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FILM REVIEW: Quantum of Solace

Royale with Cheese: The new Bond movie is topical, but not thrilling

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Quantum of Solace
Starring Daniel Craig, Olga Kurylenko, and Judi Dench
Directed by Marc Foster
Rated PG-13

James Bond's foray into darkness, doubt, and even true love after a lifetime of skirt-chasing and smirking joie de vivre distinguished the recent jump-start of the Bond franchise, Casino Royale.

Directed by Martin Campbell, Casino Royale was widely hailed as a revitalizing tonic to the often static Bond brand, adding a meaty new dimension to a personality we thought we knew, and the possibility for a more soulful metrosexual spy.

Fans of Casino Royale held out hope that Quantum of Solace would be another foray into the brooding Bond. For this Bond, Marc Forster (Monster's Ball, Finding Neverland, and The Kite Runner) — would be at the helm.

The German auteur makes cerebral, stylish films that are also obsessed with death in its various guises: suicide, terminal illness, miscarriage. The perfect guy, it would seem, for a Bond who lost his beloved in the concluding frames of Casino Royale and comes careening into Quantum with a heavy psychological burden to bear and a determination to catch those responsible for Vesper Lynd's death.

The 22nd Bond film, Quantum opens in usual rollicking fashion with a car chase on a serpentine Italian road as Bond's Aston Martin evades baddies in black Alfa Romeos. Boasting chases in the air, on foot, by boat and car, Quantum is comprehensive in its approach to pursuit.

It's less rigorous in delving more deeply into Bond's psyche or in offering the mix of style and substance that distinguished Casino Royale. Bond's nemesis this go-around is businessman Dominic Greene (Mathieu Amalric), who boasts the dead, black eyes of a shark, a pasty complexion, and comes accessorized with an even nerdier henchman sporting a geeky Prince Valiant haircut.

Greene's nastiness lies in his powerful manipulation of global need for personal gain. Masquerading as an Al Gore-style "green" do-gooder, in reality Greene supports political coups in countries like Bolivia in exchange for control of the country's resources.

Part of the appeal of the Bond franchise has always been its lack of specificity where villains and good guys are concerned. Nuclear weapons, drug networks, Russians: the threats iconic but vague.

Quantum's mission feels quite different: to inject real-world issues courtesy of a screenplay by Paul Haggis (Crash) and Neal Purvis. The resulting Syriana-esque willingness of former good guys like Britain and America to do business with bad guys for the love of oil makes for a more topical, though not necessarily more thrilling, or engaging, Bond.

The cynicism about the muddy line between good and evil is ankle deep. But it also feels fairly rote by now, just another means of giving some grit to an action film in the waning days of the Bush presidency.

In keeping with a new sense of sobriety and global anxiety, rather than playing Bond's good time sack-mate, gorgeous avenging angel Camille (Olga Kurylenko) echoes his quest for revenge.

Olga's suffering was inaugurated in childhood when her family was murdered by a Bolivian general who left her with the hideous scar she sports like remnants of missing wings on her back.

Forster has a real finesse, even in lesser works like Stay, for picking stylish locations and emphasizing interesting architecture that express his affinity for the chilly conspiracy cinema of John Boorman's über-cool 1967 tough-guy thriller Point Blank.

Quantum has a hard-edged, almost sci-fi ambiance thanks to its settings in glass-walled office buildings and modernist Latin American hotels. Another piece of architecture in the mix is Craig, a square-shouldered, trim fashion plate with two tide-blue eyes glowing like head lights from his tan face.

But the strictures of the Bond template seem to have in some ways neutralized Forster's voice, much in the way his Kite Runner felt colonized by the weight of its source material.

There are moments of Forster's intelligence — for instance, in a succession of set pieces: the running of the Palio Horse Race in Siena, Italy, and a performance of Tosca, which implies a love of spectacle from the 17th to the 21st centuries.

Quantum of Solace has style, and enough pursuit and pyrotechnics to please hard-core Bond fans. But it may disappoint those hoping for Marc Forster's distinctive imprint and a return to Casino Royale's top form.

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