Give that man a measure of respite
My appreciation for this film has grown since I first saw it in the cinema. 2005’s fantastic series reboot Casino Royale reintroduced with a vengeance the idea that Bond movies are spy thrillers rather than a facile parade of action stunts. Coming from that, Quantum of Solace was a step back. It was an ordinary Bond flick with a typical plot, spurred, I have come to believe, by the incredible rush to produce a sequel at the time. But that same time has been kind to this film and I’ve warmed up to it.
I will make no excuses for the terrible action sequences, which are a gross offender of the modern day idea that all you need to create excitement is a machine gun fire of camera shots from extreme angles in every direction. The opening chase is so chaotic we rarely have an idea where the cars are heading, which car is whose, what their physical relationship to one another is and what is happening to whom and where. A fight that erupts moments later has two nigh identical men in black suits swinging in ropes. It is unknowable which of these is the villain and which is Bond. What it sorely lacks is clarity. This is bad direction and worse editing.
My mother, who was watching along, thought it was her fault she couldn’t understand what was happening. “No,” I encouraged her, “this has nothing to do with your age or your understanding of film.” I explained to her the basic, universal rule of not crossing the action line if you don’t want to confuse your audience. Quantum of Solace’s motto is leave no action line uncrossed. The result is unreadability. Someone should explain those simple rules to its makers.
The rest of the film, however, has some terrific, sophisticated spy stuff going on. The story takes off mere minutes after Casino Royale ended with the abduction of the mysterious Mr. White. He explains little by telling Bond and his boss M that he is part of an organization called Quantum and that they are “everywhere”. This proves to be true as a mole inside MI6 helps White escape. The story then turns to another Quantum agent, Dominic Greene*, who is trying to topple the Bolivian government to gain a seemingly irrelevant desert. His actual reasons for this are barely worth the mention, but the surrounding elements are well worked out. Greene negotiates with the CIA and its hilariously mustachioed section chief and M is under pressure to burn Bond for his roguish behavior. It’s refreshing to see the bureaucratic, political side of the story gain a more prominent face. It’s one of the elements that makes Daniel Craig’s take on the franchise less cartoony and more engaging than usual.
The most interesting part in the film comes when Bond travels to Austria to visit a floating opera where Greene holds a secret Quantum meeting. His infiltration of this event, laying bear the enemy’s first vein (which will surely become relevant in the next films) and subsequent poking of the hornet’s nest, is priceless and a rare non-action, non-sexual spy thrill I’d like to see a lot more of in this series. It is akin to Casino Royale’s poker sequence, which was a defining moment of excellence.
Daniel Craig is turning out to be a most interesting James Bond. He has a tormented quality to him. I’ll be very keen to see how all of this continues.
* Mr. White, Mr. Greene… I fully expect all Quantum brass to be named after a color now. It is also possible Quantum is, in fact, composed of the gangsters from Reservoir Dogs.