A Bond for all seasons
A grim 007 arrives in time for hard times

by Judith Reynolds

He broods. He scowls. He stares. James Bond is in a funk, the winter of his discontent. And although in deep mourning, he’s set on revenge.

“Quantum of Solace,” the film featuring Daniel Craig in his second outing since he took over the Agent 007 franchise, begins where “Casino Royale” left off. “Quantum” is the 22nd and latest edition in the Ian Fleming-inspired film cycle that is a phenomenon of our time. Craig’s interpretation finds 007 brooding over his lover’s death and possible betrayal.

The opening shot propels the viewer at high speed toward an island where a harrowing road-and-tunnel chase ensues. Quick cutting between dueling, high-end cars, the requisite Austin Martin DBS and Alfa Romeo 159, delivers a dizzying chase. It’s the first of at least a dozen spectacular pursuits that fill this action-adventure film.

A quick shift to Siena, Italy, and Bond is still on the scent of Her Majesty’s enemy. While he interrogates a low life underground, the grand Palio, an ancient horse race on Siena’s main piazza, fires up. A betrayal by a British colleague sparks another chase above and below ground in this beautiful Renaissance city. Spliced into the mayhem comes an animatronics sequence featuring the famous Bond silhouette morphing into desert sands and stars. Everything catapults us into the mythical Bond universe.

With an estimated $230 million budget, “Quantum” sports new special effects and more location shooting than any other Bond film. You get plenty of Italy, something of Panama, Haiti, China, Bolivia and a spectacular urban sequence in the ultra modern section of Bregenz, Austria.

In and around the new, floating Kornmart Opera Theatre, Bond slips into the wardrobe department and miraculously finds a tuxedo exactly his size. He needs to merge with the black-tie crowd schmoozing in the glass-and-steel lobby above. To the billowing strains of the Vienna Philharmonic Orchestra, we hear and see a good bit of the final act of “Tosca.” For this old device, the play-within-the-play, it’s no wonder Director Marc Forster has chosen Puccini’s masterwork. We’re supposed to connect the betrayal and demise of poor Mario Cavaradossi with – who else? Bond. It’s a symbolic rerun of Bond’s perpetual plight. And, of course, Vesper, his dead lover from “Casino Royale,” is Tosca’s counterpart.

In a slick plot twist, the always clever Bond swipes a VP goodie bag with a private ear chip for conspirators only. As the opera proceeds, 007 listens in on a massive conspiracy conversation conducted sotto voce in the audience. James listens in on the whispered negotiations and chooses his time to intrude. Stunned, the conspirators realize their elaborate scheme has been compromised and a large, awkward exit ensues – easy targets for Bond to photograph. It also sets up one of the few quips in this otherwise quipless Bond film. But it’s an opera lover, not Bond, who comments on the bad manners of the departing VIPs.

“Quantum of Solace” has a nice ring for a title, but the phrase never surfaces in the film. Fleming fans will know the title comes from a short story. But the “Quantum” plot has nothing to do with the “Solace”

movie. It might better have been titled “Quantum of Revenge.” That’s the driving motivation behind Bond’s rogue behavior and relentless pursuit of Dominic Greene (French actor Mathieu Amalric), a powerful, environmentally conscious entrepreneur out to take over countries with a fake “green” message.

For Bond diehards, some of the traditions have been maintained but precious few. The harrowing chases have been enhanced, and at least one luxury hotel provides the setting for Bond’s comfort and a limited seduction. As a bonus, many moments quote from earlier Bond films. Watch for the spectacular sky diving escapade. It tops the one from “The Spy Who Loved Me.” On the other hand, you have to wait for the end credits to hear the famous John Barry theme. And what is intended to be a real departure from tradition, the title doesn’t appear at all until the very end.

Fans seem to be wondering what happened to the suave, assured hero who emerged in literature and film when the Cold War raged. Where is Sean Connery’s savoir faire? The cosmopolitan coolness of Roger Moore? The insouciance of Pierce Brosnan? Daniel Craig’s rugged, rock-like stoicism has the weight of Hamlet on his well-muscled shoulders. All I can say is, be prepared for his cold and unemotional heavy lifting. The old Bond films gave us a light and slippery spy. “Quantum” delivers a heavier hero who wrestles with sadness and anger. This Bond seems to know we’re already on the mat of hard times. With a wounded Bond like Craig, can a great recession be far behind? •



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