In Defence of Quantum of Solace: Before Daniel Craig retires as 007, revisit his most underrated Bond film
Daniel Craig’s tenure as James Bond has given us what is undoubtedly the best film of the series - Skyfall - and arguably the worst - Spectre. But it has also given us one of the most underrated: Quantum of Solace.Updated: Mar 01, 2018 09:04 IST
If you break down the elements of a James Bond film, right down to the foundations upon which this legendary franchise is built, you’d find that Quantum of Solace is the one movie that doesn’t bear the burden of its legacy. There is no grotesque villain, no woman waiting to be conquered, no gadgets worth mentioning, Daniel Craig never says the words ‘Bond, James Bond,’ and the movie never abuses the classic Bond theme – it’s just about a man, stripped of decades of armour, driven by ‘an inconsolable rage.’
There are several theories as to why Quantum of Solace is no longer a part of any conversation about Daniel Craig’s iconic tenure as Agent 007, a run that has produced what is unquestionably the greatest film of the series – Skyfall – and another that is arguably the worst – Spectre. But Quantum is neither here nor there, too inconsequential in the minds of devoted fans – who were perhaps denied the very elements that made them fans in the first place – and far too reliant on the general audiences’ memory of its predecessor, Casino Royale, to stand on its own.
Years later, bolstered by the understandable nonchalance that playing James Bond could give a man, Daniel Craig made an attempt to explain the reason even he felt Quantum failed to live up to the high bar set by Casino Royale. “We had the bare bones of a script,” he said, alluding to the 2007-08 writers’ strike that claimed the lives of several tentpole movies, most infamously Transformers: Revenge of the Fallen, and resulted in millions of dollars in losses for the entertainment industry. Paul Haggis, who was hired by director Marc Forster to rewrite the script they had, reportedly finished his draft just two hours before the strike officially commenced. To meet the release date, and having blindly begun production without a complete screenplay, Craig said that he and Forster – the only two people legally allowed to work on the script – often wrote scenes on the fly, hours before they were filmed.
By most accounts, it was a troubled production, one that would perhaps prepare Forster for World War Z, a film from which he was essentially removed after failing to deliver a proper cut. He hasn’t made a big-budget film since.
But before Sam Mendes’ surprise appointment as director of Skyfall, Forster was considered a rather unexpected choice to helm a Bond movie. And his Oscar pedigree is what makes it such a unique Bond experience – mostly because of the one reason he was attracted to the project in the first place: Bond’s humanity.
Until Casino Royale, we hadn’t really seen it. Bond was, as Raymond Chandler famously described him, a guy every man wanted to be and every woman wanted to be with. And then, out of nowhere, he’s weeping in the shower, clutching the only woman he has ever loved.
In Quantum of Solace, a film that begins literally 10 minutes after Craig uttered those eternal words at the end of Casino Royale, Bond is driven not only by the ‘inconsolable rage’ that Judi Dench’s M scolds him about, but revenge – for the attacks that have been made on the only two women in his life. Vesper Lynd’s death at the end of Casino Royale sets Bond on a mission to find the men responsible. The attempt at the beginning of Quantum on the life of M, who, as Bond says with a sheepish smile, “likes to think of herself” as his mother, takes him the closest he has ever come to going rogue.
Indeed, such is the blind fury within his heart, the sort of fury he thought he trained himself to ignore, that he kills every man who gets in his way, until a moment of clarity at the end, when he spares the life of the only man who deserved death. Quantum of Solace, at 106 minutes, is the shortest Bond film ever made, with a breakneck pace and filled with some of the most spectacular action ever filmed in the series – on earth, air, fire and water.
There is certainly an overreliance on action in this film – it begins with the most memorable chase scene of Craig’s run as Bond; shot with a white-knuckle intensity that sets the tone for the rest of the movie, and even has the audacity to put 007 inside a vintage Douglas DC-3. It’s a film in which cars crash into each other, boats barge into boats and planes plough into mountains. It’s crazy.
Presumably, the wall-to-wall action was a result of the ‘bare’ script Craig spoke about, but in a movie that channels some of the best ‘70s revenge thrillers – Death Wish, for obvious reasons, comes to mind – it’s a blessing in disguise. I could be wrong, but I would be surprised if Bond says more than 50 lines in Quantum – which makes Craig’s performance even more remarkable. He can’t rely on the snarky one-liners or the devil-may-care attitude that he so wonderfully played in Casino Royale. This time, he has murder in his eyes, and what almost seems like a deep fear in his heart.
When he meets Camille Montes – the only main Bond girl I can recall who he doesn’t want to be with – he sees a mirror of sorts, another human being driven by a personal vendetta that has overtaken everything else. Without ever feeling shoehorned in, their conversations are almost always about this shared anger, and these shared motivations. “Let me know what it feels like,” she says to him, wanting to understand if there can ever be release in revenge. “What now,” she wonders, when she finally gets it.
Quantum of Solace is hardly a spy movie – although there is an uncommonly woke subplot involving the United States’ flawed foreign policy in the Middle East. It is the necessary bridge between two great Bond films, the incendiary second act to a trilogy that no one could have ever anticipated.