Saturday, November 24, 2012

Quantum of Solace (2008)

Even though this second installment of the James Bond reboot got good reviews when it debuted, I didn't enjoy it as much as its prequel, Casino Royale.

This film picks up where Casino left off. Bond was holding a gun to the head of Mr. White, the man who blackmailed Vesper, the woman James loved, which led to her death, when we last saw him. Now, we start off with a ubiquitous, rough and rapid car chase. Bond's car hurtles through tunnels, tumbles, careens and bumps at dizzying speeds. After the utmost havoc is reached, Bond alights from his vehicle, opens the trunk and we find Mr. White tied up inside. He politely tells his passenger that it's time to get out now.

White is interrogated at MI6 as Bond and M look on. She chides him for killing Le Chiffre, the terrorist villain from the last film, after having made a deal with the United States (or as they say, "the Americans") to hand him over. Alive, he could have offered them valuable information. Bond says he kept the deal. He provided them with Le Chiffre's body. If they wanted his soul, maybe they should have negotiated with a priest, instead.

She shows him a picture of Yusef, Vesper's boyfriend. Vesper gave in to terrorist demands (and betrayed Bond by handing over $100 million he was keeping for MI6 to Mr. White) in order to save Yusef's life. In Casino, when Bond broke into M's apartment and took classified information, she was unruffled. I almost suspect she hands data over to him, hoping he will "steal" it. It reminds me of the old story of Desi Arnaz and TV Guide. Another magazine had the exclusive rights to photos of Desi Arnaz, Jr. and they weren't supposed to be shared with TV guide -- not for publication. But Desi left the pictures of the boy in a folder on his desk, then conveniently left the room. Lo and behold, the babe's picture graced the cover of the next TV Guide, which immediately sold out, all without the cooperation of Desi and Lucy at all. Wink. M seems to do the same thing with Bond.

Showing him the file on Vesper, M reveals that Yusef staged his own death, but the corpse that was supposed to be his, turned out to belong to someone else. They identified it as fake through a lock of Yusef's hair they found in Vesper's possessions. Bond is surprised that Vesper was sentimental enough to keep Yusef's hair. No doubt he must wonder if she preserved any of his. Yusef was obviously a con artist. M warns Bond not to lose his head tracking him down. Revenge can make a person behave rashly. Bond says he's not running after Yusef, because he's not worth it -- and neither was Vesper. Still, when M turns away he deftly pockets Yusef's photo.

This becomes a problem in the second film. In Casino we not only realized through subtle scenes that Bond was hiding his feelings, but we were told he was by helpful characters and by Bond's vehement denials. That was fair to establish the new character in Daniel Craig's hands. But now that the foundation has already been laid, you don't have to keep telling us. We get it. This movie assumes we've seen the first and gives us the barest exposition as to players like Mr. White, Vesper, and Mathis. It even has Bond revisit the warehouse where he was tortured by Le Chiffre, without an explanation. We're supposed to remember what happened there. Well, if we're trusted to do that, have faith that we'll who James is and don't have the script remind us that he's emotionally closed off and impenetrable.

M joins the interrogation of Mr. White. He tries to tile Bond by mentioning how Vesper killed herself. I'm not sure how everyone knows how Vesper died. Since the villains were busy escaping a building crumbling into the sea, she and Bond were alone when she let herself drown in the elevator, eluding his grasp. Did Bond gab about her sacrifice to everyone, even the bad guys?

Feeling loquacious, Mr. White continues. He laughs at MI6's incompetence. He had thought that his group's every move was being tracked, but it turns out that the world's intelligence organization's know nothing about it. He assures M that they are omnipotent and omnipresent. They have people everywhere. To prove his point he gives the signal and the MI6 agents, M's own people, suddenly turn and begin shooting at her, freeing White.

Bond gives chase, but everyone is scattered. Later back in London M is in disbelief. One of Mr. White's men served as her own personal bodyguard for several years. Scouring his apartment, she finds several Christmas gifts she'd given him in the past there. Nothing in his background check (performed annually) suggested his treachery. Is she that bad a judge of character she wonders aloud. Who is Mr. White's group? How do they manage to have people everywhere? She speaks openly in the presence of investigators wiping the guard's apartment for clues. Bond looks at the cleaners sharply and remains silent. He doesn't trust them and one wonders why M, having just learned that she was bamboozled by years by a man who practically lived with her, isn't being more cautious about being overheard.

