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Quantum of Solace

Written by Ed Smith.

Photo from the article Somewhere between the three Daniel Craig Bond films there's a great movie. Casino Royale is fresh, amusing, bold. But it's too knowing and too long - after Le Chiffre is killed, the plot meanders for forty minutes. Likewise, Skyfall could lose half-an-hour from its running time. The detours around Macau and Battleship Island are pretty, thanks to Roger Deakins, but deliberate, as if someone didn't have the moxie to set a whole film in Britain. The action scenes are sparse and flat and since it's tied in with Bond's fiftieth anniversary, there's a nagging kind of reverence in Skyfall, a few nods and winks that border on masturbatory.

Quantum of Solace is at least lean. The opening thirty minutes are disorientating, thanks to three action scenes that follow pretty much on each other's heels, but once it's calmed down, the script is smart and economic. There's a wonderful sequence at the opera, edited by Greengrass regular Rick Pearson, and a terrific fist fight in a hotel room. Craig's on fire in that scene. He's cold, violent and properly nasty - he makes Casino Royale look like a kid's film.

Olga Kurylenko plays Camilla Montes excellently. She's one of the first female Bond characters to have genuine depth. The back-story of her mother's rape and murder is really near the knuckle for a 12A and the fact her relationship with Bond is platonic, or at least, never consummated, makes Montes an infinitely more valuable character than Vesper. She exists outside of Bond's head. She has her own mission, her own past, her own proclivities and strengths. Put simply, she isn't just a f**k-doll. You could cut Bond out and base an entire film around her.

Mathieu Amalric's villain, Dominic Greene, is...okay. Amalric has the advantage of looking like a creep, like anything he says, even if it's “my name is Mathieu Amalric,” is a lie. But he hasn't got a physical presence. He's too much like Elliot Carver, one of the worst Bond villains ever, played to imperfection by Jonathan Pryce in Tomorrow Never Dies. We're supposed to be fearful of his double-dealing, his wealth, his manipulations, but we're sided with James Bond and we know he won't fall for that stuff. Quantum writer Paul Haggis made a smart decision in having Bond not kill Greene - it wouldn't have been much of a climax. Better for Bond to abandon the villain in a desert and leave him to die. At least that provides another character beat for Craig's vicious interpretation of 007.

Greene's ambitions are also refreshingly mundane. Carver didn't work because he was a diminutive newspaperman trying to stir up a World War - it was too diabolical. Greene on the other hand plans to seize Bolivia's water supply then force the government to buy it back at an extortionate rate. It's plausible and appropriate. It seems precisely the kind of thing his character would be up to.

As for Marc Forster, he's not a brilliant director. Quantum's action scenes are all in the spirit of the Bourne films, but where Greengrass balances fast cuts with cohesion, Forster's style makes it hard to keep track of what's going down. Quantum's a leaner, punchier film than the other Craig Bonds, but it borders on feeling truncated. The opening car chase and a speedboat scene later on are just cut, cut, cut - there's no time spent establishing how many guys are in pursuit and what they're armed with. If that opera scene works it's because it's stylised to a point where basic stakes - who's trying to kill Bond and why - aren't relevant. The rest of Quantum's fight scenes never let the viewer ascertain precisely what's going on. It's not just during the action either, it's in the build-up. When Bond meets Felix Leiter, their dialogue is terse and snipped. The actors don't have time to breathe, perform and deliver, since everything in Quantum is geared towards that shorter running time. The knock-on effect is that the plot suffers. Some CIA (?) guys appear and ambush Bond but certainly on first viewing, probably on second, the viewer won't know what it is they're doing there. They might not even follow why Bond went to meet Leiter in the first place.

Quantum of Solace was evidently re-drafted and re-cut several times. It's like it's on a time limit, always rushing to get its point across but stumbling over itself as a result. The characters and narrative are much more interesting than in Skyfall or Casino Royale, but Forster's insistent over-economising means they don't get enough screen time. A Bond film should run about two hours. Casino and Skyfall drag their feet through a bunch of laboured, dissolve-transition dialogue scenes that no-one wants, but, on the contrary, Quantum doesn't ever stop to rest. It's a great film - it's colourful and violent, and Craig is at his nimble best - but the creators seem unsure of themselves. It's hard to tell if Quantum of Solace is over or under-confident, whether it has faith in the audience to keep up with the rapid action and exposition, or doesn't believe viewers have the patience for another long Bond movie, with lots of talking. Somewhere between the three Daniel Craig projects is a great James Bond film. They just need to get the length right.


Ed Smith is primarily a videogame critic, writing for New Statesman, Play magazine and Edge. His favourite Bond film is On Her Majesty's Secret Service. You can find him on Twitter @mostsincerelyed

This article was published on August 11, 2014.

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