NO TIME TO DIE, the 25th and latest Bond film debuts in two weeks. My rewatch continues with the first ever direct sequel – Bond Begins part two. Spoilers ahead…
The film starts with a helicopter shot skimming over a lake towards a cliff-side. No gunbarrel, no Bond theme. Straight into the action. And that was fine with me, for this film had already been announced as a direct sequel to Casino Royale.
FRENETIC CAR CHASE
When I saw Quantum of Solace at the cinema, I liked it, but felt disappointed. One of the things that irked me was the crazy editing in this car chase – it seemed to set the tone for the rest of the film.
Many have reflected that the editing seems to be trying to “copy” the editing style of the “Bourne” spy films (2002-2007), which introduced a new spy movie franchise with its innovative camerawork and editing.
The editing sure makes you feel that you are in the middle of the action, but at times it’s hard to work out what is going on. Once it settles, the chase is a great start as Bond truly looks in danger, especially as the door of his car is lost and every bullet strike, broken window or crash is hair-raising. The scene ends with Bond driving into an underground facility in Siena, Italy.
Then the twist. Mr White, shot in the leg by Bond at the end of Casino Royale, is in the trunk of the car.
M and some agents are there. We learn that Vesper’s boyfriend was found disfigured in the sea, but neither M nor Bond buy that. Bond insists he is in control as he swigs a whisky and swipes the boyfriend’s photo. Then the speak to White – and this happens:
White: “You really don’t know anything about us. It’s so amusing because we on the other side thinking the MI6, the CIA they’re looking over our shoulders, they’re listening to our conversations and the truth is you don’t even know we exist!”
A moment later and M’s bodyguard Mitchell (now revealed as one of White’s men) has killed another agent and taken a shot at M. White gets injured and the killer flees. But the editing is again confusing.
THE PALIO – EARTH
The foot chase during The Palio horse race is excellent. It starts in the sewers, continues across the ground, then rooftops, then to the top of a tower.
The crew could film on Siena’s rooftops and Craig did his own stunts. The music by David Arnold brilliantly mirrors the frenzied chase, each section of the pursuit building to the tense finale in the gallery as the two men fight amid ropes, falling glass and scaffolding, with Bond managing to grab his fallen gun just before Mitchell shoots him.
Remember, he’s not the fully-fledged James Bond yet. It’s only a few hours since Casino Royale!
PORT AU PRINCE
Bond follows a lead to a hotel in Port Au Prince, Haiti where he deals with a sudden brutal Bourne-style brawl. I love how the men improvise weapons from objects from the room. Bond stabs his attacker in the neck and raises his arm and leg to ensure faster blood loss. It’s horrific. It’s a fight often trimmed when shown on TV.
That’s another lead gone. At the end of Casino Royale we saw his false bravado with “the bitch is dead” and here she apparently means nothing to him. Yet he is breaking all the rules, downing whisky, swiping clues and killing his way through the story. It’s like a revenge thriller with a damaged hero, which director Marc Forster was openly aiming for.
Quantum of Solace was given a release date of 2008, which would be only 18 months from the first day of shooting. Ultimately Forster had only six weeks to cut the film.
Another issue was the Writer’s Strike (Nov 07-Feb 08). This meant that any alterations, edits, additions to the script had to be done by Forster and Daniel Craig themselves.
CAMILLE AND GREENE
A car pulls up and Camille (Olga Kurylenko) mistakes Bond for a geologist she was looking for. Unfortunately for Camille, the case Bond stole from the hotel contains a file on her and a gun. As she tries to shoot him, Bond exits the car quickly.
Camille then goes to meet her “boss” Dominic Greene (Mathieu Amalric), an entrepreneur who is the main villain of the film.
Greene is remarkably “normal” for a Bond villain (no facial scars this time) and Amalric plays him as an oily businessman. Even his henchman Elvis (Anatole Taubman) is less bruising goon and more the geeky cousin on work experience. Has the age of the charismatic billionaire megalomaniac villains been replaced by unassuming men in suits?
