Thursday, December 4, 2008

Quantum of Solace -- vendettas in vain

Director: Marc Forster, 2008.

Quantum of Solace begins where Casino Royale left off. It is a true sequel, with a plot line dependent on the prior movie. Indeed, it is the first sequel in the Bond series. But while Casino Royale set the bar for this franchise, Quantum of Solace does a limbo, going under this bar. It is an inferior film, but still a passable thriller. While a Bond movie, it's more like a decent Bourne movie -- not surprising since the film's second unit director came from that trilogy.

One of its problems is it simply tries too hard to be an edgy action adventure. It has four chases: on foot, by car, by boat, and by plane. Both the foot chase and the the car chase scenes are too choppy. And in places there is too much juxtaposition that is distracting. The foot chase cuts back and forth to an unrelated horse race through the streets of Siena. Later, a chase and gunfight at an Opera juxtapose Bond's killings with those in the opera, Tosca; this is reminiscent of the climactic scene in The Godfather.

Back from Casino Royale is Mr. White (Jesper Christiansen), introduced in the final act of that movie but never explained. Back, too, is CIA agent Felix Lighter (Jeffrey Wright), this time ambiguous in his relationship with Bond. Also back is Mathis (Giancarlo Giannini), and where his relationship with Bond was ambiguous in Casino Royale, leading to capture and torture by MI5, here he is perhaps the only friend Bond can turn to.

The opening sequence picks up hours after Bond's finale in the the previous film, with a fast-paced and tough to follow car chase. With too-fast jump cuts, this is a confusing opening. Somehow Bond manages to transport Mr. White to an ancient dungeon where M (Judi Dench) and other agents await. In interrogation, White reveals that the money taken from Le Chiffre belonged to a larger mysterious criminal organization called Quantum. No one has heard of Quantum. Yet they have agents everywhere. Shades of SPECTRE.

With M's judgment in question, and potentially surrounded by traitors, even Bond is viewed with suspicion. Before he sets off to Haiti on a mission, M tells him: "I thought I could trust you. You said you weren't motivated but revenge." Is he after revenge? Does he simply want to find and kill the person whose deception led to the death of his one love, Vespa? Or is it true what he says, "I am motivated by my duty"?

In Haiti, he finds a lead. But the ensuing knife fight is bloody and brutal. Bond is blooded, the other bleeds out. Death follows Bond like a dark Pied Piper. But here he meets Camille (Ukrainian Olga Kurylenko with a decent Spanish accent). She is a beautiful Bolivian with a gun. And she tries to kill him.

Camille, in turn leads him to Dominic Greene, the real villain in this film. Played by Frenchman Mathieu Amalric, fresh from his outstanding performance as a paralyzed playboy in The Diving Bell and the Butterfly, he has no gimmicks to make Greene evil (no crying-blood like Le Chiffre). Instead, he is more evil in being "normal." But as CEO of an eco-friendly organization he is rich and powerful and craves more. He is also part of this mysterious Quantum organization.

When M thinks Bond has gone rogue, pursuing his personal agenda, she cuts him off. All resources are removed. He can no longer rely on MI5. With no friends, he turns to Mathis, whose trust he lost in Casino Royale. Friend or not, he needs help. And Mathis gets him to Bolivia, where he once again runs into Camile.

But Mathis gives the best line in the film in his dying breath: "She would have done anything for you . . . forgive her, forgive yourself." Vespa really did love Bond, despite her betrayal. Could he forgive her? Could he forgive himself?

Bond has not forgiven. Indeed, does he even know how to forgive? His heart is cold. But he is still human, and seeking that quantum of solace in his relationships. Despite a perfunctory and totally unbelievable romp with the red-headed Strawberry Fields, a throw-away babe, Bond has not moved on from Vespa. He needs some form of closure.

Predictably Bond and Camile end up a team, though not in bed. Both are in some sense damaged goods. Both are on personal vendettas. Both are jaded. Both will do whatever it takes to achieve their agendas. But when Camile kills her nemesis, she comes to realize that she has killed part of herself too. Her vendetta of vengeance ends in vain. How will Bond's? The cost of unforgiveness is high indeed.

The main theme of Quantum of Solace is revenge and forgiveness. Bond needs to forgive those who hurt him. More than this, he needs to forgive himself. Apart from this, he will continue to be driven by a cold desire for vengeance. We, too, must look at what is driving us. Do we have room for forgiveness in our hearts? Jesus calls us to forgive, even when it means leaving justice to others (Matt. 18:21-22). Are we big enough to do this?

Quantum of Solace is a shallower, if shorter, film than Casino Royale. But it does show the further development of the Bond character. Where there was a glimpse of the human underneath the shell in Casino, in Quantum that has disappeared into a black hole. Trust once broken, is tough to retrieve.

Copyright ©2008, Martin Baggs

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