Tag Archives: Thriller

Review Quantum of Solace

So let’s get the obvious out of the way:  Daniel Craig is not the James Bond of decades past.  At least not largely.  This is probably ample material for a separate blog entry, but to make a long story short, his is a post-9/11, post-Jack Bauer, post-Jason Bourne Bond.  And as such, much of the excesses have been stripped away, leaving a good deal of room for character development and more intense action.  And as expected, it’s something of a divisive decision; Roger Ebert doesn’t care for it, and he’s far from alone.  Critical consensus for Quantum of Solace has been mixed at best, especially contrasted with the near-universal praise for Casino Royale.

But all the same, Casino Royale was, after Die Another Day, a breath of fresh air.  While Brosnan’s Bond movies were hardly economical spy thrillers, he was able to carve out his own niche as a Bond somewhere between Connery’s swagger and toughness and Roger Moore’s likeable wit.  Gadgets, though pleantiful, were never centre-stage.  At least for his first three movies.  Die Another Day was at least on-par with Roger Moore’s campiest outings, and while I enjoyed it, Bond looked closer to Austin Powers than ever thanks to contemporary spies like Jack Bauer and world events taking a sharp turn to chaos and uncertainty.

Exit Brosnan, enter Daniel Craig.  When Casino Royale gave the series (and the character) a fresh start, Daniel Craig had to both stay true to past incarnations and prove he could keep up with Jason Bourne and the like.  And he had to make the character his own.  And thanks to Martin Campbell’s direction, most agreed he delivered.  Quantum of Solace, Craig’s follow-up, continues in a similar direction, but isn’t quite as well executed.  While it’s by no means a poor addition to the Bond catalog, it does have it’s share of shortcomings.

The storyline is actually not too un-Bondian.  Bond, betrayed by Vesper Lynd, is out for revenge for her death, and as luck would have it, he stumbles upon a conspiracy much larger than his initial scope.  It echoes similar storylines from Connery’s first few outings as Bond, but manages to feel like a revenge tale all the same.

Where it most significantly differs from Casino Royale (and all previous Bond outings) is how economical it is.  This unfortunately works both for and against it.  A number of early action scenes feel too short, and the edits are simply too fast.  This is most prominent in the opening car chase, but the rooftop chase and hotel fight scene both were a little too close to similar scenes in the Bourne series for comfort.  Not necessarily bad things, but still alien to the series, and too quickly paced for my liking.

Similarly economical is the dialogue.  Bond has very little to say, especially since a still-green 007 lacks the confidence and cockiness to drop cheesy one-liners and ridiculous innuendo on a regular basis.  M’s role is expanded, but dialogue is still largely kept to a minimum.

But after the first act, things take a turn for the better.  It’s almost as if Director Marc Forster became more comfortable with the film as he went.  The turning point is Bond doing some legitimate spying at the Opera.  It’s one of the best scenes in the movie, and probably one of the best spy moments that a Bond movie has seen in quite some time.  From there, the movie resembles a Bond movie more.  Action scenes look a little more epic.  Bond’s women are a little less cold.  And Bond’s cold exterior warms up a little.  While Dominic Greene isn’t a cartoonish megalomaniac with a hollowed-out volcano, he still manages to be an effective villian, and the film ends with a very strong fight scene, and a great deal of promise for future installments.

While Marc Forster probably shouldn’t refocus his career to making big-budget action flicks, it’s still a solid entry in the Bond canon.  Make no mistake, this is a far cry from Roger Moore’s campy classics, but it’s taking a similar direction to Connery while making good use of Daniel Craig’s talent as an actor.  Of course, growing pains are to be expected with a series re-boot.  And Quantum of Solace doesn’t match Casino Royale.  But it’s beginning to look more like James Bond than it did at the end of Casino Royale.  Rebuilding a character as legendary as Bond from the ground up was an unenviable task, but I still believe that Daniel Craig will be remembered as the strongest rival to Sean Connery.

Daniel Craig is, sometimes in spite of the thin script and Marc Forster’s action scenes, giving Bond the proper 21st century makeover.  While I hesitate to say that we’ll have the good old Bond back sooner than later, Quantum of Solace is still a step in the right direction after Casino Royale.  How well it works might be easier to determine when the Quantum story arc has closed, but things are looking good, even without Q’s fancy toys.

As a Bond movie: B

Overall: B+

Review Michael Clayton

As promised a week ago, my review:

Like I said earlier, I’ve now seen all but one Best Picture nominee from 2007.  I remember being a little surprised by it’s nomination (although really shouldn’t have been, given that this would be George Clooney’s third dramatic picture to get significant awards attention, along with Good Night and Good Luck and Syriana).  Mainly because it looked like something that’s been done before.  And technically it has.  The plot reads like something out of a Grisham novel – Attourney uncovers conspiracy/cover-up, does something about it.  It’s familiar territory of the last two decades or so, particularly in the earlier 1990’s when six John Grisham legal thrillers were released within four years.

So yes, the story’s been done before.  But the way it was told in Michael Clayton is what makes it what it is.  In general, I find most movies entertaining.  This is probably why you’ll never see a grade lower than a C+ on this site.  It needs to really miss the mark and actually bore me for that to happen.  But when a movie surprises me; catches me off-guard with even something as small as the framing of a shot or a small scene with perfect chemistry, that’s when I really perk up.

Michael Clayton starts off strong by beginning near the end of the plot and then going back and showing the events that lead up to it.  It’s a device that can very easily backfire, but when it works, it can result in some of the best moments (if not movies) in recent memory.  While it doesn’t lead to a devastating reveal like in Memento, but it makes the linear story more powerful as a result.  The scenes that start the film are great as is, but Writer/Director Tony Gilroy’s choice is one that makes the story, when told in full, that much more gripping.

As for specific scenes that grabbed me, Tilda Swinton’s Oscar-winning performance consists almost exclusively of the best scenes in the movie.  Tony Gilroy and editor John Gilroy deserve a good deal of credit for her best scenes.  The film as a whole is equally well-directed and paced.  While it feels like a long movie, it’s two hour runtime seldom drags.  Clooney’s performance is up to his established standard, but the supporting cast is what makes it work as well as it does.  While it is fundamentally about the title character, the supporting cast is in general just more impressive.  Tom Wilkinson’s performance is very powerful, and in the hands (well, voice) of a lesser actor, the monologue that opens the film would sound foolish, but Wilkinson nails it.

Other standout elements include James Newton Howard’s score and the overall look of the film.  The subject matter is harsh, and the film itself has a cold tone to it.  While it’s not overbearing, it keeps the tone consistent, and when paired with Gilroy’s direction, it makes for a very consistent visual result.  But it’s by no means a flawless film.  While repeat viewings (and I intend to have a few) may reveal more to it, I found that the subplot concerning Michael’s family were a little superfluous, and somewhat confusing given how things wind up ending.  It tallies up to about five minutes of the whole film, but it felt a little out of place.  Any sort of character depth given to Clooney by them is ultimately overshadowed by the journey that the main plot takes him through.  They’re not bad scenes, but their function in the overall narrative is unclear.

But all the same, it’s a compelling story that’s told incredibly well.  And really, what else can I ask for in a movie?  It’s easy to dismiss it as just another legal thriller on paper, but on screen, it’s hard to ignore.