Her agents found tags on money in the guard's possession that lead to a man in Haiti. Bond is off to nab him and Q warns him to bring him in alive for questioning. He must stop killing everyone he sees. Bond says he'll try, but he's not too convincing.

In Haiti, he gets into a fight with the man he was tracking, kills him and takes over his identity, retrieving a briefcase the man left at the hotel counter. Bond is picked up outside of the Haitian hotel by, Camille, a woman who had an appointment with the dead man. She doesn't realize that Bond is not the geologist she intended to meet. He hops in her car, riding shot gun. When he opens the briefcase, there's a gun inside. He tells Camille that, apparently, someone wants her dead. Meanwhile, they're being followed. Realizing he's not the geologist, Camille angrily ditches Bond. The man trailing them hisses at Bond that he was supposed to kill Camille.

Intrigued by the unknown woman with an assasin on her tail, Bond follows her. She goes into a shipyard and meets with Dominic Greene. He raises money as someone who preserves natural resources, but he actually funds would-be dictators who seek to overthrow governments. He puts them in place and in return he gets control over a country's oil and -- Greene's true goals, water supply. He owns vast quantities of water and, after causing shortages, he moves in as a country's public utility provider, charging them fortunes for aqua.

Greene's current plot is to install the exiled General Medrano back as Bolivia's dictator. Once he gets Medrano in place, Bolivia will be under Greene's control. We find that after a dalliance with her, Greene put out a hit on Camille because he felt that she was buying information (from the geologist) to undermine him. So, he set her up. She insists that she was actually trying to apprehend his enemies, not make deals with them and, nuzzling Greene, wants to take up their cozy relationship where it let off. He says he always felt she was pumping him for information anyway, using him to get close to Medrano. She can't deny that she was interested in the General.

Greene calls Medrano and offers to hand Camille over to him, as long as he kills her after partaking. She's an orphan. Her father was once a powerful man that Medrano knew well. When he introduces himself to Camille, he meaningfully tells her that he was the last one to see her family alive. He then forces her onto his boat.

Bond had been observing Camille's encounters with Greene and Medrano from the docks. When he sees her kidnapped, he gets a boat and speeds after her, snaring her from Medrano's clutches, only to find that she wasn't looking to be rescued. She angrily asks him what he thinks you're doing. Saving her life, he says, "you're welcome." She says he may have ruined her only chance to get Medrano and huffs off.

Back in London, M tells Bond that the man he killed was a foreign agent. He needs to leave Haiti and get back to the UK immediately. He ignores her and asks about Dominic G-r-e-e-n-e. I'm not sure how he knows to spell it that way instead of "green" since he heard the name, rather than reading it. Still that's enough information for MI6 to identify him as head of an environmental company. They don't know what his ties to the terrorists are and M calls the CIA to get more information. They tell her they have no interest in Greene, but by the way they routed her call to the intelligence head, M knows they're lying. We learn that Felix Leiter, the CIA agent who funded Bond's poker hand in Casino isn't too happy to have the US playing footsy with Greene, in order to get oil from the countries under Greene's control. However Leiter's superior dismisses his concern and tells him that they don't have the luxury of only negotiating with nice people.

M realizes that Bond is onto something, but given the hot water he's already in, she orders him back to London. He refuses to come and she cancels his credit cards and passport. Bond contacts Mathis for help, the man he suspected of spying for the terrorists in Casino (when it was really just Vesper) and whom he had captured and tortured. He apologizes to Mathis and asks for his help in getting fake credentials, since MI6 has cut him off. Mathis doesn't hold a grudge and seeing beyond Bond's facade tries to assure him that Vesper truly loved him. Yes, right up until the time she betrayed him is Bond's bitter reply. Mathis gets Bond a passport and tells him he'll use his South American contacts to aid Bond.

M sends an agent (Ms. Fields) to bring the wayward Bond home. When Bond asks for her full name, she refuses to give it, but it is actually "Strawberry." Craig's Bond movies don't use the kitschy names for characters (i.e. Pussy Galore) but only allude to the franchise's more comedic entries in passing (for instance, in Casino Bond suggested that Vesper take Broadchest as an alias, as she did in the orignal 1967 movie, but she quickly shot the idea down). Similarly, later when Mathis asks what Bond is drinking, he says he doesn't even know (it's the Martini that Vesper described in Casino Royale), but the bartender chimes in with all the ingredient details. It is shaken, but this Bond hasn't gotten to the point of giving anyone a "not stirred" demand.

