CINEMA: The Spy Who Shoved Me

bond22_1.jpgQuantum of Solace (2008, directed by Marc Forster, 108 minutes, U.K.)


Directing action on film is sort of like being a good dancer, either you’re blessed with an understanding of movement, space and rhythm or you’re not.  The recently trimmed down, buffed up and rebooted Bond, ushered in with Daniel Craig two years ago with Casino Royale, has anchored the long-running series more than ever to its action sequences; gone are the jokes, the gadgets and the preposterous villains.  The mystery in Casino‘s sequel pertains to a shadowy scheme labeled “Quantum” yet the biggest conundrum is how Finding Neverland director Marc Forster ended up with this assignment.  When it comes to directing action, Forster is cursed with two left feet.

The movie opens with Bond hurtling along the highway in his Aston Martin, with gun toting villains in hot pursuit and all the expected crashing, smashing and high cliff plunges that are action film standbys but something quickly seems amiss.  This pedestrian action set-up is shot, cut and edited down to such fine bits that the audience has little idea of what is happening, each move seems merely intent to throw another blurry object into the viewer’s face.  Whatever effect Forster was going for is lost, he seems oblivious to the fact that the thrill comes from anticipating a collision before it arrives, not from the force of the blow itself.  Casino Royale soared when it’s action captured some of the kinetic jolt typified by The Bourne films; the way the action is shot here it feels like a throw-back to a bad Stallone movie.  And with the action rarely letting up, Quantum frustratingly plays to its most glaring weakness.

What a waste, because Craig is still in the running as the best Bond the series has ever had.  Able to suggest emotion with nearly imperceptible changes in expression, Craig also moves with the grace of an Olympic athlete; like all true stars he is a pleasure to watch move across a room.  In Casino Royale your pulse surged just watching him sprint and jump, here he can barely take a stride without the camera cutting across two or three shots.

When the film does slow down its seasoned actors quickly take advantage.  Judy Dench is back as the stern motherly M, her confidence now shaken in her ability to ensure her own safety as well as her ability to control the increasingly murderous and vengeful Bond. Giancarlo Giannini encores as Mathis, a retired agent looking to teach Bond forgiveness and Jeffrey Wright returns as Felix, the C.I.A. agent whose loyalty is always in question.  Along with the revenge seeking new Bond GirlOleg Kurylenko , the cast gives Craig the chance to brood and simmer, subtly hinting at the psychological underpinnings this remorseless killer is suppressing.

Mousey French actor Mathieu Amalric (the quadriplegic man from The Diving Bell & The Butterfly) holds down the criminal mastermind spot but it takes more than hyperactive editing to sell him and Bond’s fistfight in the climax; it is like watching a championkickboxer square off against a middle school student.  Of course in the finale the hideout blows up, our spy returns to his country’s good graces and Bond finds at least a smidgen of solace over the death of his Casino Royale paramour Vesper Lynd’s; a Bond film is still a Bond film. Here’s to hoping Bond wins the most important battle: finding someone suitable to helm his next adventure.  I’d hate for the renewed vigor of Casino Royale to be a freak anomaly.   P.S. The Jack White/Alicia Keys theme song is a mess too.

JACK WHITE & ALICIA KEYS: Theme From Quantum Of Solace

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