Friday, 5 October 2012

BlogalongaBond / Quantum Of Solace: [Insert Lazy Bourne Pun Here]

Quantum Of Solace is not a great Bond film. There, I've said it. I've defended it for nearly four years, citing Daniel Craig's performance and David Arnold's score as its most outstanding features, but on fifth viewing it's now clear to me that - and I take no Amount Of Comfort from saying this - Quantum Of Solace is in fact Not Great.

One of the reasons many people seem to think it's Not Great is its weak villain, and it's fair to say that - as short French Bond baddies go - Mathieu Amalric's Dominic Greene is even less terrifying than Hervé Villechaize's Nick Nack from The Man With The Golden Gun. But to suggest that Quantum Of Solace has a weak villain is not true; in fact Bond faces two enemies besides Greene, and they're among the most formidable foes the series has ever seen.

The first was the Writers' Guild Of America strike of 2007-8, which struck at just the wrong time for Bond #22. Paul Haggis handed his Quantum Of Solace rewrite in just two hours before the strike began, and it shows. Several scenes and stretches of dialogue make little sense; it's taken me five viewings and some heavy use of the pause and rewind buttons just to decipher what's going on in the early scenes in Haiti between Bond, Camille, Greene, Mr Slate and the dead geologist*. It's the kind of thing that should have been tidied up with a script polish that never happened.
Meanwhile, moments of potential tenderness such as the deaths of Mathis and Agent Fields are bungled by confusing waffle: clearly set up as opportunities to explore Bond's psyche, these scenes end up raising more questions than they answer. Mathis, for example, who was arrested at the end of Casino Royale and later imprisoned and tortured, is revealed to have been innocent all along by a minor character in an easy-to-miss throwaway line. When, with his dying breath, he mutters something about "Mathis" being his cover name, confusion reigns. If anyone can fully explain exactly who the guy was or his precise role over two films (apart from Head Of Exposition: Poker Rules Dept. in Casino Royale) then, like Daniel Craig, I'm all ears.

The second agent of evil to attempt to destroy Bond is second unit director Dan Bradley.
He's still at it.

Fresh off the back of two hyper-kinetic Bourne films, Bradley came to Quantum Of Solace with the specific intention of editing Bond to death. Orchestrating several potentially terrific set-pieces as if they're happening inside a washing machine that's been pushed down a flight of stairs, Bradley is the diabolical mastermind of the incomprehensible action sequence. The blocking, shooting and cutting of the scene in which rogue MI6 agent Mitchell helps Mr White escape is so baffling that it's impossible to tell who's shooting who and who's running where; at one point it appears that M's been shot, only for her to reappear unhurt in the next scene without explanation. You have to literally watch it frame by frame to see that the bullet fired at her actually ricochets off Mr White's drip stand:
Bradley might argue that his style is intended to reflect the real confusion Bond himself might experience in that situation, and that as such, scenes like these lend Quantum Of Solace an air of cinéma vérité hitherto unseen in the canon. I would just argue that it's balls.

Thanks in no small part to these two nefarious villains, the film clumsily clatters through its brief running time (at 106 minutes, it's the shortest Bond film), always desperate to race to the next location or skip over another bit of bewildering dialogue. It all happens so quickly that Bond doesn't even get time to shag Camille, the poor bastard.

Fortunately, however, there's one thing at the axis of the Quantum Of Solace centrifuge which just about stops everything spinning out of control, and that's Daniel Wroughton Craig.

Yes, "Wroughton".

Having already kicked the doubters in the face with his performance in Casino Royale, Craig perfects his Bond in only his second film. Like Timothy Dalton, he doesn't attempt to emulate any of the previous occupants of 007's tux, instead creating a character so much his own that some complain that it barely resembles James Bond at all. That argument is clearly ridiculous; Craig's an actor, not an impersonator. Once you surround him with all the tropes of the series - the cars, the girls, the stunts, the music, the villains - he's free to do his own thing, safe in the knowledge that Bond will emerge around him, as happened with his predecessors. And it's hard to deny that, slimmed down from Casino Royale's hulking physique and beautifully clad in Tom Ford suits (far more appropriate than the Brioni clobber he sported in 2006), he absolutely looks the part.

With his Bond having failed to save Vesper from drowning in a sinking lift, Craig has learned his lesson and rescues Quantum Of Solace from a similar fate simply by being completely ace in every scene. Observe the gusto with which he throws himself into the action scenes; how he convincingly fails to convince M that Vesper wasn't important to him; his impatience with M's chief of staff, Tanner (slight niggle: Ian Fleming wrote Tanner as Bond's only friend in MI6, and has never been satisfyingly portrayed as such in the films); the casual manner with which he waits for Mr Slate to bleed to death, or his nonchalant escape from MI6 agents in the La Paz hotel.

Craig is a magnetic presence on screen, and his ability to salvage a mediocre Bond film is the best reason to be jazzed about what he might do with a truly great one. And that's why it's impossible for me not to soil myself with excitement that at last, it's October 2012, and BlogalongaBond is about to end with an almighty bang.


David Arnold's score
 
David Arnold's fifth (and possibly final) score for a Bond film is far and away his best; it elevates an otherwise muddled and disappointing film into a thrilling experience by virtue of being absolutely fucking ace on every level. The score's menacing opening tones set up a mood that permeates the entire movie, while the subtlest hints of the Bond theme and the Casino Royale score laced throughout connect Quantum to its prequel. The title song may well be rubbs but check out its opening notes and compare them to Casino Royale's theme song: they're identical, but in a different key. They don't just throw this stuff together you know.

And finally: I don't even understand how this works.

Bond and Agent Fields are in a hotel room. They met about ten seconds ago.

BOND
I can't find the, um... the stationery.
Come and help me look.
I tried this line on a sexy lady working in WHSmith the other day and all I got was directions to the stationery.

BlogalongaBond will return with Skyfall

What the hell is BlogalongaBond? I'll tell you.
Further BlogalongaBondareading here

* As far as I can tell: Camille is a (possibly ex-) Bolivian Secret Service agent using Greene to get to General Medrano for personal reasons. At the same time, she tries to buy a report from a geologist to uncover Greene's dirty deeds. Greene finds out and kills the geologist, then pays assassin Mr Slate (using Quantum's tagged banknotes) to act as the geologist and set up a fake meeting with Camille at which he will kill her. Unfortunately for Mr Slate, Bond gets to him first and Bournes him to death in his hotel room before taking his place: that's why Camille thinks Bond's a geologist. Obvious really.

2 comments :

  1. While your countdown clock ticks off the seconds towards Skyfall, the Adele title song seems to be top of the radio playlists. The upward inflexion on the word skyfall instead of a drop makes the song catchingly original while having the underlying brass and bass big orchestra sound common to Bond title music. The more I hear the song the more I like it.

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  2. Spot on! Arnold's score for this film definitely deserves more plaudits

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