History, Legacy & Showmanship

Craig’s Sophomore Slump: Remembering “Quantum of Solace” on its 10th Anniversary

January 28, 2019 - 9:15 am   |   by
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Quantum of Solace

Coate: In what way was Mathieu Amalric’s Dominic Greene a memorable villain?

Caplen: Dominic Greene is, in my view, not very memorable. He is played wonderfully by Mathieu Amalric, who imbues the character with a pathetic aura that is accompanied by an almost reptilian-like sliminess. These traits, to me, make Greene seem uncomfortable in nearly every scene. Indeed, Greene boasts that the thought of people talking behind his back makes him feel like ants are under his skin. (The idea of a person feeling uncomfortable in his own skin evokes the memory of Colonel Moon/Gustav Graves in Die Another Day.) This type of inherent creepiness cannot be masked with black tie attire, advanced technological gadgetry, or cultural immersion (i.e., attending a Tosca opera as cover for Quantum operations). In some respects, Greene is reminiscent of Moonraker’s Hugo Drax but without polish, finesse, or creativity.

Greene’s maniacal quest for Bolivia’s water source is a bit farcical, but so, too, is his near refusal to do anything for himself. His associates seem to perform all the work while Greene reacts to situations with surprise and anger in his eyes. The scene when Greene discovers Bond at the opera is a prime example.

Greene is the central villain in the film and purported head of a Quantum subsidiary, but the audience gets the impression that he is merely an underling within a far larger organization, especially when M reveals that Greene was found dead in the desert with two bullet wounds to the head (and motor oil found in his stomach). Something much more nefarious is afoot, and Greene is merely one small, forgettable element of it.

Cork: Amalric is a fantastic actor, and he exudes evil in the role, channeling a bit of Peter Lorre. But he’s not given much with which to work. What is he doing when we meet him? He’s obsessively stamping a series of numbers on a long piece of paper from a cash register roll. Why? I certainly don’t know. What is this supposed to tell us about him? Beats me. All I know is that whatever dockside warehouse where we are introduced to him remains a far cry from Goldfinger’s introduction poolside at the Fontainebleau or even Largo’s elegant arrogance when he parks his car in Paris.

Green explains his ability to destabilize Bolivia in exchange for mineral and water rights, which is a wonderful device, but the scene somehow lacks the scale and scope of, say, General Orlov pitching his somewhat similar plan. At every turn, Amalric is undercut by the choices of others. In the middle of his brilliantly brutal attack on Bond with a fire ax while the desert facility blows up around them, we cut away to an emotionally intense scene between Camille and General Medrano, losing all focus on Bond and Green’s battle. When we come back, viewers have to reorient their brains to what is going on. The cutting is so fast that it’s often hard to know where anyone is, who just fell off the collapsing walkway, and as a result, what should have been a fight every bit as engaging as Bond versus Grant in From Russia with Love is barely remembered by fans.

In the end, we are even robbed of a great death scene. Bond apparently decided to save Green before dashing off to rescue Camille. When Bond catches up to him in the desert, he gives Green motor oil and toodles off. Apparently, Green, with his foot split open, carried the motor oil until he got thirsty. This just seems downright silly, but it’s played as though this is some bit of brilliant Bondian irony. As a result, Green is simply not very memorable.

Funnell: Dominic Greene is an interesting villain who uses environmental sustainability as a front for his villainous organization. He is so cunning that he convinces major world powers that he has discovered a new oil deposit while he is secretly claiming water rights. This is suggested through the use of oil to murder Strawberry Fields, an homage (albeit deceitful) to the skin suffocation of Jill Masterson in Goldfinger via the element being coveted. Greene is so convincing that he positions Bond as a threat to the oil security of the UK and USA who must therefore be eliminated. This is where the friendship between Bond with Felix Leiter (or at least the start of it) is first tested as the latter chooses to side with Bond and is promoted by the CIA for making the right call. Moreover, the death of Greene is ironic as Bond sends him out into the desert with an oil canister rather than a water jug.

Quantum newspaper adCoate: In what way was Olga Kurylenko’s Camille Montes (or Gemma Arterton’s Strawberry Fields) a memorable Bond Girl?

