The third story in For Your Eyes Only.

This story has no spies, no guns, no supervillains, no global conspiracies, and yet it might be one of the most significant pieces Ian Fleming ever wrote about James Bond.

Bond is sitting on a sofa, after a dinner party, talking with the Colonial Governor. After Bond (who despises small talk) makes a comment about marrying a stewardess, the Governor launches into a story of one of his old coworkers, and it is this tale, told in the older man's voice, that comprises the bulk of the short story.

In brief, it is the story of a young Diplomatic Service man who marries a flight attendant. When she becomes disillusioned with her less-than-flashy life and her uxorious husband, she has a blatant affair. It ruins her husband, who is eventually transferred to Washington for six months.

When he returns, he ruthlessly crushes her spirit much as she did his -- but privately, over the course of a year. In the end he leaves her financially and emotionally ruined, but pays the price of the coarsening of his soul. In the end, she hits bottom and slowly recovers, even finding happiness.

The crux of the story is the emotional phenomenon the Governor calls the Quantum of Solace, the smallest unit of human compassion that two people can have. As long as that compassion exists, people can survive, but when it is gone, when your partner no longer cares about your essential humanity, the relationship is over.

At the end of the story Bond is depressed, and suddenly finds his life of adventure to be fundamentally boring and unfulfilling compared to the real human drama the Governor has told him about.

The unwritten part of the story, the essential truth never spelled out in so many words but clear to anyone who has spent the last week reading the original Bond books is this --

No one in the world has a Quantum of Solace for James Bond.

He is alone. The people closest to him are M., who, in the end treats him like a fine hunting dog, and his elderly housekeeper May, who, as much as she may fuss and fret about his health, will eventually retire and be done with him. From this point on in the series, Bond is crumbling, a man sliding down the slope of his career, a human being rather than the automaton Fleming originally set out to create.

It's also the 22nd film in EON Productions' James Bond franchise, in case you've been living in a hole for the past year and a half. However, other than a few oblique references to the idea of "a quantum of solace," there's not all that much in it to do with the short story at all.

Released on October 31, 2008, Quantum of Solace is the second Bond film to feature Daniel Craig in the title role. While there have been worse Bonds than Craig, he's certainly no Sean Connery and not even a Roger Moore. But then again, the fact that he has only one facial expression in his repertoire doesn't matter too much, as Bond happy-gallaghers round a plethora of different locales, meets interesting people, and alternately shoots them or beats them senseless, sometimes with his shirt off. But thankfully, he doesn't attempt an Ursula Andress with a pair of very short swimming trunks like he did in Casino Royale. Just as Patrick Swayze acts from the waist down, so does Daniel Craig act from the neck down. His interpretation of Bond is a well-built man kicking the shite out of folks. No more, no less.

The plot (SPOILER ALERT) follows on entirely from the end of 2006's Casino Royale - Bond's shot a henchman called Mr White in the leg, grabbed him, and is attempting to find out who he works for. White, of course, doesn't say, only that it's a large, shadowy organisation that nobody's heard of, but has people everywhere. Literally, as Bond and M, played once again by Judi Dench, find out when a fellow agent pulls out a gun and starts shooting people indiscriminately. Soon enough, Bond engages in some suitably visually appealing rooftop chases, jetting around the world to obscure destinations, on a one-man quest for revenge against the folks who killed off Vesper Lynd in the previous film. On the way he meets Gemma Arterton who plays an MI6 paper-pusher who Bond shags and is later drowned in crude oil, and Camille, who was the daughter of a high-up in a previous kleptocratic régime in Bolivia (played by Olga Kurylenko, who's from the Ukraine. They rationalised her accent by claiming that her mother was a dancer from Moscow.) Eventually it transpires that this organisation, known as Quantum, is run by a man who's a cross between Nicolas Sarkozy and Al Gore called Dominic Greene (played by Mathieu Amalric), who runs a huge power and utilities company in hundreds of countries round the world, who also engages in huge philanthropic activities designed to get him on the side of environmentalists - like buying up and preserving patches of rainforest, or chunks of the Atacama Desert. However, it turns out that he's engineering a coup in Bolivia to restore the former military dictator General Medrano to power in return for this patch of desert - which has under it a huge subterranean river and it turns out Greene only wants it for the water, which supplies most of South America with water. Or something like that.

