Google+ Cinema Viewfinder: Movie Review: Quantum of Solace - Stylized and Surreal, Forster Directs a Worthy Sequel

Friday, November 14, 2008

Movie Review: Quantum of Solace - Stylized and Surreal, Forster Directs a Worthy Sequel

by Tony Dayoub

It's funny how when you see a lot of movies, you start seeing parallels in some of them. In the case of Quantum of Solace, directed by Marc Forster (Monster's Ball), the 007 series' first direct sequel, the film is designed much like a memory piece. In many respects, Quantum of Solace is about as close to surreal and stylized as I bet you'll ever see a Bond flick get. And when seen as a companion to it's predecessor, Casino Royale, it reminds me of what Soderbergh achieves with his Che films, The Argentine and Guerilla.

Casino Royale showed us the events that shaped the James Bond we've come to know in the long-running superspy series. Daniel Craig's performance expertly spotlighted the brutal side of this government-sanctioned assassin who has an obvious chink in his steel armor for the women. When he loses his newfound love of his life, Vesper (Eve Green), to a shadow organization he was previously unaware of, the movie ends with Bond determined to make the destruction of the organization his life's mission. But where to begin?

Forster's film starts right in the thick of things with Bond in a stunning car chase through a tunnel in Italy. Only, this chase is staged as if a subjective memory, with aural ellipses in the action. This teaser is only the prelude to a film full of such surreal and dissonant designs. A shootout at a restaurant adjacent to an elaborate outdoor opera house becomes a dangerous ballet, the gunfight intercut with a performance of Puccini's Tosca, with the opera serving double duty as the setpiece's score. Even the opera stage, a giant eyeball, seems like something out of Dali. Later, Craig's walk in from a Bolivian desert, where Bond was stranded, affords us the opportunity to see the unusual sight of the elegant suit-clad man dusted up and surrounded by the impoverished locals.

And hasn't that always been the appeal of the classic Bond? Sean Connery, and now Craig, always give spot-on performances because they know that 007 is essentially a gorilla in a tuxedo (this informed more by the Scottish working-class Connery than the more refined character of Ian Fleming's novels). Bond is a natural-born killer, easier educated to mingle in the stratospheric circles his job required him to traffic in, since his inherent talent to coldly terminate is impossible to learn.

As Casino Royale is to The Argentine, both depicting the formative experiences of their respective legendary protagonists, Quantum is to Guerilla, both depictions of the interior lives of said characters. The difference is that where Guevara's overreliance on his early success in The Argentine ultimately doom him in Guerilla, the lessons Bond learned as a result of Casino serve to propel him beyond his facile black-and-white outlook to a shaded and emotionally reserved approach to his nemeses in Quantum.

Here he does not fall for the lovely Camille (Olga Kurylenko) as much as he nurtures her to fend for herself, forgiving himself for allowing Vesper to get too close in the previous film. Here he doesn't slide into a morass of murderous rage when confronting the villainous Dominic Greene (Mathieu Amalric, in a performance that serves as a spiritual doppelganger to Craig's Bond, uncouth finger-picking of his teeth while clad in tailored clothing, and not just a little reminiscent of Polanski as a thug in Chinatown). He instead allows Fate to preside over Greene's destiny.

The newest film poster touts the film as "Marc Forster's Quantum of Solace," a first for the Bond series, I believe. Given the emotional depth Forster brings to this film, it seems like like the honor is well deserved.


Nostalgia Kinky said...

I greatly admired the film and a couple of minor problems aside I thought it was just terrific. I posted a few thoughts as well and frankly can't wait to see it again.

Anonymous said...

Quantum of Solace is entertaining at least... a fantastic job with the styling and picture quality, but the movie as a whole could stand to lose six or seven fewer chase scenes

Tony Dayoub said...

I'm not sure it was the amount of the chase scenes that bothered me as much as their editing. The ones I mentioned in the review worked for me. But the one in the plane felt tedious and a lot like a rehash.

This film worked the best in its quieter moments, another first for a Bond film.

Dean Treadway said...

It's good to hear this from a writer I trust. I dread seeing the over-edited, frame-fucked action sequences, but I DO wanna see more humanity in the Bond character. By the way, have you ever seen Forster's STAY? Your piece, commenting on the flashes of surreal memory in QUANTUM reminded my of my thus far favorite film of his--a neglected tour-de-force of creative direction!

The Rush Blog said...

The movie's story was pretty good, but I think it was in need of more fleshing out - from the screenwriters and Marc Foster. The movie's pacing - both the storytelling and the action - was rushed. Too rushed. I realized that Foster was trying to make the film more stylish, but in doing so, he robbed the film of a solid story structure.

Foster is a good director, but I hope he nevers direct another Bond movie again.

Anonymous said...

"And hasn't that always been the appeal of the classic Bond? Sean Connery, and now Craig, always give spot-on performances because they know that 007 is essentially a gorilla in a tuxedo (this informed more by the Scottish working-class Connery than the more refined character of Ian Fleming's novels)."

Connery and Craig are not the only actors to have done excellent work as Bond. As far as I'm concerned, all six actors who have portrayed Bond for EON Productions were all excellent . . . in their own styles.

It would be nice for someone to acknowledge that James Bond does not have to be portrayed in a certain way. But I fear that human beings are basically too narrow-minded to appreciate differences.

Tony Dayoub said...


There are still some of those over-edited sequences, don't get me wrong. But Craig's performance, and Forster's auteurist take on Bond, make the flaws a little more palatable.


I agree the picture was too tight, but I think it a little extreme to say Forster should never have another crack.


To say that Bond shouldn't be portrayed a certain way is to say that the character is a cypher. And in the past, I agree that the producers encouraged each actor's unique qualities to come to the forefront in their performances.

But I am glad that Craig has chosen to nail down a more specific characterization, using Connery's portrayal as its foundation.

Connery brought an earthy quality to the suave Bond that humanized the character. Lazenby looks to have been working off of that perception as well, but he never got a fair shot to develop the character. Moore was too campy, but his performance in For Your Eyes Only comes closest to what I mean. Dalton was great, but I blame the producers for trying to modernize the character a little too much, making Bond a little too PC. Brosnan seemed to be too suave and superspy, his films too formulaicly cartoonish to give him a real opportunity to shine.

Craig has been two for two thus far in nailing the character. He was comfortable in Bond's skin from the get go, a rarity in the Bond series.

Joel Bocko said...

Really excellent and observant review. I've been debating whether or not to post on Quantum; I enjoyed it but wasn't sure I had many observations. Though I have a slightly different take on the gorilla-in-a-suit thing (I love that characterization, but however it's true of Bond, I think it's more ambiguous as relates to the films and the audience - particularly the male audience - response to them. So maybe I'll write on that.)

Also, great descriptions of the film, particularly the "giant eyeball" of the opera. That was my favorite scene and kind of the locus of the whole elegant-but-deadly vibe that Bond and, to a much lesser extent, this film cultivates.

Tony Dayoub said...

Those interested in a slightly different opinion on the film are encouraged to read movieman0283's take on it at The Dancing Image.