Film Reviews

Quantum of Solace: Dig Two Graves

Question: Should I watch Quantum of Solace if I haven’t seen Casino Royale?

Answer: No. It’s a direct sequel, the first true direct sequel in 007 history. It picks up literally just one hour after the last movie. You’d be too confused.

Question: But if I have seen Casino Royale I’ll like and understand Quantum of Solace?

Answer: Whoa there. I didn’t say that. You’ll probably still be as confused as Joey Tribbiani trying to do math in his head, but you’ll at least have some closure on Bond’s emotional arc and the lingering mystery over – spoiler – Vesper Lynd’s death in Casino Royale.

Question: Why is it so confusing?

Answer: Because Paul Haggis was in the middle of rewriting the script when the WGA went on strike, and pushing back the release date to wait for the strike to end was not an option. So, Daniel Craig and director Marc Forster – neither of them WGA members – unofficially finished the Quantum script while they were shooting.

Question: Doesn’t that kind of thing – starting without a finished script – happen on most blockbusters these days?

Answer: It sure feels that way sometimes, but this is different. They didn’t have an actual screenwriter on set to offer up emergency rewrites. Instead, they had a director whose last writing credit came a decade earlier (2000’s Everything Put Together) and a star who had never officially written anything before – and hasn’t done so since – awkwardly trying to piece together a screenplay that’s one half revenge quest, one half complicated spy plot about a secret agency destabilizing third world governments and pulling a Chinatown with Bolivia’s natural resources. The result is a film whose two halves don’t totally connect.

Later reflecting on the hectic process, Craig conceded, “There was me trying to rewrite scenes – and a writer I am not.” Still so sexy, though.

Question: Why is it called Quantum of Solace? Did Craig come up with that himself during his “rewrites”? Oh, is this the first Bond movie to be named by the actual guy playing James Bond?

Answer: Sadly no, the title comes from Ian Fleming’s 1960 short story of the same name, but in grand Bond tradition the film has almost nothing to do with the story. In the “Quantum of Solace,” Bond lingers after the conclusion of a dinner party at the Government House in the Bahamas and listens as the Governor tells him a story about a doomed marriage between a flight attendant and former civil servant. The wife betrays the husband and ultimately drives him so mad that he strands her in the Bahamas with all of his unpaid debts. It’s a level of cruelty he never could have imagined stooping to before his rage over her betrayal overtook him.

Question: And then once the Governor is done telling that story Bond kills him? Because he’s…evil? Probably has a giant laser in space pointed at San Francisco for some reason? Or…something?

Answer: You’d think so, right? Nothing like that happens, though. The story ultimately has nothing to do with spies or government secrets. It’s just a character study, a bit of a parable for Bond to ponder as he thinks about romantic relationships.

Question: So why pick that story for this movie?

Answer: Michael G. Wilson, who has been an executive producer on every Bond movie since 1979, said “we thought it was an intriguing title and referenced what’s happened to Bond in Casino Royale and what happens to Bond in this film.” Craig went even further, explaining, “The title of Fleming’s story refers to the nature of relationships and the fact is if you don’t have that quantum of solace in a relationship, then the person hurt the most will resort to a kind of bestial cruelty. In the film, we tried to make it bigger. Bond’s lost the love of his life. He needs an answer.”

Question: “Needs an answer”? That sounds pretty awesome. 00Death Wish, am I right?

Answer: You are not. Eh, you kind of are. It’s, well, it’s complicated. The movie tries to thread the needle between both being a vengeance quest and not being a vengeance quest.

Bond traverses the globe in search of answers and ultimately finds them in South America, but you get the sense that once he’s standing face to face with the men responsible for Lynd’s death he doesn’t totally know what he’ll do. Along the way, he meets Camille Montes (Olga Kurylenko), a Bolivian agent who has cause for her own revenge and probably will not hesitate to take the final shot. (In fact, if not for Bond’s bad timing she probably would have claimed her vengeance in one of her first scenes.) Their targets happen to align. So, they team up.

Question: Is that why you called this article “Dig Two Graves”? Do they kill two people, the two bastards that wronged them?

Answer: Probably more than just two by the end (so many dead henchmen), but, actually, that’s a reference to the Roger Moore Bond flick For Your Eyes Only. In that one, Bond helps Carole Bouqet track down the man responsible for her parents’ death but along the way he warns, “The Chinese have a saying: ‘When setting out on revenge, you first dig two graves.’” Quantum of Solace walks the same ground, except this time Bond has as much of a personal stake in the story as the girl he’s helping.

Question: Hold on. Olga Kurylenko, wasn’t she in the headlines recently?

Answer: Bad news, good news there. She was one of the earliest celebrities to test positive for COVID-19, but thankfully she now says she’s fully recovered.

Question: Glad to hear that.

Answer: She’s actually done another Bond movie. Kind of. In 2018, she played Rowan Atkinson’s love interest in the 007 spoof Johnny English Strikes Again.

Question. Getting back to Quantum, is there another Bond Girl in this film? To paraphrase Yoda, “Bond Girl, always two there are.”

Answer: Gemma Arterton joins halfway through as an agent named Strawberry Fields. (Yes, after the Beatles song.) She’s sent to retrieve Bond and return him to MI6 headquarters where Judi Dench’s M is doing her usual, “Play by the book, Bond! (10 minutes later) So, fill me in on all the useful intel you got from going off book.” (To be fair to M, her personal bodyguard almost kills her in an early scene, and she’s doing a lot of pleasing her bosses and the idiot Americans while secretly letting Bond figure out who the heck got to her bodyguard.) Fields, sent by M, sleeps with Bond damn near immediately.

