“A Bullet Fired From A Gun”

When it comes to the 22nd James Bond film, Quantum of Solace, everyone has a strong opinion—and opinions vary.  With the release of QoS on DVD and Blu-ray, the debate is rekindled…and ajb007.co.uk is on the job.

Quantumof Solae on DVD
“Quantum of Solace” on DVD
© MGM / Eon

James Bond is back…again!  And this time, he’s got some unfinished business lingering from Casino Royale, the debut for the current Wearer of the Tux, Daniel Craig.  Quantum of Solace follows 007 from Italy to London, then to Haiti, Austria, back to Italy, then Bolivia….and finally to Russia, where he confronts the treacherous ex-boyfriend of Vesper Lynd.

Along the way, he enlists the aid of CIA operative Felix Leiter, former suspected traitor Rene Mathis, Agent Fields (”Just Fields”) from Station B, and Camille, an enigmatic and beautiful member of Bolivia’s secret service…as he investigates Quantum, a worldwide criminal organization with tentacles into the highest levels of business and government, and foils a plot to overthrow a South American country and control one of the world’s most precious natural resources…

All in 106 minutes!

The Film

From the opening, ominous low flyover of Lake Garda, intercut with close-up shots of an Aston Martin DBS at speed, it’s clear we’re in new territory for James Bond.  And then…there we are, riding along with him through a twisting mountainside tunnel, amid automatic gunfire, screaming tires and pinwheeling point of view.  It’s a maelstrom of visual confusion, and it’s clear that this is no accident.  The close-in, handheld-style camera work—and a buzz saw-like, all-over-the-place editing approach to the action sequences—is probably the most controversial aspect of the film.  There is a school of thought that says that such ’subjective perspective’ camera/editing work effectively immerses the viewer in the chaos of the moment—where detachment and ease of perspective is impossible—and thus achieves an element of ‘artistic truth.’  However, in QoS this clearly comes at the expense of some viewer convenience.  Clearly, the editing philosophy of the film is problematic, and hopefully it will not be repeated in future Bond films.  The good news is that the overall effect of this is muted somewhat on the smaller screen of the home theatre, which seems to contain and focus the point of view in a way that the big screen could not.

Similarly, the convenience of watching movies at home mitigates another issue many fans had with the film: that of narrative pacing.  Director Marc Forster declared that he wanted this film to be, as he put it, “Like a bullet fired from a gun.”  Thus, the bullet on a flat trajectory, as seen during the titles sequence, turns out to be not only a metaphor for Bond himself, but also for the film as a whole.  The kinetic forward momentum of the piece can be overwhelming, and the cliche of not having a chance to ‘catch one’s breath’ is a perfectly appropriate one to use.  Unfortunately, this pacing takes a toll on plot and character accessibility for some viewers, who might be looking for a more conventional narrative.  Scenes such as those between Bond and M, Bond and Mathis, Bond and Leiter, Bond and Fields, Bond and Camille, etc., give us what we need—and indeed contain many wonderful moments, with humour and fine dramatic performances—but are over before we can savour them…and we do yearn to savour such things, like Bond himself enjoys fine food and drink.  Because of Forster’s ’bullet fired from a gun’ ethos, he deliberately decides not to let certain dramatic beats play out to a more satisfactory conclusion.  Instead, he essentially demands that we keep up, which can be an alienating prospect.  Many go to a Bond film to simply be entertained, not challenged.  Frequently I have hit the ‘review’ button to enjoy some of the film’s finer fleeting moments…but granted, such a thing shouldn’t be necessary.

The locations are lush and beautifully photographed, and the captions that introduce them are visually interesting.  The Perla de las Dunas hotel in the desert is very evocative of legendary Bond production designer Ken Adam’s distinctive style—and the interiors, particularly the space where Bond and Greene have their climactic fight as the flames erupt around them, looks like something Mr. Adam would have conceived—even the texture on the walls looks like ‘classic Bond.’

