giancarlo Giannini) and Felix Leiter (Jeffrey Wright) who are involved in something involving this story.

As far as I can make out, Greene, a faux-environmentalist, is working for a mysterious criminal organization called Quantum.  Said organization now has a nefarious scheme to seize Bolivia's water and then overcharge the government (whom with CIA acquiescence they install) and people by being the exclusive distributors.  Camille and Bond are then fighting either Greene/Quantum, the Bolivian strongman who wants to be the next President, or M (Judi Dench) and MI6 which for reasons known only to them continue letting Bond go and work for them in such exotic locales as Haiti and Bolivia despite disobeying every directive.

Again, I cannot emphasize just how horrible Quantum of Solace is.  The first time I saw it I was disappointed, and my friend/fellow film enthusiast Fidel Gomez, Jr. (who may or may not be dead) despising it.  I had thought that seeing it again would allow perhaps for a re-evaluation.  Perhaps I was too hard on QOS.  It's happened before: I was turned from thinking well of A View to A Kill to seeing just how awful it is (even though I still qualify it as a guilty...very guilty...pleasure). view actually hardened to one of absolute near-blinding hatred.  The first time I saw it I thought QOS was muddled and confused.  Seeing it now, I would say QOS is an absolute mess.  Not only does nothing in it make sense, it asks you to keep up with a story that is never presented.  Instead, characters and their actions are thrown at us with the film all but screaming, 'Figure it out for yourself'.

A prime example of the lunacy and stupidity in QOS involves the character of Mathis.  When last we saw him he was being taken away as a possible suspected double agent from Casino Royale.  Now, he comes back, with nary an explanation of how it was found he wasn't working for the enemy.  Given that just earlier Bond had (FINALLY) been stripped of his credit line from MI6, exactly how he got to Italy (more on his travels later) and to Mathis we know not.

Then it gets even worse.  Mathis serves as some kind of introduction to Greene's party (he knows a general), but when next we see him, he's apparently dead in Bond's trunk.  In order to save himself and Camille, he pulls Mathis' "body" out and uses it as a shield against the corrupt cops' guns.  Only here we get a twist: Mathis was alive when he was pulled from the trunk.  Being as he has just been used as a human shield and been shot repeatedly, Mathis quickly dies...or dies again, depending on your perspective.

When we first saw this, Fidel & I were beyond confused.  We were puzzled as to how Mathis was alive when he looked very much dead, then we were disturbed by the idea that James Bond (!) would without difficulty use a person as a human shield.  It makes our hero look even more cold-blooded than the killers we're being introduced to.

I think the confusion comes from what Robert Wade, Neil Purvis, and Paul Haggis would refer to as their "screenplay" but which most of us would refer to as their "garbage".  It never stops to introduce characters or story.  Instead, it just throws things all over the place in all sorts of locations and never gives us a point of reference in regards to WHAT the story is, let alone WHERE in the story we are.

For example, just the beginning shows us how chaotic Quantum of Solace was going to be.  We get reintroduced to Mr. White (side note: Mr. White, Mr. Greene...are Wade, Purvis, and Haggis going to make the next Bond Girl Miss Scarlet?).  First he's dead, then he's not dead, then he's really dead.

Again and again QOS throws things hither and yon without rhyme or reason.  It is unfair to introduce as a traitor in MI6 someone we've met for a few seconds only in passing less than five minutes ago.  It's unfair (and lazy) to introduce characters from nowhere who are going to be integral to whatever story you're trying to tell.

Quantum of Solace I think tried to break away from how a standard Bond film works, but the formula to a Bond film (opening action scene, title song, introduction of characters and plot, a bevy of beauties, defeat of villain--hopefully in good action scene, and Bond with primary beauty) works because it takes the time to give us the information we need.  We know who the characters are, we know what the story is, we know the complications.  Quantum of Solace wanted desperately to get away from all that, but instead instead of making it work it devolves into a convoluted mess.  When we first meet Camille, we don't know who or what she is, and she is the introduction to Dominic, who again we don't know who these people are or how they relate to the two other witnesses Bond has killed (again, against MI6 directives).

The opaque plot is one of many issues QOS has.  For the life of me I can't understand what Marc Foster was thinking with his direction of the action scenes.  The opening scene where Bond is driving to Siena while being chased by gun-toting villains is confused and chaotic, made for those with short attention spans. Everything is cut so quickly it becomes difficult to follow what exactly is going on.  This is pretty much the same for the film as a whole: intercutting a fight scene with a rather elaborate production of Tosca never works (especially when we non-opera followers don't know if there is any significance to what is going on in terms of the plot).

Even in the curious story QOS cannot tell, once we get the actual reason we are all here, it is laughable: Quantum wants to control Bolivia's water?  THIS is the big scheme?!  Is there anyone else who thinks our criminal organization needs a little more work in their 'nefarious machinations' department?