“I’m so mad at myself!” Fields says aloud post-sex for letting herself fall for Bond’s patented “come help me find some stationary paper” line.

Arterton, who has become very active in the #MeToo and #TimesUp movements would have written her character a fair bit differently if given the chance. In 2018, she penned the short story “The Woke Bond Woman.” Here’s her section on how Fields should have reacted to Bond’s offer to join him in his hotel room:

“’No thank you,’ I say. Maybe he is attractive, but he’s at least 20 years older than me, we’ve only just met, he’s a colleague. Plus this man has a reputation. Don’t women who go up to his hotel room and sleep with him usually die in some horrific yet iconic way? No, no. Not me.”

Question: “Die in some horrific yet iconic way” – feels like a spoiler. Am I right?

Answer: Yep. This is what happens to Agent Fields in the movie:

It’s a Goldfinger Easter egg.

Question: Is that…oil?

Answer: Yep.

Question: But why?

Answer: Because…you know what, it doesn’t even matter. The bad guys are pretending to be after oil when in fact they’re monopolizing more basic resources. The oil is just a smokescreen they’ve fed to the CIA. Fields is murdered off-camera and covered in motor oil as a mere decoy.

Question: That probably cuts Bond up inside. First, Lynd. Now, Fields. Does he storm off to cry in the shower?

Answer: Actually, he looks sad for a moment but then moves on with the business of being Bond. It’s what he does. He seems a little more heartbroken later when…ya know what, I’m giving away far too much about this movie. Bad shit happens to James and his friends in Quantum, and that’s saying a lot for what turns out to be the shortest Bond film ever. Just 106 minutes of pure, not-at-all-inspired-by-but-who-are-we-kidding-totally-ripped-off-from-Jason-Bourne action.

Question: I remember reading that “it’s like a lesser Bourne movie” criticism when Quantum came out. How does it hold up now?

Answer: Maybe better than it seemed back in 2008 but still far too kinetic. Forster brought his longtime editor – Matt Chesse – with him to the project, but Chesse was paired with Richard Pearson, the guy who co-edited The Bourne Supremacy four years earlier. They didn’t exactly form a dream team. Far too often, you can’t follow the action. Beyond that, there are editing decisions that make you feel like you just missed something, such as Bond walking on foot toward a villain in the desert and then one cut later he’s in a car – a car that wasn’t visible in the frame just one shot ago – deeper into the desert and the villain is in the trunk.

Little moments like that accumulate throughout the whole film, giving the impression of something that was either cut to ribbons in post or pushed forward with stylistic choices that either work for you or don’t. I’m mostly in the latter.

Question: Too confusing, a Bond girl ends up dead and covered in oil for no great reason, and the editing is a mess? Maybe I don’t want to watch this movie.

Answer: Of the Craig films, it’s probably the most skippable in terms of quality, but once you finish Casino Royale you’re going to want to move right into Quantum. They pair together OK as one big movie. The difference is Casino Royale still works as its own film whereas Quantum kind of doesn’t. It’s not a total waste, though. Bond and Camille are fantastic together as two troubled souls who find each other and walk through the metaphorical and then literal fire together.

There is a sequence at an opera where Bond listens in on the secret Quantum organization plotting their next move, and it crackles with exactly the kind of spy movie ingenuity you want out of 007. Craig sneaks in a classic Bond line or two, such as, “Hello. We’re teachers on sabbatical and we’ve just won the lottery.” (Trust me, it kills in context.) Given Quantum’s low reputation, I actually got more out of it than I expected. As an attempt to define the moral line Craig’s Bond will or will not cross, Quantum of Solace is an important step in his evolution, if you can get past the editing and incomplete script.

Question: One final question: who am I?

Answer: Who are you?

Question: Yeah, who exactly am I supposed to be, this person asking you all these questions?

Answer: A hypothetical reader, I suppose. Someone who’s maybe never seen this movie but was curious to know more about it.

Question: You’re just talking to yourself, aren’t you?

Answer: Yes, I fear I am.

Question: Are you – nay, we – going to do this for all the reviews?

Answer: Probably not.

The Marathon Notes

  • Thoughts on the Bond Women: Strawberry Fields may have the more memorable name and sendoff, but Camille stands out as a highly capable Bond Woman with her own compelling character arc and long lasting resistance to Bond’s charms.
  • Ian Fleming Connection: The title – and arguably some of the themes – come from Fleming’s 1960 short story “Quantum of Solace.” Everything else they came up with on their own.
  • Felix Leiter Counter: 1. Looking cool. Helping Bond. Defying his asshole boss played by a pre-Stranger Things David Harbour.
  • Bond Song Ranking: #3. In retrospect, Quantum’s Jack White/Alicia Keys collaboration “Another Way to Die” was a dry run for Dead Weather, the rock supergroup that formed just a year later and featured White sharing vocals with Alison Mosshart (of The Kills). White, unfortunately, was better at this kind of thing with Dead Weather. “Another Way to Die” is just too forgettable, a series of stop-start White guitar riffs and Keys harmonizing. Adele’s “Skyfall” and even Sam Smith’s “The Writing’s on the Wall” (from Spectre) rank higher for me.
  • Coolest Scene: Bond enjoys a night at the Opera.
  • Favorite line: M: When someone says “We’ve got people everywhere”, you expect it to be hyperbole! Lots of people say that. Florists use that expression. It doesn’t mean that they’ve got somebody working for them inside the bloody room!
  • Biggest regret: That we’ll never get the version of the film they would have made with more time and a finished script.

Sources: The oral history book Nobody Does it Better, The Ultimate Guide to Bond

Tomorrow: Casino Royale

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