It’s interesting that one of the many criticisms leveled at the film, when it debuted in the cinema, was an apparent lack of emotion, but like anything in QoS that doesn’t explode or move at high speed over land, sea and air, it can be lost in the jetstream of the film’s dizzying pace.  Craig’s performance is pretty much perfect; internalization is the most difficult acting assignment, and sadly it’s not always recognized or rewarded.  His denial (with M) of caring about Vesper…his no response to Mathis’ saying “She died for you”…his reaction when Mathis, with his last breath, tells Bond to forgive her—and himself…his face when presented with Fields’ oil-coated corpse, his playing of the scene where Camille tells him that his prison is ‘in there’ (Bond’s mind)…are all quite rich.  The disposal of Mathis’ body was poignant:  Bond’s remark that his friend “wouldn’t care,” the jarringly field-expedient utility of removing the cash from the wallet, the way the camera lingers on the dumpster from above—it all elicits revulsion, which it is intended to do, and belies the grief so brilliantly underplayed by Daniel Craig, but it also speaks to the compartmentalization required by someone in Bond’s line of work in order to avoid going insane.

Supporting performances were all very solid.  Giancarlo Giannini was pitch-perfect in every scene, as was the great Jeffrey Wright—his scene with Bond in the bodega, where they spar briefly over the notion of failed British empire and American corruption, is well done.  I look forward to more of Wright’s Felix Leiter in films to come.  Olga Kurylenko and Gemma Arterton are both very effective (especially Camille).  Mathieu Amalric’s Dominic Greene isn’t the best Bond villain, but that’s not his fault.  He’s very good in every scene, possessing the most punchable face and demeanor of any baddie since Kronsteen, and is clearly another relatively minor stepping stone up from Le Chiffre, as we ascend the organizational chart of the nefarious ‘Quantum’ in future outings.  His fight with Bond is fantastic, and his ultimate fate is something that would have made Ian Fleming smile.

The scene between Bond and Vesper’s ‘ex’ is positively electric; a rather nice ‘book-end’ to the opening (pre-title) scene of Casino Royale, with a decidedly different outcome.  Though the ultimate resolution might seem disappointing at first blush, it banks significant character capital for the future, and the love knot left in the snow signals a necessary closure for James Bond, who is now free to do what he does best…and nobody does it better.

Quantum of Solace is, essentially, the violent and lightning-quick third act of Casino Royale—that film’s angry and misunderstood little brother—and, like ‘Tosca,’ it isn’t for everyone.  Like a bullet fired from a gun, it howls along on a short and flat trajectory, and takes its target down.  

The DVD

Picture transfer and sound quality seem fine on the DVD version, considering what this quickly diminishing format is able to deliver when compared to the broader features and capabilities of the ascending Blu-ray format. 

Ironically, given the feature film’s short running time, it’s very possible that they could have squeezed all of the provided Special Features into a single disc release…but that would have robbed Sony of an obvious marketing opportunity—namely, having a “Two Disc Special Edition” alternative to the Ultra-Vanilla single disc option, given that they clearly have a long-range strategic plan to release a more improved (three-disc) version down the road, probably to coincide with the theatrical release of Bond #23.   

Besides the feature film itself, Disc One contains the “Another Way To Die” music video, featuring Alicia Keys and Jack White, and Theatrical and Teaser trailers.  Music videos have been a staple of Bond DVD releases for some time, and the trailers are also pretty standard stuff.

Disc Two’s Special Features include Bond on Location, a very good 24-minute featurette on the production’s globe-trotting schedule.  The other featurettes—Start of Shooting, On Location, Olga Kurylenko and the Boat Chase, Director Marc Forster and The Music, average out to just over three minutes apiece, which is a bit disappointing in terms of substance.  Many snippets and sound bites from the Bond on Location featurette are repeated during subsequent featurettes, unfortunately creating a sense of wasted opportunity.  Interestingly, the final special feature, Crew Files (which first appeared, in individual installments, on the official Sony/Eon Quantum of Solace website), contains 32 fascinating and often quite funny (if lamentably brief) glimpses into the jobs and personalities of many people involved in getting the film made, and provides some of the disc’s best added value. 

All in all, the Special Features on Disc Two run about 90 minutes—45 minutes of which are used up by the Crew Files Behind-The-Scenes clips.  Commentary tracks, especially one with Craig himself, would have been most welcome.  No doubt we’ll get some when the next version of Quantum of Solace is released on disc…but meanwhile, it’s hard not to be cynical.

Final Thoughts

Overall, Quantum of Solace—perhaps the most unapologetic, uncompromising film in the Bond canon—benefits by the transition to the small screen, thanks to a more focused media venue.  However, in these economic times, a little more “Bang for the ‘Special Edition’ Buck” would have been a good thing.

Buy Quantum of Soalce on Blu-Ray and DVD

Quantum of Solace is available online and in all good DVD and Blu-Ray retailers.

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