We need only look at the title and how it's used to see Quantum of Solace is by far the worst Bond film ever made.  Now, granted the title came from an Ian Fleming short story and was one of the few that hadn't been used (I wonder why) but as presented to us it doesn't make sense. We learn that the organization behind Greene and White (seriously, what IS it with these stupid names) is called Quantum.  All right; now if that's the case, what's the Solace in Quantum of Solace for?  If the organization had been named Solace, then QUANTUM of Solace MIGHT have made sense.  Given that the organization's name is QUANTUM, Quantum of Solace makes no sense.

That really is asking too much of QOS: to have it make sense.  Nothing makes sense: the story, the action scenes, even some of the performances.  When we arrive in La Paz, Bolivia (and by the way, did we really need to have the various locations in QOS literally spelled out for us on the screen, down to each having a different font?) we are greeted by Agent Miss Fields.  We are never given a first name in the film, but the credits bill her as "Strawberry Fields".  Again, her name and appearance in Quantum of Solace shows just how rushed and chaotic everything about the film was.

First, if your going to give the secondary Bond girl such a name as "Strawberry Fields, then for Heaven's sake have the courage to USE it!  Second, we see her for probably less than five minutes before we next see her in bed with Bond (by the way, this is the first indication that Bond so much as likes girls, let alone could seduce someone).  I can imagine the scene:  Bond barks out to Miss Fields to take that trench coat she's been wearing in Bolivia since she's probably naked (the trench coat did make me think she spent her off-hours flashing Incans).  She then does so.

It would have been nice to have seen some foreplay between Fields and Bond, but given how Daniel Crab has remade the role into someone who is perpetually grumpy, it is hard to imagine that this 007 would enjoy sex or really anything.  I'm open about never having been a fan of Craig as Bond, not because he is short (one good line is when Mathis offers Bond a sleeping pill, commenting he has pills for everything, even one that can "make you taller", which I wonder was a nod to how the 5'10" Craig comes up short compared to all the other Bonds, but then that would give the screenplay too much credit) or blond but because he has no charm on-screen.  Yes, yes: it may be closer to how Fleming wrote the character, but I prefer my Bonds to have some charm.

In any case, wouldn't it have been nice to have had some pun about Miss Fields' name in their love scene?  Bond could have said, "Strawberries are so ripe in Bolivia" or something like that, but no they wouldn't.  That would mean both acknowledging the name and the fact that the pre-Craig Bond would like a little wordplay with his foreplay.

There is no acting because the actors weren't given anything to work with.  I do think that if they were forced to confess, the cast would have been unsure as to what exactly was going on. 

I haven't even gotten to the theme song.  Another Way to Die is the first time a Bond Song was a duet, this time between Alicia Keys and the song's writer, Jack White.  The title song to Quantum of Solace is just like the movie: ugly, confused, chaotic, nonsensical, convoluted, clueless, boring, and in short, an absolute mess.  It's fitting that the worst Bond Song is with the worst Bond Film.  There is no real melody in Another Way to Die, the lyrics are rather idiotic (the chorus is thus: A door left open/A woman walking by/A drop in the water/A look in your eye/A phone on the table/A man at your side/Or someone that you think that you can trust/It's just/Another Way to Die) and there is no sense that either White or Keys are singing the same song, let alone could make it interesting.

It's curious that Another Way to Die is the Quantum of Solace theme given that there are at least two songs that were inexplicably rejected which are much better.  QOS's composer David Arnold wrote No Good About Goodbye, even getting Dame Shirley Bassey to sing it.  It might be a bit old-fashioned, but Bassey's delivery is still top-notch and it has a beautiful and haunting quality.  The other song, Forever (I Am All Yours) not only managed to be contemporary but even managed to work in the phrase "quantum of solace" into the lyrics that made sense.  Both songs are much better than Another Way to Die just as songs in and of themselves, let alone as Bond Songs. 

Having seen Quantum of Solace twice now, I can say that both times I was terribly disappointed in it.  It's a lousy movie, period.  Fidel had seen all the Bond films prior to Quantum of Solace, and when we left he said it was the worst Bond film he'd ever seen. 

Yes Fidel my friend (wherever you are), I concur.  Let me spell it out in case you missed it.

Quantum of Solace is the Worst Bond Film Ever Made. 

Girl covered in gold...brilliant, shocking, tragic, relevant to story (he loves gold, remember), and oddly beautiful.                                    

Girl covered in oil...ugly, grotesque, sadistic, irrelevant to story (it is WATER they are after, not oil) and rushed.

Don't remind people of better films by echoing better films. 


Next Bond Film: Skyfall

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