Unacknowledged Classics

Quantum of Solace (2008, Marc Forster)

I still can’t believe they used the title. God knows what Fleming was thinking, but at least he knew it was only worthy of a short story. I suppose at least it’s memorably bad. However, the title is the weakest aspect of a poorly reviewed Bond, which is ripe for reappraisal.

On its release much was made of the rapid editing of the picture. The cutting is relentless and at times the images hit the viewer so fast they are rendered almost abstract. This sensory assault was too much for many audiences and critics and initially it can be off-putting. But, isn’t that another way of saying that it’s pushing the form more than any other $200 million blockbuster would dare?

Also, there is a lot more going on here than simply pace. The film is a celebration of the art of the cut. Forster and his two editors (Matt Chesse and Rick Pearson) give us freeze frames, cross-cutting, jump cuts and – the highlight of the film – a stunningly assembled sequence set during a performance of Tosca. Bond’s customary escape from the bad guys is cross cut with images of the opera, while the sound cuts out except for Puccini’s music. Softened gunshots are then introduced into the mix. This is that rare beast: an original action sequence.

Other pleasures worth noting are the absence of a traditional bond girl (he doesn’t sleep with her!) and Daniel Craig’s virility. He’s so damn manly it’s almost absurd. Witness Bond breaking off a metal door handle with the casually disdainful air of one tossing a sweet wrapper into a bin. Yes, Quantum of Solace is transparently a post-Jason Bourne James Bond film. But, with a crucial difference: it’s got Daniel Craig instead of Matt Damon. Damon’s a decent actor, but, seriously, who’s cooler?

Appreciating the cinematic world of 007 is all about identifying the key works from each era, and Quantum of Solace is by far the best Daniel Craig. Casino Royale has some standout moments (including the best ever pre-title sequence), and in Craig it introduced the world to a better Pierce Brosnan-antidote than anyone could have dared dream of, but it is also overlong and flabby. The excessive praise for Skyfall was almost farcical, although in Javier Bardem it did have a great villain. Quantum of Solace, on the other hand, received a drubbing from the critics. There are a couple of major reasons for this: 1) There was the predictable urge to take Craig down a peg or two and declare his second outing to be the standard ‘sophomore slump’. 2) Quantum of Solace dares to break a few rules, ditching some prescribed Bond conventions. In fact, it’s actually a bit weird – in a good way.

Sam Bowles

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