Though to be fair, the plot is pretty thin actually. I know, I know, it's only James Bond, but all the same... it doesn't feel like a James Bond film. Most of the gadgets are real-life kit, and M has a spiffier lair than Dominic Greene, whose lair consists of a hotel in the Middle of Nowhere that runs on hydrogen fuel cells (necessary because he's posing as being all eco and the like), which looks like a block of council flats. There's also two subplots that I felt weren't properly developed. One was Camille's desire for revenge on General Medrano, who apparently killed her father, raped her mother and sisters, and then burnt the house down round her. The other was the intervention of HM Government into Bond's activities with Greene; thinking it was all about oil, and to deal with Greene would be in the national interest. I can't help but feel that this was given short shrift.

I wish they'd given product placement short shrift though. Every car was a Ford and was filmed nose first so we could all see the blue ovals on the front. Not only that, but they all had "hydrogen" plastered across the bonnet so we could see that Ford were being Nice and Responsible and Trying to Save the World From Itself. Ugh. Spare me. I don't care about whether Ford's cars are environmentally friendly or not, I just don't want to have their ethical cockwaving slapped in my face every few scenes. And every computer was a Sony - and every phone also. Ugh.

Girls? Neither of them were particularly memorable or effective. Gemma Arterton played a bureaucrat called Strawberry Fields (honestly), who Bond shagged (though all we really saw of this was afterwards when he was kissing her arse - literally, that is.) The other was Olga Kurylenko as Camille, who had been hyped beforehand as a "new" sort of Bond girl who would do some beating into submission of folks on her own account as well, but this didn't really materialise too much - and in the end she still relied on James to get her out of some sticky situations though. Though she did get to stab General Medrano in the balls.

That being said, the action was pretty visceral and intense and all round fun. Lots of Really Big Explosions here, though nothing as visually epic as the parkour chase scene in Casino Royale. And the final battle with Dominic Greene was pretty good as well, because they deliberately didn't make him a master martial artist or a dead shot or anything. He was simply an average bloke swinging a fire axe round and not caring what he did with it, as his lair burnt down around him. In some ways this made him more dangerous than had he been Oddjob or Jaws. I was also a fan of the dogfight between Bond, in a clunky old cargo plane with no guns, and a Dastardly Henchman in a slightly less clunky fighter plane with lots of guns. Which, of course, Bond won by being, well, James Bond.

To be fair I liked Quantum. But I still think Casino Royale was better. This film felt a bit rushed, dare I say it. The focus was more on the action and less on the character of James Bond, who seemed wooden and two-dimensional. It doesn't help that Daniel Craig has one facial expression on constantly (refer to poster). Also, the main villain, Greene, just didn't seem sinister enough. Think of the great Bond villains of the past or even recent past. Blofeld with his shaven pussy that he constantly strokes. Scaramanga. Even Le Chiffre from Casino Royale, who was a suitable creephat for the part, with his one eye and deathly pallor and scars. There was a man who you could see squatting in a basement, calculating how to take over the world. Not Dominic Greene. He was just a dodgy businessman at heart. I feel they ought to have played up his lust for power some more. There was one scene in which he threw a massive party celebrating the launch of his environmental preserves. He was to give a speech exhorting the Great and the Good to be worried about the devastation that humans were allegedly wreaking on the Earth Mother Gaia, but it was lackluster and short. He seemed less like a self-appointed messiah and more like some rich get pretending to care. More believeable, maybe, but not Bond.

What do I give it? Six and a half out of ten. Loses points for being too action-focussed and not emphasising character development and so forth enough. Casino Royale proved you can do both of these things. Why couldn't Quantum?

