Saturday, November 15, 2008

"Quantum of Solace": Shaken Beyond Belief

For my review of Skyfall, please go here.

The title of the new Bond film begs attention be paid to its distinct words. Quantum is a great Latinate word meaning “the smallest discrete amount of any quantity.” As for "solace":

“This flower is fair and fresh of hue,
It fadeth never, but ever is new;
The blessed branch this flower on grew
Was Mary mild that bare Jesu;
A flower of grace:
Against all sorrow it is solace.”

In John Rutter’s carol “There is a flower” the last word is pronounced “so-lace” to rhyme with "grace."

If James had a modicum of belief himself, even in the British humanist tradition, we would have a film that has some spark of life rather than relentless, grim death.

His quest for personal solace—which the concise OED defines as “comfort in distress or disappointment or tedium”—-is a vendetta to kill the villains who blackmailed Vesper into betraying him in Casino Royale. And yes, spoilers follow.

The general consensus of QOS is that this Bond is missing the wit and attitude—-park rake, part bon vivant—-that has defined the character.

Cosmo Landesman, Times: “Bond has been stripped of his iconic status. He no longer represents anything particularly British, or even modern. In place of glamour, we get a spurious grit; instead of style, we get product placement; in place of fantasy, we get a redundant and silly realism. Craig makes an attractive corpse, but Bond is dead.”

Bond is extremely taciturn in this film. He does not banter, there is no repartee, and only minimal actual dialog.

A.O. Scott, NY Times: “Does every hero, whether Batman or Jason Bourne, need to be so sad? I know grief has always been part of the Dark Knight’s baggage, but the same can hardly be said of James Bond, Her Majesty’s suave, cynical cold war paladin. His wit was part of his--of our--arsenal, and he countered the totalitarian humorlessness of his foes with a wink and a bon mot.”

The lack of wit as a criticism, though, doesn’t make sense on the Bond timeline. Casino Royale and the QOS sequel predate Dr. No. Which means that we are in the land before the wise-cracking Bond.  Same thing about his devotion to duty. It defines the character later, and is missing here—-but it’s in his future.

The other major criticism is voiced by the great Roger Ebert, “James Bond is not an action hero!” Everyone is drawing a parallel to Jason Bourne, and not in a good way. I think there’s also a lot of Die Hard going on, in the ridiculous amount of physical beating that JB takes without dying.

Beyond the action film is an atypical take on the Bond girl. Strawberry Fields is introduced (Jemma Arterton) as a quick, disposable conquest, who has the dubious honor of being a visual inverse of the disposable conquest in Goldfinger.

The other is Olga Kurylenko, an actual partner from the Bolivian secret service. But they don’t become lovers. Richard Corliss had an interesting observation about the title that I think is echoed in this shot.

“So this time the keepers of the 007 flame went with one of the short story titles, which sounds more suited for an Antonioni film than the highly torqued action adventure that is Quantum of Solace.”

Olga is “dusted” a tanning color for the role, making her look Mediterranean. She and Daniel look exceedingly elegant here, her dress an echo of the sixties chic, with the set-in waist and sweetheart bodice. Walking through the desert definitely has an aura of Antonioni about it.

Corliss also see shades of Hitchcock’s The Man Who Knew Too Much, Jackie Chan films, Syriana, and more. I can’t hear Bolivia without echoes of Butch Cassidy’s last dream. In some ways, the film suffers from too many cinematic quotes.

Rebooting a character for a new century is tricky business. Going back to roots is one way to try it. Daniel Craig has the gravitas and authority to be Jame Bond in the Connery mold. What he needs is a story that connects his energized take on the character with the essence of what made his character special.

QOS is still big time Hollywood in its excess best. It’s slick, polished, and exhausting to watch.

I had the most emotional connection to it at the very end, when the classic theme song kicks in over the final credits. They need to start there for the next film, and give us a Bond that we recognize.

If by the time he drops the necklace in the snow, he has forgiven Vesper and himself, then he is on the road to back to humanity. The fans can only pray so.


Christopher Campbell-Howes said...

So 'Quantum of solace' really means 'crumb of comfort'?

M.A.Peel said...

Yes. The title has the Giuseppe Verdi/Joe Green syndrome.