Commentary on Movies and TV by Brian Holcomb

Saturday, March 28, 2009

QUANTUM OF SOLACE

A Review by Brian Holcomb

For the first time since 1971's Diamonds Are Forever, a new Bond film begins pretty much where the last one left off: With the superspy going after the men who killed the woman he loved. This time, though, it's probably only about 5 minutes after the closing frames of Casino Royale which finds 007 (Daniel Craig) racing his Aston-Martin around the dangerous curves of a Monte Carlo mountain road while being pursued by 2,4 or 6 other reckless vehicles. I cannot actually be sure since the editing is so choppy in this Nouvelle Bourne Again style that pretty soon it looks as though we'll be seeing Craig drive the car right off the sprocket holes a'la Daffy Duck.

Marc Forster Is Going To Kick Your Ass

Out of his usual indie drama element, it's obvious that director Marc Forster (Monster's Ball, Finding Neverland) wants to prove his action movie mettle by starting the show off with a bang and he definitely gets the heart racing. But he also begins to seriously tax the very persistence of vision which allows cinema to operate by editing the scene beyond all possible coherence. NOTE TO FUTURE BOND DIRECTORS (and Paul Greengrasshole): A flurry of abstract motion will NEVER equal the excitement of an action scene where the audience can see the geography and clearly understand the stakes facing the hero. An action film is only interesting when it engages the audience in the hero's problems. Look at Steve McQueen in The Great Escape and Bullitt for two examples of character driven action. We want to see STEVE get away with it. Not some random stuntman. Look at the classics of action cinema and you'll see that CONFUSION is never the desired result. But I guess it's just easier to set up 137 cameras to film the action from every conceivable angle and hope for the best in the cutting room. C'mon, only the lame refuse to PRE-VISUALIZE. Here ends the action film soapbox which needs to be opened every time someone makes an action film these days.


No matter-Bond gets away from his pursuers by editing himself subliminally between the frames and after an awfully dissonant Jack Black-Alicia Keys number, the film never looks back. Someone at the Broccoli 007 Factory (AKA Universal Imports, Inc.) must've gotten the notes from ADD sufferers that Casino Royale was lacking in the action department because this entry makes up for it by lathering on the set pieces without regard to any kind of storytelling. The problem is that this film has more plot than 10 Bonds put together and a script that was obviously written around action scenes that were shot before the script was done. They are all clumsily motivated and inserted into this collage editing project.

The plot has something or other to do with a US backed villain (Mathieu Amalric as Roman Polanski) who poses as a liberal environmentalist named Dominic GREENE of all things (this has to be the work of the very literal minded Paul Haggis) but who really plans on stealing the water supply of an entire nation in order to control it's financial "flow". It's like Chinatown in the Middle East and that may be why the whole thing plays as a big yawn. What works in an adult detective story is too much for the comic book world of James Bond no matter how much it wants to ape the Bourne films.

Any gains made by shaking up the Bond formula in the excellent Royale are quickly tossed aside as Quantum returns the series to it's bread and butter and even redesigns SPECTRE for the 21rst century. That, I completely understand. A Bond movie in the real world would take the absurd and make it outlandish. No one wants to watch Bond chase after Osama Bin Laden and switch off his dialysis machine with a bad one liner. On second thought, maybe that would be great? In any case, the new and improved SPECTRE is called QUANTUM and this is easily the best idea for the series as a whole since Bond will have to spend film after film working his way up the ladder to find the man behind the man as it were (I'm sure it'll end up being Woody Allen). This leads to the best sequence in the film, by the way, as Bond forces a series of QUANTUM members to out themselves while attending the opera in their establishment disguises. Forster ALMOSTS gets this scene right, before he trips over his own erect penis while masturbating for deeper meanings. (Forster is no John Boorman, that's for sure, and this isn't Point Blank even when it is...)

There's a lot of stuff that seems to come from the mouth of Paul Haggis here and there. Stuff about the CIA being a-holes dealing with other other a-holes abroad and breaking deals without any moral code. A world lifted form multiple viewings of Syriana and positioning Bond as an enemy of the United States and its corrupt business interests. But since this Bond seems to be beyond morality himself, this isn't exactly a strong theme. Putting a Chandler-esque hero WITH a strong sense of right and wrong among the denizens of the underworld IS a strong story and would allow for stronger thematic points to be made without resorting to editorializing dialogue.

Oh, there are some girls in it, by the way. We're back with the Bond Bimbo formula in which GIRL#1 sleeps with Bond and then ends up as a sacrificial lamb for Bond to get angry about. As though Bond isn't already PISSED OFF beyond repair in the beginning of this film. He gets even more PISSED when he finds the naive Strawberry Fields (Gemma Arterton) having been killed by someone who probably saw Goldfinger once.



GIRL#2 (Olga Kurylenko) is the REVENGE GIRL archetype. She's a mirror to Bond's desire for vengeance if you want to give the screenplay this kind of credit. Bond doesn't get to sleep with her and maybe that's why she survives.

There's a lot of action in this movie. Boat action, car action, gun action, bedroom action. But it's all been reduced to the level of porn in that the audience is given nothing human to engage with between the action. The audience I saw the film with began immediately to text and talk to their friends whenever the action let up and didn't stop until the action picked up again. Now, this could be seen as the phillistine youth showing their true colors. But I don't think so. I've seen many films in which audiences of similar ages were totally spellbound by a gripping story or situation. I think they saw through the film's BS and realized that this wasn't a complete movie but rather a series of DVD chapter stops. They were merely skipping the boring parts.

But you know, a lot of this griping is just silly, right? It's a Bond film and Bond films have their own scale. This one is definitely better than The Man with the Golden Gun but not nearly as good as Goldeneye to keep it within the gold scale. Daniel Craig is a great Bond. He is the best Bond since Sean Connery. (Actually, he may even be better than Connery but since he arrived late he will have to wait in line.) He's clearly come to chew gum and kick some ass and he's all out of gum (©John Carpenter ,1988). He looks tough in the fight scenes and cool as hell in a tux. Craig, alone, holds the movie together whenever it threatens to completely self-destruct. I just wish Forster let us see more of him.

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