Quantum of Solace
based on characters by Ian Fleming
While I remember Casino Royale coming out to a lot of fanfare, especially critically, I barely remember Quantum of Solace’s release. I mostly remember puzzlement over its title. It’s taken from the short story “Quantum of Solace” and refers to the necessary humanity required to keep a person in a relationship. If it drops to zero, then the relationship cannot hold. Thematically appropriate for this film and for Craig’s brutal Bond, but hardly something you can sing along with while weeping alone in your car. (You don’t do that every time “Skyfall” comes on the radio?) I never made an effort to see it and utterly forgot about the franchise as a whole until Skyfall. You know the rest.
Quantum of Solace is a direct sequel to 2006’s Casino Royale. After discovering that the woman he was going to leave MI6 for was a double agent for the mysterious Quantum organization, Bond saves M from being assassinated by her own bodyguard. Spooked by an organization that’s literally everywhere and that they know nothing about, Bond follows the trail of the assassin to Haiti, where he discovers ally Camille Montes and wealthy environmentalist Dominic Greene. Greene is using his money to help an exiled Bolivian general (the same one who raped and killed Camille’s family) in exchange for appears to be a totally resourceless piece of land. With Camille’s reluctant help and MI6’s even more reluctant resources, Bond sets out to take down Greene. But is for queen and country or is it for revenge?
Like Heroes (man, what a shame that show only lasted one season), Quantum of Solace is a casualty of the necessary 2007-08 Writers’ Strike. Apparently, the writers—Paul Haggis, Neal Purvis, and Robert Wade—turned in a script hours before the strike began, but it was so scanty that director Marc Forster and Daniel Craig (!) expanded it themselves. Hardly auspicious beginnings, but Quantum of Solace seems particularly hard-hit by its shaky origin story. While it’s one of the shortest Bond films at an hour and forty-six minutes, it still feels longer than the much better paced and edited Casino Royale. The villain particularly suffers; Le Chiffre made millions off of terrorism and his actions were motivated by his enemies closing in. Dominic Greene, played by a very subdued Mathieu Almaric, wants to create a water monopoly. The urgency is a bit lacking, wouldn’t you say?
And yet, as the second installment in the trilogy that transforms Bond from thug to monster, Quantum of Solace still more or less functions. In Casino Royale, the real world is lost to Bond forever. In Quantum of Solace, the world of international espionage, which he threw himself into at the end of the last film, is lost to him. Now, M becomes his guiding light. A random affair that would have passed without so much as a peep in the Connery days ends in tragedy, with Bond realizing the human cost even while he’s “playing” within the spy community. (Gemma Arterton is pitch-perfect as Agent Fields, reminding me slightly of my beloved Fiona Volpe.) But more effective is the use of Camille as Bond’s foil, a fellow secret agent also seeking revenge at all costs. She can express her inner turmoil better than Bond can, but they both limp towards the uncertain promise of revenge just the same. She’s never really a romantic interest for him. The kiss they share at the end is not sexual or romantic, but sealing off their brief connection. It’s a goodbye, a thank you for sharing a treacherous road that may have harmed more than helped.
Like I said, I have a hard time not getting poetic about the character arc of Craig’s Bond. It’s such fascinating stuff!
While the script stumbles and suffers, there are two beautiful action set pieces—the first takes place in Siena, Italy, as Bond takes down M’s failed hitman, and the second takes place during a performance of Tosca in Bregenz, Austria. Opera plays as Bond leads several Quantum members in a gun battle through the spacious building. It’s graceful and beautiful, setting the groundwork for the stunts in Skyfall.
Quantum of Solace’s song is the first duet in Bond history, perhaps reflecting the centrality of both Bond and Camille in the story, but it is, alas, pretty forgettable. (Although its main guitar riff is pretty slick.) The opening credits reach into Bond past to bring up using the bodies of women as decoration for the opening credits. There’s something off about that for a film that features one of the more well-rounded Bond girls and kills off the other one in a way that the script deliberately points out is meant to rob her of her agency. Luckily, Skyfall does away with it, giving me great hope for Bond 24.
Lastly, no matter how much I enjoyed Camille’s character and Olga Kurylenko’s portrayal of her, I should point out that this was a prime opportunity to cast a South American Latina across in a starring role in one of the biggest film franchises of all time. Apparently, it was the director’s intention to cast a South American Latina in the role (according to this Bond fansite update about the film), but I feel asleep in the middle of writing that because I am so over directors and productions wimping out of representation for characters that are ripe to do so. Technically, it’s not whitewashing, as this is not casting a white woman as a person of color or making a previously established character of color white, but it’s something more like the situation with The Hunger Games: a perfect opportunity to get some high-profile representation in that’s wasted.
Bottom line: As a Bond film and even just a film, Quantum of Solace is lacking, although it does provide an important episode in the character arc of Daniel Craig’s Bond. For completionists.
I rented this film from the public library.