Quantum of Solace


Synopsis

In the closing scenes of Casino Royale, Bond finds the number of a Mr. White in Vesper Lynd's cell phone, using it to lay a trap for him near Lake Garda. The final scene of Casino Royale shows Bond shooting White in the leg: "The name's Bond. James Bond."

Quantum of Solace picks up immediately after White's capture. The quintessential opening chase scene involves Bond weaving through traffic on the crowded lakeside drive pursued by what are presumably White's men. In typical Bond fashion, several civilian and police vehicles are destroyed in the process of his escape. Bond's Aston Martin DBS V12 from the previous film is trashed in these first few minutes which is a shame because that car was a damn sexy piece of automotive engineering.

Upon making it to a MI6 safe house in Siena, Italy, Bond meets up with M and together they proceed to interrogate Mr. White about his connections with a larger organization: "The first thing you should know about us is that we have people everywhere." M's personal bodyguard them opens fire on Bond, M, and the other agents present. Attempting to flee he is chased on foot by Bond. The chase takes place over the rooftops of the medieval town, eventually ending inside a church undergoing renovation. Upon dispatching the mole, Bond returns to the safe house to find White gone.

Working on the few leads they have, Bond heads for Port-au-Prince in Haiti. There he meets Camille Montes and rescues her from General Medrano who is planning a coup d'état of the Bolivian government. Another chase scene ensuses.

It is revealed that Dominic Greene, the man Bond has been tracking is working with the CIA and Agent Felix Lieter. Greene has arranged to facilitate Medrano's coup of the Bolivian government in exchange for a large and apparently worthless area of the Bolivian desert. At the same time he is working with the CIA who believe that Greene has found oil on the land. Felix is uneasy with the relationship commenting to his superior "You know who Greene is and you want to put us in bed with him," to which his superior responds sarcastically "Yeah, you're right. We should just deal with nice people."

Bond follows Greene to Austria where several members of Greene's terrorist organization are meeting, using Puccini's Tosca as a cover and communicating via special ear pieces. Bond incapacitates one of the members of the organization and steals an ear piece, overhearing some of their plans. He also uses this opportunity to photograph several members of the terrorist ring which include a top advisor to the PM. A gunfight in the restaurant occurs as Bond tries to escape. Making his way to the roof, Bond captures one of his pursuers and holds him at gunpoint over the edge of the building. After refusing to tell Bond anything, Bond releases the man and allows him to drop onto a car on the ground below where he is shot by one of Greene's men.

M feels that Bond has gone too far and revokes his credit cards and passport in the hopes of forcing him to return or at least to prevent him from moving. Bond, however, finds René Mathis from the previous film and convinces him to help him. Heading for La Paz, Bolivia the two meet up with Strawberry Fields who has been sent by MI6 to detain Bond. In the course of two scenes, Bond seduces her before attending a party hosted by Greene. Here he meets one of Mathis' contacts, the Bolivian Colonel of the Police and runs into Camille again. Leaving the party with Camille, Bond is stopped by the police who order him to open the trunk of the car. Inside he finds Mathis who has been beaten. A brief fight ensues where Mathis is shot by the police before they're killed in turn by Bond. Mathis dies after telling Bond that he must forgive Vesper and himself.

Bond and Camille go to investigate Greene's land in the desert in a Douglas DC-3. In an aerial chase scene, the plane is shot down. Bond and Camille escape using a parachute and fall into a sinkhole in the desert where they discover an underground reservoir. After a brief discussion with M, Bond escapes apprehension by MI6 and meets with Felix at a bar. Felix, who is increasingly uneasy with the actions of his government reveals the deal the CIA has made with Greene before telling Bond to escape. Bond evades the American forces and heads for General Medrano's estate in the Bolivian desert with Camille. While there, Camille, whose family was raped and murdered by Medrano several years earlier, kills the General while Bond kills the Colonel and captures Greene. After interrogating Greene about his connections to the terrorist organization, now known as Quantum, Bond maroons him in the desert with nothing but a can of motor oil.

