Quantum of Solace, the 22nd of EON Productions’ James Bond adventures, was released in late 2008. Hot on the heels of Casino Royale, it broke opening records in the UK and went on to $168 million in the US, which made it the second highest grossing in the series, a million more past the prior entry. However, adjusting for inflation, that puts it at #13 in the series, and it also is one of the most critically divisive of the lot.
One of the major criticisms of the film is the editing, pacing, and camera work. This complaint starts right off the bat as the film opens with Bond in medias res of his escape from Mr. White’s villa. After the opening logos (with no gun barrel sequence – I’ll get to that later), the camera zooms across the water towards the chase, intercut with some artfully done shots of Bond and his pursuers moments before they spring into action. Once they do engage, one scant minute into the film, the images fly fast and furious as cars collide and bullets fly, reminiscent of the work of early 007 editor Peter Hunt.
I can see how the abruptness would be jarring, especially depending on how close one sits to the screen, but the action explodes with such a ferocity, the audio so loud, that the viewer is immediately thrown into this world feet first, and without a Union Jack adorned parachute, no less! After the initial flurry of images, the cutting does smooth out some as Bond continues his tear through the Italian countryside, eventually ridding himself of his would be dispatchers. As he pulls into MI6’s underground lair in Sienna, a beautiful looking title card appears and the film takes its first breath. The camera holds on 007 as he drives into safety, stepping out to retrieve Mr. White from the boot of his Aston Martin.
The film does this more often than one realizes. After Mitchell is dispatched we have a small moment of contemplation by Bond as he arrives back at the empty MI6 hideout and one by M as the scene transitions to London. In fact, most of the transitional scenes where we are introduced to a new city take a moment to breathe, along with a specific font announcing that location.
When Bond is attacked in the hotel room in Haiti, the action is ramped up again, calling back to the fights in From Russia With Love and On Her Majesty’s Secret Service in their brutality and editing. What’s interesting in this scene is that when we take the breather moment, it focuses on the consequences of 007’s actions, and the camera holds on the would be assassin, his dead stare affixed to oblivion. Then, it’s back to business as we get some rapid cuts as Bond mends his appearance and heads to the street.
My favorite of these breathers follows the boat chase in Haiti. Now the boat chase itself may seem a tad slower compared to the opening car scene, but the action is no less rapid. In fact, even pausing the film, I can’t figure out how Bond throwing the anchor into his attackers’ boat causes them to flip whilst Bond and Camille get away.
Regardless, much of the audio drops out and we hold on Bond steering the boat to port with the score playing notes that are also used in Shirley Bassey’s “No Good About Goodbye”, which is a terrific song off her album “The Performance” if you haven’t already heard it. Bond exits, handing off an unconscious Camille to a stranger, saying she’s sea sick. Craig’s delivery of the one liner is great and a very Bondian moment.
For me, one of the perfect sequences in the film is the opera. Quantum is having a clandestine meeting amidst a performance of “Tosca” and so many brilliant elements come together. The set is grand, the pacing is precise, and the subtleties of the performance all combine with a great piece of music to build tension and drama.
After Bond interrupts Quantum’s conversation, he unknowingly walks past an isle where his nemesis, Mr. White, sits in plain sight, coolly holding his ground. The opera swells as we see Bond and Greene meet in a standoff, reminiscent of a Western. Greene’s eyes seethe and Bond throws him a glance as he makes his exit, Greene’s men in pursuit. Again, the pacing becomes rapid as we intercut between the chase and the opera on stage, but combined with the muted sound affects, becomes a very effective piece of cinema. You feel the calamity as Bond makes his escape.
We slow down again as we establish Bond’s visit to Talamone. Here we are reintroduced to Mathis and it is very welcome as it clears him of the accusations Le Chiffre made against him in Casino Royale. It’s an important relationship for the movie. Not only is Giancarlo Giannini charming in the role, but also so much of 007’s character is revealed thru him.
We see that Bond is man enough to admit mistakes, not too proud to ask for help, and that he still feels deeply for Vesper, despite her betrayal. One of the most telling character moments for Bond comes as he holds the dying Mathis in his arms. Not only is it shocking to fans of the literary 007 as Mathis is still alive in the novels, but upon his passing in the film, Bond dumps his body callously in the trash, taking his money as well. Camille asks, “Is that how you treat your friends?” Combined with the score, it is a haunting scene.
Most of the supporting cast has their character arcs, despite different lengths of screen time. Camille makes for a beautiful, but atypical Bond Girl, inasmuch as she and 007 never go to bed. Bond has teamed with other agents before, be it Pam Bouvier, Wai Lin, Holly Goodhead, or Jinx, but Camille’s parallel mission of revenge brings something new to the mix, providing a mirror to Bond.
