Film Review: Quantum of Solace

Latest James Bond adventure finds him battling an environmental group's scheme to take over South American resources. Solid plotting and focused acting strip away the chaff from earlier entries in the series.

Taking up where Casino Royale left off, Quantum of Solace thrusts secret agent James Bond into a deadly conspiracy as he tries to uncover the mystery behind his lover Vesper Lynd. Crisscrossing the globe, leaving a trail of corpses, breaking laws and ignoring superiors, Bond barrels his way through expertly staged set-pieces and brutal action scenes on his way to an apocalyptic encounter in a Bolivian desert. It's a welcome return to the earliest days of the series, before tricks, gags and bad acting took over the films.

Portrayed with authority by Daniel Craig, Bond embarks on his pursuit of a shadowy cartel after his boss M (Judi Dench) is almost killed during an interrogation. In Haiti, Bond comes across Dominic Greene (Mathieu Amalric), the front for a malevolent environmental group; details about its plans begin to emerge in Vienna. Suspended from the force after a number of suspicious deaths, Bond turns to colleagues Rene Mathis (Giancarlo Giannini) and Felix Leiter (Jeffrey Wright) for help infiltrating the group in Bolivia.

Few survive their dealings with Bond, who barely escapes ambushes himself on motorboats, in opera houses, and in the alleyways of the slums of La Paz. The action scenes are intricately choreographed and extremely hard-hitting, although they are occasionally edited into a blur of motion. Some series traditions are alluded to: cocktail recipes, formal attire, playful acquaintances who meet bad ends. They pass by in a sort of shorthand, never detracting from the plot's single-minded drive.

A more pressing problem for the filmmakers is finding a way to make Bond, a Cold War relic, relevant in a contemporary world of shifting political and economic allegiances. They succeed in large part by stripping away the accoutrements that have built up over the years, dropping gadgets to focus on story and characters. Similarly, Daniel Craig pulls back as Bond, dispensing with the tics and fussiness other actors have used to turn the character into a personality. His secret agent is hard-nosed and streamlined, someone who acts before he thinks, who follows his instincts even when he senses they will hurt.

Quantum of Solace is not without its share of miscalculations. Attempts to intercut a killing spree with a performance of Tosca seem too forced, and an aerial chase late in the movie is both confusing and implausible. Camille (played by Ukrainian model Olga Kurylenko), the latest in a long line of Bond girls, drops in and out of the movie on flimsy pretexts.

The film's air of resignation, admitting to Bond's inability to effect real change, may account for early negative responses from critics. They may miss the gambling, weapons drills, flamboyant villains, and tired sexual banter that preoccupied the Roger Moore and Pierce Brosnan incarnations of years past. Others have made easy comparisons to the Bourne Identity series, raising the question: Will viewers prefer spending time with Matt Damon, earnest, hard-working, never quite persuasive as a killing machine, or with Daniel Craig, who looks like he could break the nearest neck without a second thought? Craig's Bond may be an angel of death, but he's unable to control his own fate, or stop the onslaught of evil. Quantum of Solace manages the neat trick of giving viewers what they want and telling them that it doesn't matter anyway.