With only one bit of unfinished business left, Bond heads for Kazan, Russia where he intercepts Yusef, Vesper Lynd's former lover whose alleged kidnapping powered many of the events in Casino Royale. Bond confronts Yusef who is a member of Quantum but restrains himself from killing him, instead turning Yusef over to MI6 for interrogation. Outside in the russian winter, M reveals that Felix's superior was removed and that Felix had been promoted to replace him. In the final scene, Bond drops the necklace Vesper gave to him in the previous movie to the snow and walks away.


Review

One of the parts of the previous film that I disliked the most were the opening titles. All previous bond films featured sihilouettes of nude women juxtaposed with images of Bond and a more subdued song. Casino Royale broke that mould by using contemporary rock music and no women in a decidedly more abstract sequence than previous films. In Quantum of Solace we see a return to the classic style with a beautiful sequence of shots featuring Bond walking over sand dunes with shifting women in the background.

The film had, in my opinion, too much action and not enough plot. Making the issue worse, the action scenes are not mixed evenly throughout with most of them occurring in the first half of the movie. This made the first half a bit overwhelming and the later half far too slow. In a related issue, one of my pet peeves about modern movies is how rapidly shots change. The chase scenes, while well done, had twice as many shots as necessary. While I can understand the desire for creating a feeling of chaos it shouldn't come at the price of comprehension. Too many of the shots were out of focus and fleetingly short, creating more of an impression of action than any sort of substance. Despite my dislike of the somewhat spastic cinematography, it formed a nice contrast with the relatively slow shots during dialogue scenes.

The Bond girls were decidedly unspectacular. Camille's desire for revenge was a far cry from the depth of character we received from Vesper Lynd in Casino Royale and she never quite felt like she was fleshed out as a real character in this film. Strawberry Fields was also nothing more than eye candy and, quite frankly, irritated the hell out of me with both her wardrobe and demeanor. Quantum of Solace also noticeably lacked any form of bikini--enough said.

The plot never quite felt complete to me and the underlying story arc involving Quantum made the whole film feel like the middle-of-the-trilogy sort of movie I'm becoming irritatingly familiar with. While Casino Royale broke the mould of nearly ever Bond movie before, I feel like this more closely resembles one of the weakest of the Bond movies with its focus on action with just enough characterization to prevent it from being a total train wreck. The product placement of Ford cars was disgusting and took away from what would have otherwise been a fairly realistic film.

Bottom line: there are some spectacular scenes in this film that carry it through such as the opera scene and the chase on the rooftops. However, it relies far too much on Bond as an action hero and not as a spy. I saw this movie for free at the movie theater on my campus but if you don't have that opportunity I would suggest you forget about paying the $10 ticket price for the movie and wait a few months for it to come out on DVD. In short, it's worth paying to see but not worth paying too much.

Redeeming Quantum of Solace

First, watch Casino Royale and Quantum of Solace back-to-back.

...

Wasn't that an improvement? I think they make a solid double-bill. The join between the two is seamless; Casino Royale is by far the better-received film and Quantum can coast on that good feeling for a good percentage of its running length. Casino Royale was always a little bloated with that fourth act, whereas Quantum of Solace is well-understood to be very rushed both in production and the final product. Knocking out the wall between the two evens things out.

Now let's go one step further and see if we can completely fix this thing: move the fourth act of Casino Royale to the start of Quantum of Solace.

What we have are two new films:

Casino Roya—

In his first outing as 007, James Bond tracks down and matches wits with a man named Le Chiffre, "private banker to the world's terrorists". Bond defeats the man at poker, ruining him and leaving him with nowhere to run but into the arms of MI6. Le Chiffre captures and tortures Bond, but is himself killed by the mysterious Mr. White, who leaves Bond alive.

Smitten with Treasury agent Vesper Lynd, Bond leaves the Secret Service and they both live happily ever after.

