Sunday, November 23, 2008

Return to Quantum: No Tortured Soliloquies

Today I trudged through more than 12 inches of slushy snow to take in a second viewing of The Quantum of Solace at Park Lane cinemas. If you have not read my first review, I suggest that you peruse it first here. Warning, while the first review is relatively safe for those who have not seen the film, this installment contains numerous spoilers.

Sober Second Thought
I stand by my initial reaction to The Quantum of Solace in all regards, but one thing has been nagging at me since posting those thoughts earlier this week: how much of Bond's inner conflict/character do we really see?

In my former post I commented: "in Quantum, we see a James Bond that is trained to use his license to kill, but also has a heart and soul that can love, lose and suffer. We see uncertainty and torment in Craig's eyes as he seeks resolution after the loss of Vesper, in the process trying to reconcile his role as a spying and killing machine with his experience of vulnerability and trust."

On second viewing, I stand by these words, but feel duty bound to point out that this is, above and beyond all, and action movie. The explosions tend to be more realistic, but the film is, in its essence, one of action and adventure - not about exploring the tortured psyche of a hired gun. And that action, while we are on the theme, is fast-paced and often disjointed - on second viewing, the initial car chase was less heart-thumping and more plain disorienting.

A bit of research on IMDB quickly revealed the reason for this: the film editing was done by Richard Pearson, who also worked on The Bourne Supremacy, another film that is typified by fast cuts between squealing tires, firing guns, fast gear shifting and bone-crunching collisions.

That being said, the torment that Bond is experiencing in the wake of Vesper's death does hang heavily over this film, and trust is a key theme: the trust that Bond put in Vesper herself, his trust of Rene Mathis, the trust (or lack thereof) between James and his CIA counterparts, and, most importantly, the level of trust between Bond and M.

It is three key relationships - aside from Vesper, of course - that underpin the plot of Quantum and really struck me in this viewing:

M. In the past M has largely been a throwaway character, exasperated with Bond's flippant disrespect for his authority and the rules and regulations of MI6 - not to mention the "no sex please, we're British" decorum. That all began to change when M shifted from a throwaway he to a stern and central she

Judi Dench began to breathe life into this character during Pierce Brosnan's tenure, and in this film we see a relationship develop between her and Bond based on implicit trust in a world where there are no certainties. Indeed, near the film's opening we see Bond bring Le Chifre into a safe house for questioning, only to have him executed by a henchman who has served as a sleeper in M's own office for eight years. As she comments after this near-death experience: "when someone says "we have people everywhere" you tend to think it's hyperbole, you don't expect them to actually have someone in the room."

By the end of the film, however, we are aware that an unbreakable bond of trust has been forged between 007 an M. A bond that bodes well for the series to come, as it foreshadows a more active role for M and a continued prominent position for Judi Dench, who is a pleasure to watch.

Rene Mathis. One could be forgiven for thinking of Mathis as a throwaway character in Quantum, a crewmen Jones of a sort. However, going to Mathis for help is an important step for James, who has not trusted anyone implicitly since Vesper's betrayal - and this act of faith also leads to a death.

The scene of Bond cradling Mathis' bloodied, dying body as he whispers "don't leave me" is a powerful moment. We see compassion in Bond that is so strongly contrasted moments later as Mathis' dead body is thrown in a dumpster and plundered of ready cash. Here is the conflict I mentioned earlier this week between the compassion and the machine-like efficiency - an efficiency that Bond is praised for explicitly in Quantum.

Felix Leiter. Felix does not play a large role in Quantum, but, as we know from the long history of Bond's character - which Casino Royale and Quantum reset to a blank slate - Felix is destined to play a large role in the films to come.

In this film Felix is an underling to a typically morally bankrupt agent of America's military-industrial machine, but by the end he has: a) earned Bond's trust; and b) been promoted to replace his corrupt boss - as Bond comments on hearing the news "At least the right people kept their jobs." Hopefully Felix will not end up quite as dead as most of the other people Bond has trusted, and hopefully he will return to play an important role in future outings.

Final Thoughts
As I said earlier, Quantum is an action movie above and beyond all else, and is not meant to be taken too seriously - let go and enjoy the gun fights, car chases and explosions. However, it also does an amazing job serving as essentially Casino Royale part two, and leaves a solid structure of characters and relationships on which to build future films that meet or exceed the bar set by this film.

1 comment:

DreamQueen said...

Excellent follow-up review. I like your take on the uncomfortable co-existence of murderous efficiency and compassion in this new Bond. And yes, Judi Dench as M. was a coup.