Bolivian General Medrano (Joaquin Cosio) hopes to stage a coup, and in return for Greene’s help in destabilising the government, the he must strike a deal. All Greene wants is full ownership of a “worthless” stretch of desert.
Importantly, the General killed Camille’s father, mother and sisters. Camille’s work with Greene is purely to get to the General and Greene knows it. So he gives her to him.
THE BOAT CHASE – WATER
The second major action scene the second of the four elements Forster wanted to use – water. Bond grabs Camille and they avoid the pursuing goons in a speedboat. The stunts are great, no green screen here, and the scene is scored magnificently – I love the splashy cymbals Arnold uses.
Bond finds a rope with grappling hook at the end, tosses it in the pursuing boat, the rope unravels and whoosh, goon boat propelled into the air. Spectacular. But the rope wasn’t attached to anything. Still burns me.
Bond calls in to MI6 as he follows Greene to an airstrip. On the plane we see CIA Agent Beam (David Harbour) and an uneasy Felix Leiter (Jeffrey Wright) waiting for Greene to arrive. So the CIA are in cahoots – the US turn a blind eye on the impending Bolivian coup, and they get oil rights. Of course, we know there is no oil, so Greene and his organisation – whoever they are – are manipulating everyone.
A FIGHT AT THE OPERA
Bond tracks Greene to the Opera at Bregenz and realises that his secretive organisation is having a business meeting whilst in the audience. Each member of the organisation – revealed as “Quantum” are communicating through earpieces and hidden microphones. A brilliant idea to keep their meeting secret. Bond intercepts one of them, takes the earpiece, and listens in. When Bond speaks to them all, most get up to leave, allowing him to send photos of them to MI6. Cunningly, Mr White does the best thing and stays put, remaining unnoticed in the crowd.
I love the brief shoot out as Bond leaves the Opera House, with the same cross cutting style of The Palio, except this time the fight is cut with the action on the opera stage.
In MI6 Tanner (Rory Kinnear) is analysing Bond’s intel – Quantum’s international members include Guy Haines, special envoy to the UK Prime Minister. He calls M to explain that Bond is wanted for shooting Haines’ bodyguard.
M: Restrict Bond’s movements. Cancel his credit cards. Put an alert on his passport, all of them.
Bond arrives in Talamone, Italy to the villa belonging to Rene Mathis (Giancarlo Giannini) and his wife. We learn that after being cleared of wrongdoing after Casino Royale, the villa and retirement were his compensation.
Mathis doesn’t want to get involved. I LOVE the edit where his wife looks over from her sun lounger at Rene’s silence and simply sees Bond downing the rest of his wine. It’s a piece of silent cinema which shows that Mathis made his choice.
There is a nice scene on the plane to Bolivia where Bond is looking at his photo of Vesper and her necklace, whilst downing vodka martinis. Six of them.
Mathis: What’s keeping you awake?
Bond: I was wondering why you came with me.
Mathis: It takes something to admit you were wrong.
Fields (Gemma Arterton) is a consulate official who meets Bond and Mathis in Bolivia. Soon, Bond and Fields have slept together, which seems out of place in this film. Yet perhaps Bond is still reeling from his guilt, those six Vespers and is trying to lose himself in the next girl.
Remember Trevelyan’s words in Goldeneye?
I might as well ask if all the vodka martinis ever silence the screams of all the men you killed. Or if you find forgiveness in the arms of all those willing women for all the dead ones you failed to protect.
Is this the beginning of the Bond of old, bedding girls and leaving them along the way? Beware, Fields, remember what happened to Jill Masterson at the start of Goldfinger!
I am bewildered why Fields wears a pale “Inspector Clouseau” trenchcoat, bare legs and brown boots. Also mystified that in a film of “real” character names her first name, only revealed in the closing end credit crawl is “Strawberry”.
Bond and Camille are stopped by traffic cops – who find a badly beaten up Mathis in the trunk. Another trunk gag. Quantum’s payback for how Bond treated Mr White?
