Sunday, June 07, 2009

You’ve Got a Friend in Me: An Appreciation of Quantum of Solace

When Quantum of Solace hit theaters this past November, it was met with a fierce critical drubbing for being too frenetic, too downbeat, too un-Bond. All salient points that deserve attention; in many ways it feels like an indie Bond made on the quick to let out some aggression in between grander, more satisfying efforts. And I concede that the first twenty minutes borders on the unwatchable with enough incomprehensible action to suggest that Bond is the progeny rather than the progenitor of Bourne. But I choose to turn a blind eye on its flaws because Quantum of Solace and its superior brethren Casino Royale do something that no other Bond films do: engage me both viscerally and cerebrally.

For me, the movie begins when Bond is picked up by Olga Kurykov’s Camille who notices a tail and asks sarcastically, "Friend of yours?" Bond responds, "I don't have friends." In any other iteration of Bond, the line would be merely a quip but with Daniel Craig's Bond, it's an insight into his personality. From that scene on the film can be viewed as a meditation on friendship: Can it exist within business / politics? Can you have an enemy if you're not capable of having a friend? What’s the difference between a friend and a lover? I couldn't believe how many times the word friend or friendship is uttered throughout the film: Mathis, Felix, M, Camille, Vesper's Ex, etc. I haven't heard the term friend used with such frequency since I saw River's Edge.

In the film’s penultimate scene, Bond interrogates Vesper's ex and when he notices a woman wearing the same necklace Vesper had worn he states, "I have one just like it… He gave it to a friend of mine, someone very close to me.” In a sense, the film begins with Bond rejecting the notion of friendship and ends with him accepting not only the possibility but the existence of a friend. Of course, this is certainly not a healthy understanding of friendship, as the friend in question is now deceased and their relationship was built upon duplicity.

Perhaps a cold war nut can find just as satisfying an analysis of For Your Eyes Only or a sci-fi guru can gleefully dissect the intricacies of Moonraker but for my money, Quantum of Solace is the most thought provoking Bond entry yet. Does that make it the first Bond movie to play better in the classroom than on the big screen?


Paul Baack said...

I don't know about the classroom, but I think QOS is the first James Bond movie that plays better on the home theater monitor than it does on the big cinema screen.

For one thing, the almost incomprehensible action sequences at the beginning of the film make a whole lot more sense when viewed on DVD. They're still more impressionistic in the way they're presented, rather than the concrete style we've come to expect from big-budget Hollywood action film making. Regardless, the small screen makes it easier to follow the action, and actually makes it a little more exciting (rather than annoying).

Very good call on the subtext of friendship in this movie! In a lot of ways, this is one of the more... intimate?... of the Bond pictures, and again, the small screen as a way of concentrating our attention on the smaller moments, the character moments. For me, a key scene is the one wherein 007 holds up his escape to comfort a dying René Mathis, and then unsentimentaly discards the lifeless clay, that was his friend, in a garbage dumpster.

Excellent post! Glad to hear that some love out there for this movie, whose future, I suspect, will be something of a litmus test for hard-core Bond fans. I think it'll eventually become regarded as a minor classic of the series.

Stephen Snart said...

It's so heartening to hear someone, especially someone with this much Bond knowledge, believe it will become a minor classic! There's no shortage of agreement that it's an aberrant entry in the series but the proponents of the film's many deviations are few and far between.

Intimate is a great way to describe the film. Some might scoff at the use of such an adjective since it's probably the least 'sexy' film of the series (in an ostentatious sense). But isn't a Bond film that ends with the Bond girl quietly rejects a kiss from Bond really more intimate than ones where he efficiently beds an anonymous beauty?