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James Bond bids a farewell to charm

Raja Sen | November 06, 2008 18:43 IST


A still from Quantum of Solace

Oil, that glitters, is not gold.

I admit that's a singularly cryptic sentence to kick off a review with, but Bond fans among you would justifiably lacerate me for giving away a shocking scene with an opening line. Watch the film, and you'll see what I mean.

It's just that Quantum Of Solace -- this hideously named film that sounds far more appropriate to a bespectacled boy wizard than to double-o-seven -- tries so hard to appropriate the magic of the Bond franchise, of the glorious Sean Connery [Images] films and the crackling intensity of 2006's Casino Royale, that while it provides an adequately entertaining collection of action set-pieces, it fails to bring anything original to the table.

Hence my gripe about the oil. Taking a classic Bond moment and, well, doing a Mick Jagger and painting it black might have seemed a fine idea on paper, but it just looks unsightly. You feel guilty -- and slightly embarrassed watching it -- and it just doesn't seem Bond-worthy. Quite a lot like this over-action'd new offering which, despite an elaborate breakdown of the martini Daniel Craig [Images] chugs, misses out on providing a single twist.

Director Marc Forster is a peculiar choice for the franchise, the producers clearly assuming the art-house man behind Monster's Ball, Finding Neverland and The Kite Runner would bring his realistic drive to the rebooted series. Little did they know that he'd go all wildcard and use this film as an excuse to have a metabudget blast. Heh.

Forster chops up his film into little chapters -- intro, action setpiece, reprieve, bigger action setpiece -- and gives them stylistically typeset, seemingly standalone title-card openings, in the guise of location names.

He proceeds, then, to not just alter visual treatment from venue to venue, but go homage to homage, style to style. So it is that his hyperkinetic film goes immediately from backstage at an opera (Hitchcock's The Man Who Knew Too Much) to a wildly edited kitchen scrimmage as Puccini plays in the background, a la John Woo.

When you feel the audio almost completely fade out -- and stay down -- at the same time as Bond tosses a dinghy over his shoulder as if it was salt and he needed luck, you realise the director really is having immense fun.

And wish you were having half as much.

If it's any consolation, James is''t out on a lark either. Shaken and stirred by the death of his lover from Casino Royale, Bond's in avenger mode throughout. And, like the Hulk, it's hard to like him (as much, at least) when he's angry. Perpetually in fury mode, Craig's Bond looks extremely capable of killing men with his bare hands; but does he really have to do it all that much? He murders more than he thinks, and that's not a flattering look for Bond as we know him.

The actor is impressive at the deft action touches -- uppercutting motorbikes, for example -- and draws a bead with a frightening intensity, but the script weighs him down with more and more action and much lesser, shall we say, style. Craig fills out a tux with grace, and throws a quip with a bitterly sarcastic coldness, and it's sheer joy to watch him refuse to stay in a modest hotel and head instead to the finest suite in the land, claiming to be a teacher who's won the lottery. He's quite perfectly dry, but all he's really made to do is run and shoot and kill. A lot.

And, to be honest, we have seen it all before. And better. Gone are the days when Bond's the only rugged do-it-all superspy, and Jason Bourne rocks the boat these days while James merely borrows his plot device of a dead girlfriend and his short-attention-span style of frantic-cut action scenes -- and bases everything on it. Plus, I still feel The Fox from Wanted could drive that Aston Martin better than Jimmy boy.

Bond's baddie this time -- using the word nemesis would be laughably inaccurate -- is a mercenarial businessman called Dominic Greene, a so-called environmentalist but actually a man working for Quantum, the global terror organisation that literally has people everywhere. It's the new S.P.E.C.T.R.E, just that nobody knows about it yet. Obviously, it'll provide villainjuice to the next few Bond flicks.

Greene is played by fantastic French actor Mathieu Amalric, last seen taking our breath away in the wonderful The Diving Bell And The Butterfly. Bereft of scars or monocles, Amalric plays Greene with a constant sneer and an aura built up of unadulterated condescension, and while he is a very effective screen villain, he ends up severely shortchanged when pitted against a characteristically lucky Bond.

So all action, too few words. Fair enough, but more than half of you are wondering why the women haven't been mentioned yet. Okay then. Judi Dench plays M, and as if her schoolmarm role in Casino Royale wasn't patronising enough, here she actually travels across the world following Bond and spouting trite lines about trust.

There is one nice bit, though, where James refers to her as a friend who likes to believe she's his mother. When she's on screen, though, you wish the shots aimed at her would emerge fatal.

Oh, you weren't talking about her? Heh. The ravishing Olga Kurylenko is one of the hottest Bond girls of all time -- don't believe her misleading initials -- and can comfortably juggle guns and spinning cars alongside her ever-breathtaking look. Granted, the tan's a bit dodgy, but Olga holds her own against James to the extent that the two hardly share anything physical -- even as their chemistry crackles like a wildfire. Her vaguely Russian-Bolivian accent even makes her Oren-Ishii backstory almost bearable.

It is with the Gemma Arterton character, however, that true heartbreak lies. Not just is she a sexy two-line appearance worthy of much more, and consigned to an abrupt end because Olga's the official Bondgirl in charge, but she's a hackneyed character devised to make James feel guilty for having, um, his way with her.

Between Genna's Ms Fields and Olga's Camille -- we're wondering where the trademark Bondgirl-naming humour has vanished. Even Vesper Lynd was a subtle stand-in for West Berlin, Ian Fleming punning on the fact that a British agent could possibly pine for half a German city.

And it is only with the end-credits that we realise what Ms Fields' first name is; in a dash of Liverpudlian lunacy, she's named Strawberry. Leaving that priceless, cheeky bit out symptomises all that is wrong with Quantum Of Solace.

It's a fine actioner, but James Bond [Images] deserved more charm.

Rediff Rating:



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