Caplen: I’m not convinced that either Camille or Fields is particularly memorable. The focal point of the film, of course, is Vesper Lynd and Bond’s quest to learn the truth about her death. Camille is a member of Bolivian intelligence who is intent on killing General Medrano to avenge her family’s murder. She is willing to use her sexuality as a weapon (and shares a light-hearted moment with Bond when she reveals she slept with Greene to get closer to General Medrano). Although she ultimately kills General Medrano after he brutally attacks and tries to sexually assault her, she cannot make the kill without Bond’s assistance. And, Bond seems to be constantly rescuing her from compromising or dangerous situations. Camille seems resourceful and is, in many respects, reminiscent of Wai Lin in Tomorrow Never Dies. But she must be repeatedly extricated from compromising (or dangerous) situations. Aside from repelling General Medrano’s assault, Camille’s strongest moment, perhaps, is disparaging and compromising Greene in front of his donors.

But Camille is not Bond’s love interest, and it is understandable why. Bond is still struggling with Vesper’s death, so his relationship with Camille must remain strictly professional. Her kill is not his mission, so there is no reason why their alliance should lead to anything sexual.

By contrast, Fields (whose first name is never mentioned) is the prototypical, expendable conquest for Bond. She is not a particularly resourceful agent. Her instructions are to stop Bond and return him to London, but Bond quickly asserts authority over her. She succumbs to Bond in their hotel room, regrets the decision, but quickly dismisses her doubts when Bond persuades her otherwise. Although she provides some assistance to Bond, she pays the ultimate price at the hands of Greene’s henchmen, though, perhaps, her demise was predestined when she failed to fulfill MI6 orders to return Bond to England. Her death is cruel and striking — she is covered in oil much like Jill Masterson succumbed to gold paint in Goldfinger. But to his credit, Bond does not merely dismiss Fields as he has done with so many women in past missions. Instead, Bond specifically informs M that Fields showed true bravery and tells M she should include that information in her case report. In that regard, Fields’ legacy will survive, albeit in an office file.

Cork: Camille follows Tilly Masterson, Domino, Anya, Melina Havelock, Octopussy, and Lupe in seeking some sense of resolution for dead parents, siblings or loved ones (Honey in Dr. No doesn’t seem to be seeking much besides shells and Bond, so she doesn’t quite make the list). I really like Olga Kurylenko. Great actress. Camille, scared of dying in a fire like the one that consumed the bodies of her family, has a powerful emotional arc. But the script doesn’t quite allow her story and Bond’s journey to mesh together despite a brilliantly played scene in a cavern in the middle of the film. Fun trivia: Camille bears a lot of similarities to Jinx from the abandoned Die Another Day spin-off. The brief introduction of Agent Fields that bookends Camille and Bond’s moment in the cavern further undercuts her importance to Bond’s story. Near the end of the film is a scene that seems inspired by end of the novel Moonraker, where Bond and Camille are trapped as fire nears. It is clear that she wants Bond to shoot her before the flames can take her life. It’s a great moment, but I don’t think it emotionally connects with viewers, and it’s just not Kurylenko’s fault. She plays that moment so right, but the film had not given the story enough breathing room for us to feel the emotions that she wonderfully communicates with just the look in her eyes.

Funnell: Quantum of Solace does not have a Bond Girl proper. Much like Casino Royale, the qualities of the archetype are split between two characters: Vesper Lynd and Camille Montes. On the one hand, Bond is still in love with the late Vesper Lynd. Although she doesn’t appear on screen, her memory looms large in the film through the repeating of the Vesper musical theme, her Algerian knot necklace that Bond secretly carries with him, and the Vesper martinis he consumes to the point of being drunk. On the other hand, Bond does not engage in a sexual/romantic relationship with Montes and each of them are on their own respective quests for revenge. For her part, Montes is determined to kill General Medrano who murdered her family and she aligns with Bond who is working to take down Medrano’s partner, Dominic Greene. Her character is reminiscent of Gala Brand from the novel Moonraker (Fleming 1955) who rejects Bonds advances once their mission is complete, as she is engaged to another man, and the novel ends on a bitter note. However, in Quantum of Solace, it is Bond who is emotionally unavailable due to his love for Lynd and the pair part ways without a sexual or romantic scenario developing between them. As a result, Quantum of Solace ends on an empowering and even feminist note with Montes walking away from a man who cannot love her.

Coate: Where do you think Quantum of Solace ranks among the James Bond movie series?

Caplen: Quantum is an entertaining James Bond film, but I think it cannot compare to Casino Royale, Skyfall, or Spectre. It may also fall short of Pierce Brosnan’s best performance, which I have always thought was Goldeneye.

Cork: When I ranked the films in 2012, it landed at unlucky number 13. After so many complaints, why so high? I love the score. I’m in the minority, but I love Another Way to Die, which I think is a kick-ass song. It is brilliantly shot. The performances are great. Daniel Craig owns ever frame he’s in. Although it takes itself very seriously, it is a good casual watch in a strange way.

