Tuesday, November 18, 2008

Film Review: Quantum of Silence / James Bond

Photos from the Internet

James Bond = Sean Connery, and vice versa. It has felt like that has been true forever.

When the first Bond film came out, Dr. No, I saw it in the Benson Theater in Brooklyn, as the first of a double feature (as they had back then). Then I went back and saw it again the next week. When it came back a few months later as the second feature, I saw it once more. Same was true for From Russia With Love. And Goldfinger. And Thunderball (that jetpack was the envy of all us boys).

After the second Roger Moore film, we sot disheartened. By Moonraker, many of us had just given up. It was like they took something amazing and not just “jumped the shark,” but had done an Old Yeller on the franchise. George Lazenby was okay in On Her Majesty’s Secret Service, but truth was everyone I knew went to see Mrs. Peel/Diana Rigg. The Bond women were always spectacular, but this was the first one where we went to see “her” rather than “him.” Pierce Brosnan was only slightly better, and Timothy Dalton (who they tried to make more serious, but did not really succeed) was better than Brosnan; but Never Say Never Again was the best post-Connery Bond film, and it took Connery to come back to do it.

The only non-Connery Bond movie I’ve really enjoyed was the 1965 Casino Royale, but that wasn’t really a Bond film, and that had seven Bonds (“six of them went to a heavenly spot / one of them went to a place that’s terribly…hhhhot”). Of course, there were the offshoot Bond-inspired films, including those with Derek Flint and Matt Helm (Ann-Margret! Stella Stevens!). With the exception of the brilliantly written and superbly over-acted Get Smart, television versions like I-Spy, The Man/Girl From Uncle, and Secret Agent never really appealed to me. Of course, like Connery-Bond, The Avengers was in a class of its own.

Suddenly, there was Daniel Craig. He was sort of a peripheral actor to me before this; but someone chose him out to fill the shoes of Bond, and for the first time in a very long time, the shoes fit.

I always saw Bond as a bit of an anti-hero, killing without guilt when he had to, and participating in some free love when he wanted to. He was also quite human as portrayed by Connery, sometimes showing sheer terror, as when Goldfinger was about to slice off his crokies, or anger when Jill Masterson gets gold-plated. When Craig’s Bond is poisoned in Casino Royale, the fear is palpable. When Vesper dies and he believes she betrayed him, he coldly states, “The bitch is dead now” (taken from the last line of the Ian Fleming novel on which the film is based). All Roger Moore did to show emotion was raise his eyebrows. Now that’s “great” emoting.

Daniel Craig is doing for James Bond what Christian Bale did for the character of Batman (though to many of his fans, including me, arguably there hasn’t been a “true” Batman before him): revamping a watered down, hackneyed media character, and remodeling him into a mench, with faults.

Last night I saw Quantum of Solace, the newest and 22nd (sweet zombie Jesus!) Bond release. As expected, Craig was dead on. With the barest movements of his face, he can convey whatever emotion is needed. He bleeds and gets dirty, and you still can read his inner monolog by his face. Whoever picked Dame Judi as M also really hit the mark. After all, does anyone expect her not to be great in any role? She shines, managing to be one of the few actors in the film who can command the screen as much as Craig.

As the “Bond Girls,” unsurprisingly both are stunning, but I found Olga Kurylenko (as Camille Montes) pretty wooden (except for the fire scene), and Gemma Arterton (as Strawberry Fields…Dr. Evil may have said, “Really? That’s the best name you’ve got?”) is just not given enough to do.

Writers Paul Haggis (who also wrote some A-level screenplays including Million Dollar Baby, In the Land of Elah, and co-’d Casino Royale) and Neal Purvis (who penned some of the later Bond films, along with co-d Casino Royale) tell a tale that is a bit on the confusing side thanks to much left unexplained or thrown out disjointed names and situations (perhaps it would have been easier had I re-watched Casino Royale just before?). There are also a few nicks taken out of the Bond canon, which I found jarring, such as the lack of Q and his gadgets, and there was no “Bond…James Bond.” Also, the only time there was any real connection to earlier incarnations was the Bond theme at the end (with the gun barrel), and either a rip-off or homage to Goldfinger, I haven’t quite figured out yet which. A lot of comments I’ve read compared this to the Bourne films, but to me it was more reminiscent of The Transporter, especially the racing around the European countryside. But there are also some major defects in the writing of the story, like a parachute holding two people opening 30 feet above the ground and not even any bones broken. Ain’t gonna happen, m’friend, even with the suspension of disbelief.

Though there are no gadgets, the Media Ecologist in me has to say that there are some interesting technologies shown in the film, such as face recognition via cell phone, and especially an iPhone type of finger-use that, unfortunately, was done too fast to appreciate all the nook-and-crannies of the software.

The biggest disappointment and flaw in QoS was in the direction by the inconsistent Marc Forster. Yeah, he made Neverland and The Kite Runner, but he also made the way overrated Monsters Ball and Stranger Than Fiction. QoS is a mess from a directorial perspective. The meat-and-potatoes action sequences are all shot way too close to tell what the hell is going on (is that Bond’s car going over the cliff? The people chasing him? Bond’s boat getting rammed? The people chasing him?). I know Eisenstein said that editing is action, but this is cut too fast to comprehend. Just as the too close shot is about to give enough info to know who is in the vehicle, it’s cut to something else equally indiscernible. The whole skylight shot that worked so well in the televisions ads is lost in the theater.

So, to summarize, great cast, okay writers, bad direction. And yet, I look forward to number 23. Anyone know when it’s due?


  1. The producers were trying to get that Sean Connery feel when they chose Timothy Dalton. But Dalton didnt have enough rough sex appeal. I think they felt they were traveling down the same road in picking Pierce Brosnan. But he was closer to a Roger Moore type (without the terrible spoofing).

  2. Yes, I agree. Pre-Craig, many people think Lazenby is the best post-Connery. He did an admirable job, but seemed kinda flat to me. Not goofy like Moore, nor mid-range like Dalton and Brosnan, but kind of like he was playing a different character than Bond: good in his own way, but the spirit seemed not to be there.