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Movie Tuesday: Quantum of Solace (PG-13)

Kiss Kiss Bang Bang
Bond is back… and he seems upset about something
by Jared Peterson

Parse the title of the new 007 film and you will uncover its principle motifs: pain, and physics. We begin, familiarly, with some very nice cars weaving at high speed through the fun-sized streets of an Italian city. Piloting a disintegrating Aston Martin, crack British agent James Bond (Daniel Craig) uses simple inertia and angular momentum—and a few bullets—to send his pursuers off cliffs and into sickening head-on collisions. He then glides into a safe house with a bound-and-gagged intelligence asset ready for questioning. All in a day’s work. But, while outwardly dry, under the skin Bond seethes. He is shaken by the death (in the previous film) of the only woman he’d ever let himself love [Ed: Except for Tracy de Vicenzo, whom he married in On Her Majesty’s Secret Service. Sorry. Marriage does strange things to one’s trivia storehouse.] and stirred to rage by her betrayal in the name of a hitherto unknown crime syndicate called Quantum. Her Majesty’s Secret Service is desperate for information about this new global threat. Bond could care less—he needs just a moment alone with its masterminds. So he goes off the reservation, seeking solace in vengeance—something for which he carries a particularly useful license.

Quantum of Solace and its predecessor Casino Royale have revitalized Ian Fleming’s half-century-old spy series by carefully melding the old and the new. The action sequences are still spectacular, but they adhere more closely to the laws of motion and the bounds of reason. The fighting is relentless, but no longer toothless—our suave hero takes beatings that do far more than rumple his dinner jacket. And Brosnan-era screenwriters Neal Purvis and Robert Wade, joined by heavy-hitters Paul Haggis (Crash) and Marc Forster (Monster’s Ball), are determined to plumb the depths of the suave superagent. So they’ve taken away his gadgets and given him issues. This new Bond bleeds, but he also aches.

The casting of Daniel Craig, initially regarded as a huge gamble, seems to have paid off. He certainly gives new meaning to the phrase “painfully handsome”: along with piercing blue eyes and chiseled features, he bears, even at rest, the look of a man bracing for a punch. He is a skilled actor, though, and plays the character through a mask of unflappability across which subtle flickers of emotion are allowed to pass.[Ed: Also, HOT. Sorry. Back to the review.] Also doing more with less are the masterful Judi Dench, with a stoic yet motherly reinvention of the intelligence director M, and French actor Mathieu Amalric, who responds to the daunting task of post-Austin-Powers super-villianry with a creepily reserved turn as Quantum puppetmaster Dominic Greene.

In Quantum of Solace, violence is persistent and often distressingly casual. As a pro double-oh, Bond pushes the limits of ruthless efficiency. In one scene, after stabbing a bad guy in the neck he lingers a few moments, distractedly waiting to confirm the kill—here, this is thoroughness, not sadism. Later, he loses a trusted associate in a gunfight, and calmly heaves the body into a dumpster in order to keep moving. “He wouldn’t care,” he tells his Bond girl. Maybe not, but dude… come on.

Elsewhere, a lifeless body is seen submerged in a bay; another is discovered facedown on a bed, naked and coated in black goop, having been drowned in a vat of oil. Many bad guys, and one or two bystanders, are felled by gunshots; the camera focuses mostly on the barrels rather than the wounds—a kind of restraint, I suppose. Fistfights are lovingly rendered and abound with the flat smacks and icky pops of close-quarters combat. One poor fellow is thrown off a building; another catches an axe in the foot. And of course, the filmmakers delight in orchestrating brutal lessons in applied physics, with vehicles crushed and bodies flung with abandon. Inertia, I’ve determined, is the new gore. Visceral shocks minus the viscera, these moments still reverberate in your gut.

Inevitably, Bond coaxes a mysterious woman with an absurd name (watch the credits) into bed—there’s a bit of post-coital nuzzling along her exposed back. Also, in the heat of a gun battle we see partway up the skirt of an understandably distracted bystander. There’s some mild swearing—which sounds absolutely adorable in a British accent. Classy men drink classy cocktails, the recipes of which are recited in detail.

At a November 16th screening, the following previews were shown: Angels and Demons, a sequel to The Da Vinci Code; Watchmen (R), based on a purportedly “unfilmable” graphic novel; a teaser trailer for 2012, an apocalyptic fantasy (or, if you’re Mayan, a documentary); Fast and Furious, some sort of community-service arrangement for Vin Diesel and Michelle Rodriguez; and 7 Pounds, a Will Smith Oscar vehicle.

There was also a trailer for the new Star Trek movie, which was awesome because they’re completely reinventing the franchise with, like, the old characters and kind of the same uniforms, but everything’s all new and shiny, and the Enterprise was like “Whoooooosh!” and they were like “Fire torpedoes!” and it was all “Bwow! Beeeeeewwwwww-bwooooow!” and it’s gonna be, like, so sick, I totally cannot wait! [Ed: I no longer feel bad about butting in and calling Daniel Craig hot.]

Jared Peterson is, shockingly, still single. Shards of his lonely existence are strewn about at http://proweirdo.blogspot.com.

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