Fields books a hotel room for herself and Bond explaining that they are pretending to be teachers on sabbatical. Bond doesn't like the surroundings they're in and tells her that they'll be teachers on sabbatical who have just won the lottery. He takes her to a five star hotel and she is sufficiently impressed that she immediately sleeps with him. I'm not sure why. He hadn't even displayed any particular charm. Soon, instead of monitoring him for M, Fields is on his side against MI6. Their undercover hotel adventure, though brief, reminds me of the assignment that brought Vesper and him together in Casino, with them also sharing a hotel room, pretending to be lovers. It's a return to the point where he fell in love and everything fell apart.

Trying to learn more about Greene, Bond encounters Camille again and she tells him a cliched Harold Robbins story about Medrano raping her sisters and strangling her parents in front of her. She was too small for him to trouble himself with, but when he was done with the others, he burned their house down. She escaped and has been planning revenge her whole life. Bond admits that he understands the feeling. He lost someone too. He tells her that MI6 trained him that when you're personally involved and the adrenalin flows, you have to overcompensate, control yourself more, not less. Pull back and assess the situation.

Camille takes him back to the hotel, but drives off when she finds it swarming with police. Fields is dead, doused in oil, her nude body strewn across the hotel bed she shared with Bond. M greets Bond at the crime scene and wants to know how many women will lose their lives because they fell sway to him. He's out of control. He says he's trying to find the people who tried to kill her, in case she's forgotten. M tells him he's stripped of his authority and no longer works for Her Majesty's Secret Service. He's to give up all of his weopons immediately. Of course, he doesn't. He eludes her men, brawls takes a gun on his way out and hops into Camille's waiting car outside. He tells her that he's got to save a woman. Camille replies with a look. "It's not what you think," he mutters. "Well then what is she, your mother." "She thinks she is."

I resent that remark. Actually, M thinks she's his boss. She's not directing him based on misguided maternal instinct. I appreciate the personal bond they've developed between M and James in this rebooted series (to peak in Skyfall, when her life is threatened), but just because she's an older woman and he's a man doesn't mean M has to be thought of as possessive. Why should she be either motherly or a cougar? Why can't they be colleagues whose relationship has strengthened due to trust, risk and loyalty they've shared? Maybe he sees her as a mother. After all, Vesper profiled him and concluded he was an orphan. He learned M's first name (which was not divulged to the audience) and said he was surprised that M was not a random acronym, but actually stood for something. Maybe it stands for "Mother," symbolically. But let him be the one with that need. The fact that M is trying to reign him in, indicates she's trying to do her job and is being thwarted, not that she's a childless spinster (well, she lives with someone, whether husband or beau) looking to fulfill a biological need by nagging him.

Bond and Camille's car is stopped and an officer wants to check the trunk. Bond is suspicious. When he opens it, he finds Mathis and pulls the man out, when the "officer" shoots and kills Bond's ally, framing Bond for the crime. As he dies, Mathis asks Bond to stay with him. They hold hands until the end, then he throws Mathis' body into a pile of garbage. Camille shrieks. "Is that how you treat your friends?" Bond: "He wouldn't care."

At the airport, Bond gets a smitten attendant to lie to M about where he is heading. Following Greene, he attends a performance of Tosca and observes all suspicious activity. He sees ushers handing out special gift bags to Greene's acquaintances. Bond intercepts one for himself and finds a special earpiece inside. It looks a monitor that translates the opera lyrics, but really allows everyone wearing it to converse with one another sureptitiously during the performance.

They're talking about the final steps needed to put Medrano in as head of Bolivia. America won't oppose it? But what happens when they find they've been duped? Someone says they're working on that. A woman asks about getting more information from Canadian intelligence. A man tells her that they'll discuss that later. Bond takes it all in from the rafters of the opera house. When he's heard enough, he speaks up and wonders if he might offer a word of advice? He thinks they should find another place to meet. Rattled all participants in the conversation abruptly disengage and begin leaving the auditorium -- a stupid move, because following the startled departures throughout the audience, Bond is able to see exactly who was in on the conference call. He takes pictures of the people leaving and sends them to MI6.

The agents balk at Bond who has defied M's orders to return to London and has been accused of killing Mathis. She's called in by the prime minister's assistant, because the PM won't even speak directly to her any longer. Bond's unfettered activities have not brought them any near the terrorists, while revealing how little power M has over him. She's lost status within the government. Yet, she tells her assistant that she knows Bond is onto something and she trusts him. He's her agent. Well, technically, he's been fired, but obviously not in M's heart.

