Bond goes Bourne in director Marc Forster´s Quantum of Solace, the hyperkinetic 22nd official entry in the long-running series (not counting the original Casino Royale spoof or Connery comeback Never Say Never Again). Previous entry, Martin Campbell´s Casino Royale in 2006, was the best Bond movie in ages (my favorite since, perhaps, 1964´s Goldfinger), so Forster´s film has a lot to live up to; thankfully, it delivers, matching Royale´s icy-cool tone and style, and proving the promising reboot of the franchise is for real (the goodness of Campbell´s Goldeneye in 1995 was quickly diminished by its immediate successors, which returned to the comic-book mockery that plagued the series throughout the Moore and Dalton years). Still, Quantum lacks the elegance and grace that earmarked Royale and makes James Bond what he is – while this is an excellent Jason Bourne-influenced action flick, it can only disappoint when stacked up against its predecessor.
Daniel Craig returns as MI6 agent James Bond, and the film picks up literally right where after Casino Royale left off (this is, to my recollection, the first time any Bond film has been an out-and-out sequel to a previous entry). Mr. White (Jesper Christensen), whom Bond captured at the end of the previous film and is the only link to the death of his love, Vesper, is delivered to an interrogation with M (Judi Dench) in Italy. But a double-crossing and an attempt on M´s life allows White to escape and reveals the reach of the mysterious terrorist organization he´s working for (I love M´s reaction to this: “Everybody says ‘we have people everywhere.´ Florists say it. It doesn´t usually mean they have someone in the same room!”). An MI6 analysis on the double-agent´s pocket money leads Bond to Haiti, where a case of mistaken identity introduces him to Camille (Olga Kurylenko), a woman with her own vendetta. She, in turn, leads Bond to Dominic Greene (Mathieu Amalric), a ruthless businessman and key member of Mr. White´s terrorist sect, which is finally given a name: Quantum.
Quantum of Solace has all the aspects of being a great Bond film: a globetrotting plot that brings us to lovely locales and the usual high-octane action scenes are expected, but there´s also human characters with actual depth and an unusually realistic story that highlights the exploitation of third-world citizens by their governments and terrorist organizations to be found here. And yet, it doesn´t come together as effectively as it should. Everyone else seems to be doing their job to the highest degree possible; I can only blame director Forster.
The film feels rushed, and at 106 minutes, it´s the shortest Bond film to date. It´s also the most action-heavy, with what feels like one chase scene after another, gunplay mixed in with hand-to-hand combat. The poker scenes in Casino Royale are what made that film for me, as director Campbell took his time to showcase the cool elegance of Bond in a battle of wits against his rival. This is what makes the character, and makes him popular; we know we´re going to get implausible stuntwork and outrageous set pieces in these movies, but we can also get that from any number of action flicks – we come for the character. There´s only one such scene here that did it for me (though it is a doozy): Bond tracks down Greene at a Quantum meeting in Vienna during a performance of Puccini´s Tosca, and predictably disrupts things. As Greene is fleeing, he and Bond share a hallway glance that is absolutely priceless.
As for the rest of the film, it´s standard operating procedure, including a fiery climax that’s satisfying but falls short of thrilling. Forster is also not an action director, and it shows: the fight and chase scenes are so hyper they´re also confusing, and while they pack a punch we often don´t know exactly what is going on. Paul Greengrass´ Bourne stylistics have been much imitated in recent years, but rarely duplicated.
Still, as visceral, action-packed entertainment, Quantum can´t be beat.
It´s endlessly debatable who´s the best Bond (I´ll even throw some votes to Roger Moore, who might´ve embodied Ian Fleming´s original creation better than most), but Craig is as excellent here as he was in Royale, and brings the most passion to the character since Sean Connery. Kurylenko is good, though I liked her vampy seductress from last year´s Hitman better; here, she´s a more refined Sophie Marceau-type. Camille and Bond share some truly touching scenes as two grieving hearts seeking cold revenge, which was something I didn´t expect here. Amalric, star of Julian Schnabel´s The Diving Bell and the Butterfly, makes for a memorably sleazy villain.
Forster deprives us of not one, but two payoffs, as two Quantum baddies spill the beans to Bond while the camera cuts away. Almost unforgivable, but I guess it ensures we´ll be back for more (and hopefully, soon.)
For some Bond counterprogramming, there´s The Women. Before I start this review, I´d like to acknowledge that there is an audience for this movie, and that I am clearly not it, and the below is anything but objective.
And I thought the Sex and the City movie was bad. Diane English´s The Women is an absolutely painful experience that not only wastes an extremely talented and likable cast, but also soils the good name of a true cinema classic. Purportedly based on Clare Booth Luce´s 1936 play and George Cukor´s 1939 film of the same name, English´s film steals a few character names and the basic plot, and then proceeds to trample all over the source material with another materialistic, consumerist assault on the senses. I´m convinced the film was financed by Saks Fifth Avenue – it plays like a two-hour commercial for the store, with half of the film taking place inside its doors (no joke), and the other half frequently mentioning it by name. When a little girl complains about all the excessive shopping, Annette Bening hisses the unforgettable line: “Let me tell you something. Nobody. Hates. Saks Fifth Avenue.”
In between the shopping excursions, we get some hints of a leftover plot: magazine editor Sylvia Fowler (Bening) discovers while getting her nails done (at Saks!) that best friend Mary Haines´ (Meg Ryan) husband is cheating on her with (Saks!) perfume counter girl Crystal Allen (Eva Mendes). Sylvia agonizes over telling her friend by telling her other friends, baby factory Edie Cohen (Debra Messing) and unconvincing lesbian Alex Fisher (Jada Pinkett-Smith), but it´s all for naught, as Mary goes to get her nails done (yes, at Saks!) and hears the gory details first hand. There are some confrontations at Saks(!) and then an incredibly abstract scene where the characters actually go to another store to buy some kinky lingerie, and then a bizarre fashion show, but the pieces fall into place when the buyer for Saks(!) arrives. Finally, there´s a return to Saks(!), where Mary drops some sly hints, disrupting her husband´s affair and winning the cheating bastard back. Yay!
My God, these characters! How far has femininity regressed over the last 70 years? Does anyone remember the original film? Norma Shearer and Joan Crawford, Rosalind Russell and Paulette Goddard and Joan Fontaine, elegant, witty, resourceful women that men might actually be attracted to. These sitcom rejects can´t hold a candle to them. And yet, none of the acting is bad, though Ryan and Bening feel embarrassed in their roles. Messing is fun for awhile. Candice Bergen and Bette Midler show up and don´t make fools of themselves. Cloris Leachman steals the film as Mary´s servant, the only character in the entire film we can connect with on an emotional level or feel sympathy for. No, full blame for this wrongheaded creature belongs to Murphy Brown creator English, who wrote an embarrassing, insulting screenplay and then, apparently, spent years trying to get it made.
Notable for its all-female cast (there aren´t even male extras in crowd scenes), but for most men (and some women), I can heartily recommend another genre of films with all-female casts. If this film did truly represent its titular gender, it´s a real wonder there are any heterosexual males out there.
Also: Don’t miss Mezipatra, the Czech Gay & Lesbian Film Festival, which has been taking place in Brno but comes to Prague from Friday until Wednesday 12.11 at cinemas Světozor and Lucerna. Many of the films will be in English or screen with English subtitles.
And: the student film festival FAMUFEST takes place from the 6th to the 9th at Divadlo Archa.