A Brisk, Brutal Bond: The Quantum of Solace Review

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Karen Ballard / EON / UA / Columbia

Daniel Craig as James Bond and Olga Kurylenko as Camille in Quantum of Solace

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Our overseas readers will recall — they'd better, if the plot and emotions of this film are to make any sense — that the 2006 Casino Royale was a conscious return to the young agent on his first big case as an operative of Her Majesty's Secret Service. While dispatching the usual number of foreign villains, he falls for the lustrous Vesper Lynd (as in West Berlin; Fleming was addicted to pun names for his Bond girls), an agent for the British Treasury Service. A misunderstanding about Vesper's motives leads to her death, for which Bond blames himself. Quantum of Solace begins an hour after the end of Casino Royale.

The 2006 film had the longest running time in the series: 2hr.24. This one, the first true Bond sequel, is the shortest, at 1hr.46, and it wastes no time shifting into high gear. It begins in the middle of a car chase, with Bond's Aston Martin being pursued by a convoy of nasty cars on the hairpin turns of a mountain road outside Siena, Italy. Doesn't matter if the bad guys have enough artillery to stock a Third World uprising; Bond's superior driving skills, and the series' reluctance to kill off its hero in the first reel, make him the victor and survivor. At one point on that narrow winding stretch he negotiates a 360-degree turn, maybe a 720 — with all the flashy editing it's hard to tell — and makes his way safely to a hideout where his boss M (Judi Dench) awaits. He has a lovely gift for her in the boot of the Aston Martin: a suave crime boss, Mr. White (Jesper Christensen), brought in for MI6's brand of extreme rendition.

Fleming's idea of Bond villains was that they were inbred, disenfranchised Euro-aristocrats, their vocation twisted from nation-building to world-conquering; and the movies have honored that antique notion. The baddie conglomerate, once known as SPECTRE, is now Quantum, but their role is the same: to spit out snide threats in an upper-crust accent of indeterminate nationality.

One of these is White, who tells M and Bond a little secret; that Quantum has people everywhere. That's the cue for M's trusted bodyguard to pull a gun on her and reveal himself as a Quantum hireling. More fighting and chasing and leaping, intercut with the running of Il Palio, the famous horse race held in a Siena's main piazza. Director Marc Forster — known for gimmicky art-house films like Finding Neverland, Stranger Than Fiction and The Kite Runner — turns out to be a natural as the helmer of a high-energy, high-gloss action film. He also holds the viewer's powers of concentration and retention in such high regard, he often has two action scenes going at once.

Vesper's death hangs over Bond like black crepe, spurring his sense of revenge and most of the plot. His chief nemesis is Dominic Greene (French star Mathieu Amalric, of last year's The Diving Bell and the Butterfly), a zillionaire member of the Quantum board who uses environmental philanthropy to mask his sick dreams of diverting water from the peasants of South America. (Bolivia is the new Chinatown.) Greene passes along one of his plaything-victims, the seductive Camille (Olga Kurylenko), to the Bolivian strongman Gen. Medrano (Joaquín Cosio). Turns out Camille, like Bond, has a score to settle. This time, for both of them, it's personal.

Bond Bourne Again

The Bond films carry such baggage and have been imitated so many times that during any scene there'll be another playing in your head: one from some other movie that scriptwriters Paul Haggis, Neal Purvis and Robert Wade (all of whom worked on Casino Royale) are either citing or borrowing from. Bond films, for a start. Q's gone missing, but M's there, and the sympathetic CIA agent Felix Leiter, making his ninth appearance in the series (played here, as in Casino, by Jeffrey Wright). And a rooftop chase that's the stunted little brother of the terrific parkour exertions in Casino Royale. And the startling image of a dead nude woman painted head to toe in black oil, a reference to poor gold-plated Shirley Eaton way back in the 1964 Goldfinger.

(See a special report about James Bond and Ian Fleming.)

(See pictures of all things Bond.)

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