The cops shoot Mathis. Bond ends up cradling him on the ground.
Mathis: Please stay with me. Please… That’s better… Vesper – she gave everything for you. Forgive her. Forgive yourself.
Is Bond learning anything yet? Or is he still, as M says at the start, “a cold-hearted bastard”? The next moment is hard to take as Bond drops Mathis into a nearby dumpster. Is this the reality that Bond faces, or just plain cruel? This isn’t the Bond we’ve been waiting for, is it?
THE DC-3 – AIR
Bond and Camille rent an old DC-3 plane to fly to the desert Greene wants. As we learn that Camille was in the Bolivian secret service they are suddenly attacked by a jet and a helicopter. I think QoS really establishes that Quantum have eyes everywhere.
Both jump out into a sinkhole in the desert where they realise that Greene is damming up water supplies, strangling the area before monopolizing on it. It’s about water, not oil.
Back at the hotel, M, Tanner and others have arrived, as Bond is now wanted for the killing of the traffic cops. And we see that Fields has been killed, drowned in oil and dumped on his bed in his hotel room. Just like Jill Masterson in Goldfinger. Of course, as a deliberate homage it isn’t subtle, but it is clever, for Quantum are trying to lead them down the path of thinking that this is all about oil.
HOTEL PERLA DE LAS DUNAS
Leiter points Bond to this “pearl” embedded into the sand dunes in the desert where Greene and the General will finalise their deal. I still can’t figure out why there is a hotel in the middle of the desert.
As Quantum now owns over 60% of the water in Bolivia, they want exclusive rights as the country’s water provider.
The General goes to his room with a waitress, and we see Camille sneak in, aching for her revenge. Intercut with this is Bond infiltrating the hotel in grand fashion, leaping onto a Police jeep, shooting the Chief who betrayed Mathis. The jeep crashes into some power cells which start the obligatory explosions.
Greene’s henchman has a hard time in this film. We first see him in Haiti talking to his “mami” on the phone. Camille ignores him, the CIA ignore his chat on the plane, he geeks out whilst watching the opera. Not only was his haircut awful, but it is a wig. Finally, at the hotel the final indignity – a hydrogen cell explodes, incinerating him, but if you look closely you see that the explosion rips off his trousers. Who snuck a Roger Moore era joke in there?
THE HOTEL – FIRE
What Greene villain lacks in stature he makes up for in viciousness, just watch him swing that fire axe during his fight with Bond as the hotel ignites.
Camille finally kills the general, but the explosions trap her in the room, and even when Bond arrives to help, it looks grim for them both. But a disintegrating wall panel reveals a power cell – Bond shoots, the wall explodes, and our duo climb out so safety.
Bond takes Greene miles into the desert after an off-screen interrogation about Quantum. He throws an oil can to the ground.
I bet you make it twenty miles before you consider drinking that. Goodbye Mr Greene.
We still don’t know much about Quantum. And I’m fine with that. I love how well Quantum was been established.
Camille thanks him for his help in getting the General:
Camille: He’s dead, but now what?
I love the way he looks at Camille as they sit in the car. I imagine he’s reflecting on his own actions. In Casino, his actions led to the death of Solange, the removal of Mathis, and the death of Vesper. In Quantum, he effectively causes Fields’ death, loses Mathis, and almost loses Camille. History is repeating itself. And his driven, no compromise, vengeance caused it.
Camille reflects on her family:
Camille: “Do you think they’ll be able to sleep now?”
Bond: I don’t think the dead care about vengeance.
Camille: I wish I could set you free. (Strokes his head) But your prison is in there.
She has learned. And she strides off.
The final scenes are in a chilly apartment in Russia. Bond is waiting in the apartment (a call-back to the monochrome opening of Casino Royale) as a man and a woman enter.
The man is Vesper’s “dead” boyfriend from the photo. The woman is a Canadian agent (“Canada” is overheard by Bond at the Quantum meeting at the opera).
