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The UnPopular Opinion: Quantum of Solace

05.02.2012

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THE UNPOPULAR OPINION is an ongoing column featuring different takes on films that either the writer HATED, but that the majority of film fans LOVED, or that the writer LOVED, but that most others LOATHED. We're hoping this column will promote constructive and geek fueled discussion. Enjoy!

**** SOME SPOILERS ENSUE****

I’ve loved Bond movies just about as long as I can remember – it is one of the few franchises (both in the mediums of film and book) that has consistently embraced the concept of crafting an experience of genuine adventure. And while the series may have lost its way in a few of the films leading up to GOLDENEYE and the two after TOMORROW NEVER DIES, fundamentally it has ever been about a man, albeit a very capable and self-assured man, getting swept up in an adventure much bigger than himself and having to find his way. Yes he possesses training in all sorts of skills ranging from close quarters combat to parachuting to driving a manual car at high speeds, but at the end of the day the most engaging Bond stories have always focused on what happens to a human being when they are tested in the way Bond is constantly tested.

Bond as a superhero is utterly uninteresting – Bond as a trained human being having to constantly make difficult decisions and live with the consequences of those decisions is utterly fascinating. And QUANTUM OF SOLACE has the cojones to make an entire movie that is a thinly veiled metaphor for Bond’s own internal struggles with the track his life has taken, a movie that completely embodies the revelation that Bond shares to Vesper towards the end of CASINO ROYALE. “I have no armor left. You’ve stripped it from me.” Which is exactly what QUANTUM OF SOLACE does to Bond, and as an audience member I am extremely thankful for it.

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"It'd be a pretty cold bastard who didn't want revenge for the death of someone he loved."

QUANTUM OF SOLACE was caught right in the middle of the 2007/2008 Writer’s Strike, and it so star Daniel Craig and director Marc Forster were therefore the only people who could really do anything to fix up the half-finished script. As Daniel Craig stated about the situation, “a writer I am not.” Which makes me wonder and long for what could have been had the full breadth of preparation and resources been available to Forster and Craig, though I still believe they did a fantastic job anyway. But it isn’t fair to say I really enjoyed this movie because of what it could have been – that isn’t a fair rubric of judgment. So it’s just as well that I still find there to be a whole host of reasons as to why QUANTUM OF SOLACE was not only an important, but indeed essential, step forward for the Bond franchise.

While I believe Marc Forster to be a very talented director in possession of a strong visual sense, I won’t spend a great deal of time in deconstructing his technical skill as it would just take too long to go through each shot of the movie. But suffice it to say, from the forward momentum of the striking opening moments which draws in the audience to the chaos of the gunfight and chase after the opera, Forster’s framing and camera movement speaks volumes as to the direction in which the story and characters are being propelled.  Not to mention working also to make what is just a very pretty movie indeed.

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"When someone says "We've got people everywhere", you expect it to be hyperbole! Lots of people say that. Florists use that expression. It doesn't mean that they've got somebody working for them inside the bloody room!"

And speaking of the opening chase, while I must eat my words a bit by saying that the car chase itself is shot rather messily, I am still convinced that the action and events themselves hold enormous revelatory power about Bond as a character and the state of his psyche at this time. As a direct sequel to Martin Campbell’s CASINO ROYALE (albeit unintended), QUANTUM OF SOLACE immediately faced the difficult question of how to remind us where we last left Bond in terms of his emotional scarring and the cold fury which drives him. And while some of the best dialogue in the film surrounds the exposition drop necessary to really bring the audience up to speed (i.e. the first two exchanges between Bond and M), Forster elects to use the choices Bond makes in the opening two action sequences to tell us exactly who Bond is and what he’s going through.

The reckless and brutal nature of the way in which he deals with the men he is pursuing – both in the car chase and the following foot chase/gun fight – gives an absolutely clear indication of who Bond is, what he is capable of, how much he wants what he is after, and how blunt he is willing to be to achieve those much-desired objectives.  And even if Bond does turn into a bit of a superhero with regards to how much abuse he takes physically, the fact he takes so much abuse and yet carries on clearly shows us that Bond is willing to go through anything and everything to accomplish his personal mission.  This is of course echoed later in the film with Camille’s line “there is something horribly efficient about you.” By the time these opening scenes are done, we know everything we need to know about who this Bond is. It is a prologue that actually serves a clear and necessary purpose beyond of merely being cool or setting up the story’s Maguffin. Which are also two things that the opening of QUANTUM OF SOLACE, not to be outdone by the mediocrity of something like DIE ANOTHER DAY, does with ease.

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"My friends call me Dominic."
"I'm sure they do."

