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Dustin Putman

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Quantum of Solace  (2008)
2 Stars
Directed by Marc Forster.
Cast: Daniel Craig, Olga Kurylenko, Mathieu Amalric, Judi Dench, Giancarlo Giannini, Gemma Arterton, Jeffrey Wright, David Harbour, Jesper Christensen, Anatole Taubman, Rory Kinnear, Joaquin Cosio.
2008 – 106 minutes
Rated: Rated PG-13 (for intense violence and some sexual content).
Reviewed by Dustin Putman, November 14, 2008.
2006's "Casino Royale" injected the James Bond franchise with a much-needed facelift. In addition to a change in lead actor, the film proposed to set things in modern times, but start anew with the special agent's formative years working for the British Secret Intelligence Service. Done away with were the gadgets and jokey side to the series, replaced by a newfound grittiness and attention to character. The film could still be classified as popcorn entertainment, but, for the first time in decades, Bond was also taken seriously as a multidimensional protagonist. That he fell in love, rather than just bed, with Vesper Lynd (Eva Green) upped the ante when she ultimately perished in the third act.

Since "Quantum of Solace" picks up almost immediately where "Casino Royale" left off, there was the natural expectation that this latest adventure—007's 22nd, to be exact—would be treated with the care, drama and excitement of its predecessor. It's not to be, and the bulk of the blame should go to director Marc Forster (2007's "The Kite Runner"), a usually terrific filmmaker who proves that he knows nothing about shooting action sequences. The extended foot chase at the start of "Casino Royale" held more veritable thrills and genuine suspense than all of "Quantum of Solace" combined, and the fact that Forster has chosen to shoot and edit these set-pieces with the level hand and coherence of a stroke victim doesn't help. Returning screenwriters Paul Haggis, Neal Purvis and Robert Wade are also working mostly on autopilot, cutting dialogue to a bare minimum and turning the well-meaning James Bond into a steely personality who has less of a sense of humor than even Jason Bourne and—gasp!—actually orders a bottle of beer rather than a martini when he goes out drinking.

Out to make everyone pay who was responsible for the death of Vesper, the first woman he's ever truly cared about, James Bond (Daniel Craig) first tracks down Mr. White (Jesper Christensen) in Italy and tries to get him to talk about who he is in cahoots with. With White soon out of the picture, Bond sets his sights on Dominic Greene (Mathieu Amalric), a crooked environmentalist working with top-secret organization Quantum. His investigation into Greene's dirty dealings leads him to discover an insidious plot involving Bolivia's water supply. Helping Bond this time around is the slinky, headstrong Camille (Olga Kurylenko), herself seeking vengeance for the murder of her family. Meanwhile, M (Judi Dench) fears she may be losing her trust in Bond when false word starts trickling into headquarters that he is out of control.

"Quantum of Solace" opens with a high-stakes, guns-blazing car chase on the rocky cliffs of Siena, Italy, and something seems amiss immediately. Individual shots are, on average, a quarter of a second long, the camera is frenetic, and it all adds up to a lot of incompetent fast motions. The action scenes in "Casino Royale" were beautifully shot, seamlessly edited, and built palpable momentum. The ones in "Quantum of Solace," no doubt due to a switch in director from Martin Campbell to Marc Forster, are either too bland or too chaotically conceived to set themselves apart from any other standard-issue actioner. The one exception—a daring escape from an out-of-control plane and into one of the earth's craters—is a natural highlight that nonetheless does not make up for the picture's lack of substance.

Daniel Craig (2007's "The Golden Compass") may be a shadow of the well-known 007 persona, but it isn't the actor's fault. Bond is angry and decidedly bloodthirsty, interested more in payback than sexual exploits or swilling alcohol. Yes, he has a reason to be peeved, but his stony actions at all times takes the fun out of the character. Craig brings intensity and magnetism to the role, but with probably two dozen lines of dialogue throughout and a whole lot of running and jumping, there's little chance for him to grow as a person.

As Camille, Olga Kurylenko (2008's "Max Payne") is stunning and fetching in equal measure, but that her physical interaction with Bond doesn't go beyond a peck on the lips seems a bit like a cheat in the annals of the series. The special agent's bedplay is relegated to ten seconds of screentime in the sack with Strawberry Fields (Gemma Arterton), sent to bring James back to London but unable to resist him. Gemma Arterton is a cheery presence—just about the only thing cheery in sight—but she enters and exits the story too quickly. As Dominic Greene, Mathieu Amalric (2005's "Munich") has his sniveling, wide-eyed expression down pat, but otherwise is completely forgettable as the central villain of the piece.

Go, go, go, go, "Quantum of Solace" does, hardly stopping long enough for a proper conversation, and problematic because of it. The plot's development is obvious and then ridiculous—Greene's maniacal master plan is to create a drought in Bolivia by building dams? Really?—and the numerous fights and chases all begin to look alike after a while. Sadly, the film offers virtually nothing to separate it from the Pierce Brosnan era of Bond, save for a total disregard for what it means to give viewers a fun ride. "Quantum of Solace" is too morose in tone for that, while lacking the substance to actually care about Bond's quest. Hopefully he'll get a chance to occasionally smile in the next film because, as the end credits proclaim, "James Bond will return."
© 2008 by Dustin Putman
Dustin Putman