Working together, Bond and Camille show up at the meeting where Medrano is signing papers to take over Bolivia. Camille is prepared to kill Medrano and Bond tells her to take a step back, control her emotions and make every shot count.

In exchange for the power that Greene has handed over to him, Greene wants Bolivia's new leader to contract with his company to supply all of Bolivia's water, for twice the price that Medrano expected to pay. He balks. Greene tells him that if he doesn't agree, they'll replace Medrano with someone else and he'll be dead before morning. Does Medrano want to test that threat. Apparently not, Medrano angrily signs all of Greene's papers and heads back to his room to rape a hapless woman. Camille hears her screams from outisde the door.

She eventually busts into the room and starts to fight him. When he has her cornered he is mocking, telling her that she is wearing the same face of fear that her mother had, before he killed her. She shoots him, but he has set fire to the room, which paralyzes Camille. Suffering from post-traumatic stress after the fire that killed her family decades ago, she huddles in a fetal position (this reminds me of Mulder in the X-Files Fire episode; he had a fear of fire which trapped him frozen in fear in that episode, but was quickly forgotten about for the rest of the series) and doesn't move to escape the flames.

Bond is about to kill Greene, but they hear the shot coming from Medrano's room and Greene taunts that it sounds like Bond has lost yet another damsel. Bond runs off to assist Camille. He dashes through the flames to save her. She is holding herself, unmoving, saying "not again, not this way," she can't burn like her family did. She can't die that way. The fire seems overbearing and there is no way through it. Bond takes out his gun and cocks it. Camille expects a merciful shot to the head and implores him to make the shot count. Instead, he uses the gun to blow a hole through the wall and they break out to freedom.

Although the move hadn't seemed to occur to Camille at all, she takes her near-death escape in surprising stride. Safe, Bond asks her if it feels good to have killed Medrano. It did. She wonders if the dead are at peace once they've been avenged. She tells Bond that she wishes he could feel free like she does now, but his prison is inside. Oh brother. At this point, I don't even care what's inside of Bond's head, if the script can't find a more subtle way of telling us. Did everyone in Yorkshire run around loudly expressing what a dark and troubled soul that Heathcliff was? Concealed pain loses its appeal when it's . . .not so concealed. Bond grabs Camille in a kiss and I can't wait until she Dr. Phil's herself off the screen.

He then continues after Greene, he finds him trying to escape in the hot, desert. Bond gives him a can of motor oil and says it will probably be a good 20 miles before Greene will be thankful to drink it. Bond then motors away from the stranded man.

He heads to Russia where he's waiting in an apartment when Yusef enters with a dark-haired girl on his arm. Her passing resemblance to Vesper is not accidental. Pointing his gun at Yusef, Bond asks the girl if she is Canadian intelligence. She needn't answer; he knows she is. Soon, she'll be asked for her government's top secret information under threat of Yusef's death. She won't hesitate to betray her country to save Yusef, because she loves him. What a pretty necklace she's wearing. Did Yusef give it to her. A woman he knew had an identical one, Bond pulls it out of his pocket and shows her. It belonged to a good friend of his. Disillusioned the girl realizes that Yusef is used her. When Bond tells her to leave and let Canada know they've been compromised, she quickly obeys, quietly thanking him as she does.

Facing Bond's gun Yusef begs. He asks that Bond make his death quick.

Cut to Bond outside the Russian apartment talking to M. Did he leave Yusef alive, she asks. He did. So, facing down his personal emotions, he felt the adrenalin and over-compensated by resisting it. He didn't let revenge control him. He tells M she was right about Vesper. I'm not sure what he means by that. In Casino, M told him that Vesper loved him and risked her own life to save his. Is that what M was right about. In this movie, she hasn't said much about Vesper at all, except to warn Bond not to lose his wits trying to bring Yusef to justice? Was M right that that is what he had set out to do? If so, she was right about him, not Vesper. Whatever it is she was right about, M tells Bond to return to London. She needs him back in MI6. He says he never left. As he tracks away we see Vesper's necklace on the snow-covered ground behind him.

Craig does not disappoint as Bond and, as in Casino, I am glad to have more substance than action, but the backstory here (for everyone: James, Camille, Mathis, even Fields) was a bit hackneyed and maudlin. The human touches seemed more effortless and natural in Casino. Sentiment, when overdone, may leave Bond shaken, but the viewers unstirred.

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