"Bland. James Bland." That's what I thought the first time I saw Daniel Craig in the iconic role of superspy James Bond in Casino Royale a couple of years back. I prefer my Bond quippy, gadgety, randy and lightweight (yes, Roger Moore is my favorite). So that's why it was such a surprise to me how much I enjoyed what is probably the darkest, most sexless, least device-driven and heaviest Bond film to date, 2008's Quantum of Solace.
Picking up just shortly after Casino Royale's final frame fade, Quantum of Solace (the title is from a short story by author Ian Fleming), Craig returns as 007, determined to hunt down those responsible for the death of the love of his life. His rogue pursuit leads him deep into a criminal organization known as Quantum, forcing him to work without the help of MI6. Blonde Bond partners with feisty fox Camille (Olga Kurylenko), a young woman on her own quest for revenge. She will do anything, including cozying up to the organization's puppet-master, Dominic Greene (Mathieu Amalric). He knows the man who killed her family and left her to burn.
The aptly-named Greene is an environmentalist using his wealth and power to help snag one of the world's most coveted water supplies. It sounds very Chinatown (and actually, Amalric bears an uncanny resemblance to a young Roman Polanski, plus there is a "My mother, my sister!" situation here, if you want get technical), but it's not quite that much fun. This is a dead serious drama. (And there's no "Bond. James Bond." Sacrilege!)
Quantum of Solace features familiar faces from Casino Royale, including the always welcome Giancarlo Giannini and Dame Judi Dench. As Bond’s closest confidant, Dench shows texture, tenderness and torment in her most fragile yet tough-as-nails portrayal of M yet. While he may not be the Bond I grew up loving, Craig's performance here changed my mind (and my conviction of his appeal was confirmed when I saw him in 2007's Flashbacks of a Fool — a little-known film highly recommended for his fans).
In addition, brilliant director Marc Forster (Finding Neverland, Stranger Than Fiction) brings a beautiful brutality to the proceedings, exploiting the amazing array of locations (from dust-blown deserts to deep waters) to their greatest advantage. He brings art and artful storytelling to the new Bond, which I felt was lacking in Casino Royale.
The Blu-ray disc and two-disc special edition DVD contain additional release material including behind-the-scenes featurettes, an interview with Forster, Kurylenko on the Boat Chase, and a special on the locations. The featurettes are entertaining enough; I do like the old-school presentation of the behind-the-scenes mini-doc which uses voiceover narration. The extras are in full screen while the film is in widescreen — Blu-ray, if you have the most up-to-date monitor and sound-system, really helps Bond pop off the screen. The sound, colors, and shadows are dazzling and even better than the movie theater (no distortion).
Best of all, on the Extras slate, there is the divisive music video for the title song, "Another Way to Die," featuring Jack White and Alicia Keys. Maybe it's just me who's divided on that: as a dyed-in-the-wool (red and white, of course) White fan and somebody who's never been able to listen to one Keys song all the way through, "Another Way to Die" took a little getting used to. But like Craig, the tune won me over in the end. It's a fantastic video on Blu-ray (I'd only ever seen it on YouTube before), subliminally interweaving Keys's Bond-girl beauty with White's Q-like ingenuity, while clips of a gun-toting, impeccably dressed Craig sauntering across desert sands bookend the urgent melody.
'Quantum Of Solace' is out now from MGM on DVD and Blu-ray disc.