Arts & Culture

Am Embarrassment of Stitches: “Quantum of Solace” Reviewed

Why is cinematic violence so much more disturbing when performed with an everyday object and not a weapon? I don’t mean Colonel Mustard in the conservatory with the candlestick. In Gaspar Noé’s Irréversible (2002), easily the most violent film I’ve … Read More

By / November 17, 2008

Why is cinematic violence so much more disturbing when performed with an everyday object and not a weapon? I don’t mean Colonel Mustard in the conservatory with the candlestick. In Gaspar Noé’s Irréversible (2002), easily the most violent film I’ve ever seen, a man’s face is crushed like papier mâché with a fire extinguisher. Then there’s the pot of coffee in A History of Violence (2005), the oar in The Talented Mr. Ripley (1999), the pencil in The Dark Knight (2008)-itself a lo-fi homage to the "pen is mightier" gag from the 1989 original. How about the TV in Grosse Pointe Blank (1997) or the bong in Pineapple Express (2008)? I won’t mention the outcome of the eyeball-v.-splinter staring contest in Lucio Fulci’s Zombi 2 (1980).

Here’s a short list, in no particular order, of items used to bring the pain in Quantum of Solace: sewing scissors, crude oil, broken glass, a motorcycle, a telephone, hydrogen fuel cells, a speedboat, an airplane, a long drop, a fire axe, a Bolivian desert, an icy stare. (When Shakespeare wrote of "a killing frost," did he have Daniel Craig’s Bond in mind?) These are infinitely preferable to the gadgets of yesteryear, because they only look like weapons to someone with a killer instinct.

This is not to say that Quantum of Solace is disturbing. It’s an obscene amount of fun. Like the previous Bond films, it appeals to the ten-year-old boy in you, even if you happen to be a girl; unlike those films, with the exception of Casino Royale (2006), it also reassures you that you’re a grown-up, even as you gasp credulously while Bond parachutes into a sinkhole from a burning airplane. The plot involves destabilizing governments and seizing natural resources, just like real life! It also revolves around revenge, a far more grown-up source of narrative propulsion than, say, an improbably named bad guy pointing an improbably named missile at a certain tiny island nation.

Where Casino Royale, in which Bond loses his beloved Vesper Lynd, was a How the Leopard Got His Spots (or, in this case, Naughts) story, Quantum of Solace just shows him doing what leopards do best. "If you could avoid killing every possible lead," M tells him, "it would be deeply appreciated." Alas, she’s just not much of an animal trainer, and Bond’s fury sends him ranging hungrily over the globe.

The film begins in Siena, picking up roughly where Casino Royale left off, with M and Bond discovering an evil organization called Quantum that has infiltrated the highest levels of government. They discover this when M’s personal assistant tries to shoot them. There follows a cracking good rooftop chase, broken tiles flying everywhere, intercut with shots of Siena’s famous horse race Il Palio. From there Bond goes to Haiti, England, Austria, Bolivia-don’t quote me on the order, because it’s all a jumble of blunt trauma, explosions, and cell phone calls. All you need to know is that Quantum, and the late Vesper’s Algerian boyfriend, had something to do with Vesper’s death.

There’s an evil environmentalist-I liked that part-named Dominic Greene, played with lubricious, bug-eyed creepiness by the Frenchman Mathieu Amalric. He dresses and looks like Michel Houellebecq on a tropical sex holiday, but is credibly frightening when he tells a Bolivian dictator that non-compliance will mean waking up with his cojones in his mouth. The Bond Girl, Camille (Olga Kurylenko), wants to make that threat a reality, because the dictator killed her entire family and burned down her house in front of her. Why did he leave her alive? Isn’t that the biggest no-no when killing an entire family? If I had to guess, I’d say it was for the sake of the plot.

"Bond had a sharp sense of ridiculous," Ian Fleming informs us in the short story "Quantum of Solace." The same cannot be said of Paul Haggis, Neal Purvis, and Robert Wade, the writers of this film, and for that we ought to be grateful. The negative reactions to Quantum of Solace have been curiously at odds with each other, with some critics calling it "boring," "dour," "lacking in emotional depth," or a Jason Bourne knockoff, and others complaining, in effect, that it isn’t boring or dour enough-that it should have been a rumination on revenge rather than a relentlessly violent depiction of it.

Rubbish. It gives real fans exactly what they want: ludicrous adventure leavened with a speck of plot and a vanishingly tiny dash of honest feeling. If you want a rumination on revenge, read "Quantum of Solace," which bears no relation to the movie and consists entirely of a story told to Bond about a cuckolded husband. The title is his interlocutor’s term for the modicum of "common humanity" that, once lost in either partner, makes the dissolution of a relationship, and the incredible emotional violence that can accompany it, all but inevitable:

Bond laughed. Suddenly the violent dramatics of his own life seemed very hollow. The affair of the Castro rebels and the burned-out yachts was the stuff of an adventure-strip in a cheap newspaper. He had sat next to a dull woman at a dull dinner party and a chance remark had opened for him the book of real violence-of the comédie humaine where human passions are raw and real, where Fate plays a more authentic game than any Secret Service conspiracy devised by governments.

All very sensitive, very moving. Now aren’t you relieved that Quantum of Solace didn’t bother about that stuff? Once you’ve seen the affair of the burned-out yachts on the big screen, I think you’ll agree that the comédie humaine is just a little bit overrated.