Bond: Knowing this man I’d guess you have access to some very sensitive material which you’re going to be forced to give up. His life will be threatened and because you love him you won’t hesitate.
Bond doesn’t kill the boyfriend. He walks out to meet M.
M: They found Greene dead in the middle of the Bolivian desert of all places. Two bullets in the back of his skull.
That Quantum gets everywhere.
Bond: Congratulations you were right. About Vesper.
M: Bond, I need you back.
Bond: I never left.
Is Bond being truthful, or bullish here?
Vesper’s necklace falls to the snowy path. Bond walks away. Slow fade to black.
GUNBARREL and JAMES BOND THEME
The perfect way to bookend these two “reboot” films. Now, Bond has found his solace and is the Bond we’ve been waiting for.
This film does feel compromised. Following the phenomenon of Casino Royale the producers went for a different approach – which obviously divided fans.
The increase in social media and vocal armchair “critics” has been poisonous to movies in the past decade, and I think Quantum of Solace is one of the victims of this.
Issues? It copies Bourne? Fair enough, just like it reflected other changes in movies and audiences: Kung Fu Movies, Blaxploitation Movies, R-rated mid 80’s thrillers and so on.
This is the worst Bond film? Worse than The Man with the Golden Gun? Worse than Moonraker? Worse than Die Another Day?
I struggle with the frenetic editing in the opening car chase in the tunnel and when Mitchell starts shooting in Siena, but honestly the action editing is just so damned exciting. Compare it to the explosive action cuts in OHMSS and the energy it generates. Or even better, compare it to some of the slower fights in some of Moore’s films. I know which I prefer.
The photography is gorgeous, the locations are diverse and hearken back to the 60s movies which were part travelogue. Haters find time to complain about the fonts on the location cards. Not me.
I’d say that David Arnold‘s score for QoS is his best – and that’s saying a lot for each of his Bond scores are fantastic. I love the excitement in Time To Get Out, The Palio and Pursuit At Port Au Prince, Have You Ever Killed Someone, the atmosphere in Bond in Haiti, and the call back to Casino Royale in Talamone. The mystery in Somebody Wants To Kill You, Night At The Opera, and the emotion in Camille’s Story and I Never Left make it not only a great soundtrack, but an album you can listen to and enjoy in its own right.
Criticisms of Dominic Greene as an underwhelming villain are warranted if you compare him to the larger-than-life scenery-chewing megalomaniacs of the past. And while you can perhaps cerebrally accept this different kind of villain, the weight of expectation, the baggage you carry from previous Bonds can set you up for disappointment in this middle manager. I was at first.
And yet, arguably the main villain in this film is the organisation Quantum itself, hovering in the background, manipulating from the shadows. Mr White and Mr Greene (colour coded?) are just employees of the larger regime (that isn’t SPECTRE).
The “choppy” editing calms down throughout the film. Surely this is indicative of Bond himself learning from the experiences around him. That Bond is, in this second film, dealing with the demons from the first and beginning to polish his act.
The action editing is deliberately provocative, recalling the montage editing of Eisenstein (think of the overbearing impact of the Odessa steps sequence from “Battleship Potemkin”), or check out the editing in the Superbowl finale of the little-seen John Frankenheimer thriller “Black Sunday”.
It can be no mistake that the film starts with the frenzied disorienting car chase yet ends with a quietly spoken, fully controlled conversation with M in the chilly Russian snow.
Like Camille, he has learned, and he walks away. He has learned about others. He has learned about himself. In the next film he will learn about the true impact of his job.
Article first published on reelanarchy.
|Produced by: EON Productions|
Presented By: Michael G Wilson and Barbara Broccoli
Director: Marc Forster
Screenplay: Paul Haggis and Neal Purvis & Robert Wade
Composer: David Arnold
“Another Way to Die” by Jack White, performed by Jack White and Alicia Keys
Production Design: Dennis Gassner
Cinematography: Roberto Schaefer
Editor: Matt Chessé and Richard Pearson
London Premiere October 2008