There is a moment at the end of the film where Bond and Camille are trapped by fire and are about to seemingly die. Camille is frozen by her childhood fear and I got the impression Bond was about to shoot her to spare her a worse fate until he sees the way out of their predicament. Whilst Bond comes to her rescue in this case, Camille is not a simple damsel in distress, tho’ Bond initially mistakes her for one earlier in the picture when he tries to rescue her from Medrano’s boat. In fact, she gets her revenge without 007’s intervention. She even points out Bond’s internal struggle at the end of the film and is strong and wise enough to realize only he can free himself from his demons.
Agent Fields, or Strawberry Fields, as she is revealed in the end credits, isn’t as fortunate. She winds up being the sacrificial lamb, succumbing to Bond’s charms, and her assistance gets her killed in a manner calling back to Jill Masterson from Goldfinger. Her method of dispatch is a red herring set up by the villains. I am curious why the decision was made to not reveal her name in the movie proper. Do the producers think modern audiences will no longer accept the Bond Girl style of names from yore?
Felix Leiter also makes a welcome return, in more ways than one. This marks the second time in the history of the series that an actor has portrayed him twice. I would have wished to see him interact more with 007, but for his short screen time, he faces his own moral decision-to aid his friend or back up his superior. In the end, the right man keeps his job and I hope we see Jeffrey Wright return. The continuity he brings aids the film and does help link this film with the one prior.
The threat in this movie is more covert than in ones past, much like the Quantum organization itself. Controlling water for a third world country may not seem as sexy as holding the world ransom with nuclear warheads or irradiating the gold supply, and it is masked under the false pretense of oil, but director Marc Forster conveys its importance when Bond and Camille walk amongst the thirsty people of La Paz. This is yet another example of how the pace slows down in the film for the audience to catch their breath after the plane chase.
Forster brings a great visual flair to the film overall. His shot composition is great and he gives each location its own unique feel, which is aided by the aforementioned title cards and their respective fonts. His desert sequences give off the feeling of barren heat. Having lived in a desert region for most of my life, it’s not my favorite locale, but Forster brings polish to his visuals, be it Austria, London, Italy, Panama, Mexico, or Chile.
David Arnold continues his strong work with the film’s score. He continues to veer away from the electronica sound that he would imbue Brosnan’s films with to give Craig’s its own melodic identity. We hear the reprise of Vesper’s theme from Casino Royale to strengthen the emotional link with the audience and of course, the familiar chords of the James Bond Theme. One of Arnold’s strongest pieces this time out is “Night at the Opera”. I feel you could plug this song into any of the scores Barry composed and it would fit right in. Like the title cards, Arnold also adds regional flavour to the music, as heard in “Bond in Haiti”, “Bolivian Taxi Ride”, and “Talamone”.
“Another Way To Die”, the film’s title song, not only is as controversial as the film’s editing, but also bears the distinction of being the first duet in the series. Love it or hate it, the single reached #9 in the UK, won Best Song at the Satellite Awards, and was even nominated for a Grammy.
The horns give it the requisite Bond sound compared to another controversial theme song, “Die Another Day”, especially when laid over the main titles. Featuring sweeping dunes, Daniel Craig, and the typical guns and silhouetted women, it also calls back to the opening of Dr. No with the travelling dots. MK12 does a fine job capturing all the elements that Maurice Bender and Danny Kleinman have familiarized viewers with over the last 50 years.
Gun Barrel Sequence
Another controversial choice was the gun barrel sequence placement. As a traditionalist, I would always want to see the Bond pictures open with it. However, I’ll allow the artistic licence that after this film the 007 we all know and love is fully formed as a character. Having the gun barrel at the end signifies he is ready to begin. The problem with this argument is director Sam Mendes repeats the placement in Skyfall, only in this case, the status quo that began with Connery is now set. This repetition damages its use in Quantum of Solace, as nice as it is to think that the Skyfall gun barrel marks the beginning of the next 50 years of cinematic Bond.
As fast paced and rapidly edited as people critique Quantum of Solace for being, and make no mistake, it is a tight action film; there are some great character beats and themes. It’s not simply Casino Royale, part II. It is a complex world where goodness and corruption can lie within friends and allies, making it unclear which side will come out on top. We see this in Leiter and Beam, with M and the Foreign Secretary, in the Bolivian government, and within Bond’s own self. We see a Bond still so grief stricken, he imbibes six of the martinis he named after his lost love. The camera moves at a blinding pace sometimes to demonstrate how Bond is wantonly cutting a path of destruction trying to come to terms and find his own quantum of solace.
There are times where it seems 007 will do anything to get his revenge. When we finally reach the apex of his manhunt, Bond has a deadly, quiet calm. His voice is hushed and restrained as he confronts Yusef. 007 makes his peace and is ready to continue defending Queen and Country.
Quantum of Solace is a unique Bond film in several regards that deserves another look if it wasn’t one’s cup of tea on first viewing. There are several reasons I feel it is a worthy entry in the series, but one thing I won’t defend is the jump from the DC3. I appreciate how they attempted to make it look real, but it pales in comparison to the sky diving in Moonraker!
Javier E. Trujillo is a communications medic and lifelong fan of all things Bond. He can be reached on Twitter at @JaviTru