This film ends after around 122 minutes, in the brief beach scene with Bond and Vesper. The last few minutes of the film drag out rather, but you can definitely see a couple of places where the credits could feasibly roll. Ending it early makes Casino Roya' a fairly conventional outing for the rebooted James Bond - he beats the bad guy, he gets the girl, everything is wrapped up neatly.

Le Quantum of Solace

The sequel is the destruction of James Bond. The fairytale ending was too good to be true and in this film he pays the price for believing it.

Vesper and Bond sail into Venice, while Bond emails his resignation to MI6. All is well until Vesper steals the winnings of the pivotal poker game of the previous film. Bond pursues her as she delivers the money to the mysterious Mr. White. White escapes and Vesper kills herself. It turns out Vesper had a boyfriend this whole time; White's organisation, Q.U.A.N.T.U.M., was holding him hostage.

Just to clarify: Bond said to Vesper, "Whatever's left of me, I'm yours." Then, Vesper killed herself.

The remainder of Quantum is a blizzard of meaningless action because that's all that's left of James Bond; the plot is delirious, mirroring his mental state. Bond sets out to find the truth. He pursues Dominic Greene, a senior member of Q.U.A.N.T.U.M. who is attempting to acquire indirect control of the nation of Bolivia by monopolising its water supply. Bond defeats Greene and learns from him - among many other things - that Vesper's "boyfriend" was simply another Q.U.A.N.T.U.M. agent who seduced her to gain leverage.

So by the end, everything that Bond has ever known to be true is a lie, except his duty. 007 resigns himself to his fate as a personality-less, country-protecting automaton.

And Mr. White escapes through the cracks in the plot.

Okay, it's not completely fixed, but it's closer.

So... why bother trying? A lot of people didn't like Quantum of Solace for a lot of valid reasons. We all know these reasons; there is no point in reciting them.

The thing is, I don't like not liking films. I want every film to be good. I know that that's ridiculous and impossible. But every film takes a huge amount of earnest effort from a huge number of people and I'd like it if that effort could be not wasted. So let's focus on the positives. If a film is bad, but there's a way of viewing it which makes it good, then let's find that angle.

Some people watch bad films on purpose because they gain enjoyment from the badness. If you gain enjoyment from a film, then doesn't that make it a good film by definition?

The adjective for Quantum of Solace is "rushed". The film runs for 106 minutes and its plot has suffered badly from excessive editing and from the Writer's Guild strike. There was a great interview with Craig on this topic, apparently no longer available, but some bits and pieces still exist. (Oh wait, here it is!) You can see Craig and Marc Forster trying to improvise something coherent and meaningful without backup.

And there's a lot that I do still like about the film. It's beautiful to look at, great to listen to, and it does things to Bond that have never happened before. I think the water plot is an intelligent take on "world domination" - if successful, it would have given Q.U.A.N.T.U.M. a seat at the international table, which raises all kinds of interesting possibilities. And I love Mathieu Amalric as Greene. Sure, the character has no bizarre physical defect, but instead he is a little short and pathetic and strange to look at and talk to. He comes off as almost uncanny-valley phony, smiling exclusively when it's politically wise to do so. Look at his eyes: all the way through the film, Greene is crazy in the eyes. This worked for me because Amalric could very easily have played him as genuinely pedestrian and conventional, just another man-in-a-suit.

And there's the final fight scene. You know, in the exploding hotel, when Greene goes nuts and screams and tries to kill Bond with a fire axe. During that scene he actually feels murderous and wild and properly crazy, in contrast to other Bond villains who have always been relatively measured and calculating even in the final confrontation. Bond is a character who drives people crazy by persistently not dying, and it's a nice touch for the villain to be human enough to actually crack.

But anyway. What I'm saying is that the seeds of a good film are somewhere in Quantum of Solace, more obviously than they are in many films. It's obvious that things could have gone another way, and I don't think it's a waste of time paying attention to what makes a - let's not say "bad" - an unsatisfactory film unsatisfactory, any more than when we look at what makes a good film good.

And if we gain enjoyment from trying to patch a film up retrospectively, that must be worth something, right?

Log in or registerto write something here or to contact authors.