Funnell: It is not in my top or bottom three.

Coate: What is the legacy of Quantum of Solace?

Caplen: Casino Royale introduced Daniel Craig as James Bond, but Quantum solidified Craig in the role and added the next installment of a broader story arc that would become Skyfall and Spectre. While Quantum was not as well-received as Casino Royale, history may be kinder to the film when it is considered in a broader context. Quantum does more than close the Vesper Lynd chapter; it adds more color to a complex relationship between Bond and Dame Judy Dench’s M. Quantum allows producers to close the M story line, too, transitioning Dench’s M — a character that joined Pierce Brosnan when he assumed the Bond role in 1995 — to a new M who can develop a completely new dynamic with Craig’s Bond.

Cork: The first legacy is understanding the importance of getting the screenplay right for a Bond film. When you make a film like Diamonds Are Forever, the tone embraces absurdism. Audiences are not emotionally attaching to the characters or placing a lot of importance on story logic. When you make a film that has maybe two laughs and lots of looks of grim determination, the audience wants to emotionally connect. Quantum doesn’t make that connection easy for the audience. Much of this can be blamed on the Writers Guild Strike of 2007-2008, just as the film was getting started in production. The script was never really finished, revised and polished.

The next legacy of Quantum of Solace is that Bond is very different from Bourne. When The Bourne Identity opened in the summer of 2002, a lot of folks were blown away by it. The second Bourne film, The Bourne Supremacy (2004) out-grossed Casino Royale in the US. The third Bourne, The Bourne Ultimatum (2007) broke $200 million at the box office, something no Bond film had done at that point. There was a lot of noise that Bond needed a lot more Bourne in his blood. For whatever reasons internally, that meant trying to get folks involved in Quantum that had experience with Bourne, including Bourne Supremacy editor Richard Pearson, who shared his duties with Matt Chesse. It also included Dan Bradley, 2nd unit director on The Bourne Supremacy and Ultimatum. All of these are very talented individuals, but something didn’t click. Bond doesn’t mesh with the kind of long-lens, tight-shot, shaky-cam, quick cut action that works in Jason Bourne’s world.

The final legacy is Daniel Craig’s. It was in the aftermath of Quantum that he set up Sam Mendes to direct Skyfall, a move that secured more creative input into the films than any actor who had played 007 in the Eon series before.

Funnell: The legacy of the film lies in its depiction of the global south and (unintentional) emphasis on white/British/Western colonialism. Visually, the global south is depicted differently through the use of filters that emphasize the colors brown and yellow to highlight the arid nature of the climate as well as the lack of economic development. These conventions are carried forward into Skyfall and Spectre (2015), and appear in other non-Bond films of the time. Producers cast Olga Kurylenko, a Ukrainian-born French actor, to play Bolivian agent Camille Montes rather than someone of/from Bolivian or South American origin. She appears with tanned skin (via the problematic convention of brownface) and she speaks with a European (and, in this case, an arbitrary/non-British and non-American) accent. This recalls the casting of white actors in lead Asian roles and the use of the racist convention of yellowface in Dr. No (1962). Finally, when locals in Bolivia meet to discuss the resource shortage by the water tower, subtitles are not provided and audiences unfamiliar with the language cannot understand what is being said. This was a choice made by producers (much like in the 2017 film Logan) and presents the impression that the voices and concerns of locals (in their native language) do not matter unless they are conveyed (in English) via white actors in the film. Moreover, it presents the global conflict over water and other natural resources as the prerogative of developed Western/Northern nations who occupy and plunder the global south without any consultation from the locals. As such, Quantum of Solace demonstrates that the Bond franchise still relays a British imperialist standpoint through its depiction of the global south and continues to rely on problematic politics of representation that draw into question whether the films of the Daniel Craig era can be considered progressive within the Bond film canon.

Coate: Thank you — Robert, John, and Lisa — for participating and sharing your thoughts about Quantum of Solace on the occasion of its 10th anniversary.

The James Bond roundtable discussion will return in Remembering “Moonraker” on its 40th Anniversary.

Quantum of Solace

IMAGES

Selected images copyright/courtesy 20th Century Fox Home Entertainment, CBS-Fox Home Video, Danjaq LLC, Eon Productions Limited, MGM Home Entertainment, United Artists Corporation.

 

- Michael Coate

Michael Coate can be reached via e-mail through this link. (You can also follow Michael on social media at these links: Twitter and Facebook)

Quantum of Solace (Blu-ray Disc)

 

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