QUANTUM OF SOLACE is, to its credit, actually a very funny film. Sure the humor is altogether in the vein of dry British wit/irony, and it often comes at a quick pace and so is easily passed by, but it is most definitely there all throughout the film. Every instance I’ve seen QUANTUM OF SOLACE I’ve laughed out loud multiple times, which is something I cannot claim for most of the other Bond movies that I have seen (even the ones I love). Not that I only think a movie is good if I laugh out loud – I just believe that bringing the humor, sarcastic and ironic though it may be, back into the Bond franchise was an extremely important step in restoring Bond to the state of a complete human being.

Also to QUANTUM OF SOLACE’s credit is (what I imagine to be) its honesty about the world Bond lives in. When his fellow spy Mathis dies, he dies awfully, brutally, and just as sorrowfully alone as a man in his position might. Witnessing a friend and fellow spy die be murdered in order to get to Bond, and then having to hide the body in a dumpster, allows Bond to take the first true steps on his journey towards self-awareness. Which is what I firmly believe this whole film to be about, even if the film as a whole suffers from feeling a bit more like a side-quest than a full product.

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"I think you're so blinded by inconsolable rage that you don't care who you hurt. When you can't tell your friends from your enemies, it's time to go."

Now admittedly, the road to self awareness is not without hiccups. The plot’s momentum quickly ramps up as the film progresses, allowing for a succession of overly convenient developments to facilitate said momentum. Randomly finding a plane/runway in the middle of the desert, then being in just the right place to discover Greene’s plan, etc… Things happen too easily in the last act of QUANTUM OF SOLACE, and while that may merely be due to the Writer’s Strike that doesn’t change the fact that the film in its current state takes several small but annoying leaps of faith in order to advance an already fast-moving plot.  In this regard QUANTUM OF SOLACE almost manages to find itself on the exact opposite end of the spectrum from CASINO ROYALE, which took so much time drawing out every explanation and step in Bond's process that it lags a fair amount upon repeated viewings.  And yes, I'll say it - Mathieu Amalric's "hyahs" during the final fight sound absurd.  I don't know where that decision came from or why it was allowed.

But for every leap of faith the plot takes there is a truly beautiful and exciting moment/sequence to match, with none more so than the silent shoot-out during the opera.  Not only is this moment gripping, unique amongst the other action scenes in the movie, and beautifully shot/constructed, but it also manages to draw plain and important parallels with Bond himself and the story he is driving.  This sequence highlights the almost operatic scope of Bond's character and mission, painting in broad strokes all of Bond's hopes, fears, and sorrows.  And so even upon a first viewing it immediately became one of my favorite sequences in the entire history of the Bond franchise, not just because of the fantastic work it does on a technical level but in terms of how it is so intricately tied in to the greater mood and methods of this particular story's telling.

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"Bond, I need you back."
"I never left."

Now if you'll bear with me for a moment, I'm going to make an observation about something that may have been wholly unintended by the writers/Craig/Forster but still very much exists.  In QUANTUM OF SOLACE, Greene's plan is to create a drought and thereby control the water supply of Bolivia.  He is, whether the people know it or not, attempting to control them through that same primal place of fear that will inspire any of us to do most anything in exchange for self-preservation.  Likewise with Bond - the beginning of QUANTUM OF SOLACE finds Bond with a drought in his soul, and his journey though this film then becomes all about discovering a way to release, let go, and find a way to live again as even a halfway functioning human being.  All Bond wants to desperately do as the story goes on is find a way to preserve himself in the wake of his recent revelations about who he has become and what mistakes he has made.  And so QUANTUM OF SOLACE is actually an exceedingly personal tale, one that isn't afraid to be all about a damaged man traversing the terrifying map of who he has become in the hopes of discovering a way back to sanity and humanity.  And nobody can help Bond but Bond, try though M might. 

So the end of the film finds Bond having encountered a strong woman and helped her to achieve her own semblance of peace (who he doesn't sleep with, which I actually think is a great character choice), brought himself back from the brink of self-destruction, and saved a whole country's worth of people from a literal version of the same fate he was on the metaphorical path of succumbing to.  He drops Vesper's necklace into the snow and we know, that even if but for a moment, Bond has achieved a quantum of solace.  Which means in turn that the stage is now set perfectly for SKYFALL, a film which by all indication will be a tale told on a grand scale in a way that only the classic Bond style can deliver.

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Extra Tidbit: I hear a lot of people complain about it, but "Another Way to Die" is a brilliant Bond song. Besides just being a great piece of music that possesses lyrics which relate on more than just a superficial level, it also relates on a more subtle level as the fragmented style of Jack White perfectly compliments the journey Bond goes through in this film.
Source: JoBlo.com

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