Screenwriters: Paul Haggis, Neal Purvis, Robert Wade
Starring: Daniel Craig, Olga Kurylenko, Mathieu Amalric, Judi Dench, Gemma Arterton
Running Time: 106 mins
Daniel Craig comes crashing back to the big screen, quite literally, in his second outing as James Bond. It's all burning rubber and hot, blue-eyed intensity from the outset as he pursues those responsible for betraying his beloved Vesper at the end of Casino Royale. Only one hour has elapsed since that defining moment, so you’ll forgive 007 for struggling to move on, but director Marc Forster also falls victim and delivers a film which plays like a drawn-out finale. On the upside, this does mean plenty of gob-smacking stunts and Craig switched to permanent ignition.
All that business of saving the world, previously central to the franchise, is almost incidental in Quantum Of Solace. An evil plot hatched by Dominic Greene, posing as an eco-minded entrepreneur (Mathieu Amalric doing a beady-eyed turn, for want of another deformity) seems deliberately hazy, except that he's quietly raping South America of its natural resources. Bond is more concerned by the revelation that Greene is a major player in the secret organisation who wronged Vesper. But making the mission personal narrows the scope of the film. Greene just isn't as important as the demons in 007's head; a bold change to the formula that doesn't always pay off.
With M (a wonderfully deadpan Judi Dench) breathing down his neck, Bond gets his revenge-seeking rocks off by living vicariously through the sultry Camille (Olga Kurylenko). She leads Bond to Greene in the course of her own mission to assassinate the sleazy South American generale (Joaquín Cosio) who left his mark on her as a child. In a middle sequence loaded with symbolism they march through the desert, thirsting only for blood. It comes as no surprise that Forster, best known for esoteric fare like Monster's Ball and Finding Neverland, should centre on this inner turmoil. But even using Camille as a proxy, he can’t get too deep under Bond's skin. And the titular quest for 'solace' is an even bigger tease than Camille herself.
Thankfully, Forster doesn’t hang around too long angling for pathos. Bond has always been a man of action, first and foremost, and there is a generous helping of that from the engine-revving opening car chase along a winding Alpine track to an aerial pursuit over the Bolivian desert, to a good old-fashioned punch-up (albeit upside-down, dangling from ropes). Forster has wisely taken a few notes from the Bourne franchise, dropping the camera into striking distance as the actors tumble over scaffolding and leap across the rooftops of Siena. Curiously, the final set piece is the least spectacular, although it does suit Craig's more down-to-earth Bond.
There is never any lack of tension because Craig, quite naturally, gives the impression of a man who is as much fallible as unflappable. There is also the stink of decaying humanity about him, grown stronger since Casino Royale because as M observes, he is "blinded by inconsolable rage". Largely for that reason, the part is a gift to Craig, who plays it like a heat-seeking missile; dynamic, destructive and always true to the course. It helps too that he has a magnetism which is tough to resist even at his most ruthless. Compared to the rest of the Bond series, Quantum Of Solace is something of an aberration (especially given the unorthodox ending) so it's just as well that Craig stays on target. He is, without doubt, the best Bond thus far.
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