DAVE DAVIES, host:
You may have noticed there is a new James Bond movie opening this week. It's called "Quantum of Solace," and it stars Daniel Craig, who scored such a hit in "Casino Royale." "Quantum of Solace" picks up where that movie left off. The new Bond is directed by Marc Forster, who made such non-action movies as "Monster's Ball" and "The Kite Runner." Film critic David Edelstein has a review.
DAVID EDELSTEIN: "Quantum of Solace" opens in mid-car chase, which wouldn't be so bad if at any given instant you could tell whose car was on what side of the windy road. The art-house refugee director, Marc Forster, doesn't edit together the jolting close-ups with any fluidity. You only know the chase is over because something blows up. This is followed by the credit sequence, and a song called "Another Way to Die," a non-fusion of Jack White's caterwauls and Alicia Keys' breathy soul stylings that's the worst Bond theme ever.
After a start like that, it's a tribute to the film that it's pretty exciting. In part, that's because Daniel Craig is a great, edgy Bond, with blue eyes so cold they chill and burn at once. His first Bond film, "Casino Royale," was a romantic tragedy. This one is darker. It's about the impossibility of accomplishing anything noble if you have to work within the system - stopping short of "The Dark Knight," the biggest popcorn-movie downer of all time, but not by much. Our next president might instill in us "The Audacity of Hope" and end the age of pessimistic superhero movies. But for now, we must rely on the hope of our heroes' audacity.
In "Quantum of Solace," 007 is an outsider who can trust no one. The British government and the CIA look the other way while a shadowy, multi-tentacled criminal enterprise installs a murderous general as Bolivia's president in return for rights to the country's natural resources. That the slippery baddie, played by Mathieu Amalric, works under the guise of an environmentalist is the ultimate insult. The plunderers have appropriated the vocabulary of the saviors. Against this, Bond is icily single-minded. To hell with protocol and Judi Dench's M, who insists he's motivated by revenge over the death of his "Casino Royale" love, Vesper.
(Soundbite of movie "Quantum of Solace")
Dame JUDI DENCH: (As M) You look like hell. When was the last time you slept? Vesper's boyfriend, Yusuf Cabirra(ph), the one who was abducted in Morocco, the one she was trying to save, his body was washed up on the beach in the Ibiza. His wallet and ID were in his pocket.
Mr. DANIEL CRAIG: (As James Bond) Well, that's convenient.
Dame JUDI: (As M) Quite. Which is why I did a DNA check on a lock of his hair found in Vesper's apartment. It's not him.
Mr. CRAIG: (As James Bond) A lock of his hair? I wouldn't have thought Vesper the sentimental type.
Dame JUDI: (As M) We never really know anyone, do we? But I do need to know, Bond. I need to know that I can trust you.
Mr. CRAIG: (As James Bond) And you don't?
Dame JUDI: (As M) Well, it'd be a pretty cold bastard who didn't want revenge for the death of someone he loved.
Mr. CRAIG: (As James Bond) You don't have to worry about me. I'm not going to go chasing him. He's not important, and neither was she.
EDELSTEIN: I love Dame Judi's exquisite deadpan. Her scowl contains multitudes. But I'm not sure how I feel about M as a scolding mother who dispatches agents to waylay her prodigal son and is quietly pleased when he eludes them. What a cynical message. M has become another in a line of movie and TV authority figures who tacitly say, do what we both know is right, but I won't back you up; I'll put obstacles in your path. Well, at least they're thrilling obstacles.
"Quantum of Solace" is deliriously convoluted, one scene hurtling ingeniously into the next, as Bond's impulsiveness and calculation work in tandem. If the action had any wit, the movie might have been as crackerjack-ed as "Casino Royale." The screenwriters - Paul Haggis, Neal Purvis and Robert Wade - take their cues from two of the best Bonds, "From Russia with Love" and "Goldfinger," but the differences are telling. The damaged-goods 007 doesn't even put the moves on the Bond girl, Olga Kurylenko, a tall drink of latte also driven by revenge. This left at least one male viewer in need of a cold shower. The other, related difference is the absence of catharsis. Such villains as Robert Shaw and Harold Sakata had classic comeuppances, whereas the "Quantum" villains meet their fates off screen.
Craig holds it all together. My heart sank a bit when his Bond professed neither to know nor care if what he was drinking was shaken or stirred. Sean Connery's Bond was every bit as masculine-hard, but could still reel off Bordeaux vintages. Craig embodies the new, anti-elitist Bond, the unstable toughie in a world of ever-shifting alliances, a world of neither queens nor super-villains. He looks splendid in a tux, but he's not at home in it; he's in his element when shirtless, his chest and arms so engorged he can barely sit straight. It's the body of a brooding obsessive, humorless, friendless, forsaken. He's the first Bond whose psyche is a source of suspense and the first who makes us think he needs more sex.
DAVIES: David Edelstein is film critic for New York Magazine. For Terry Gross, I am Dave Davies.
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