Quantum of Solace (2008)

Quantum - (n) a particular amount (adj) sudden and significant

Solace - (n) alleviation or comfort

Quantum of Solace - (?) Absolutely meaningless. Not explained through any medium, specifically the 2008 film Quantum of Solace.

Bond is back and he's...not as good as he should have been in yet another 007 film. Quantum of Solace marks the 22nd official James Bond film of the EON Productions franchise, the 25th James Bond film of all time, and only the 2nd James Bond movie I've ever seen. Although Ian Fleming's character is not my cup of tea, I do know what to expect from the man. As I sat down to watch Quantum of Solace I nestled myself into my chair and waited to be astounded by the gadgets and fancy cars that make Bond so recognizable. What I received was a poorly filmed, sloppily scripted, decently acted hodge-podge that did not capture the spirit of a James Bond film at all. Being only somewhat entertained by 2006's hugely successful Casino Royale, I was surprised to find that I actually prefer that film over this one. Quantum of Solace is a direct sequel to Casino Royale, with only a 20 minute gap between the films. The plot to this film is nearly incomprehensible. I actually had to check the internet for a plot synopsis when I got home to make sure I wouldn't make a mistake in my review. According to Wikipedia, the film follows James Bond (Daniel Craig) as he tries to prevent a group called the "Quantum" from executing a coup d'etat in the country of Brazil. His main focus is on Dominic Greene (Mathieu Amalric), an "environmentalist" who seems to be spearheading the whole operation. Helping Bond in his fight is Camille (Olga Kurylenko), a woman whose family was killed by the very man attempting to take power in Brazil. At the same time, Bond is also seeking revenge for the death of the only woman he ever loved, Vesper Lynd. (This plot synopsis took me a week and a half to write, mainly because I had a lot of trouble putting it into words that were understandable. It's not my best work, but it'll do.)

There are not many good things to say about Quantum of Solace. Paul Haggis, Neal Purvis, and Robert Wade all returned as writers for this film, but failed to live up to the precedent set by their previous work on Casino Royale. They created a lackadaisical script that doesn't explain itself very well, and was far too reliant on the first film. It is understandable that a sequel will use the original film as a jumping off point, but you would need to watch Casino Royale immediately before watching this film to get anything! If you've never seen the first film and you plan on watching Quantum, good luck. These writers also abandoned the use of plot development for this film, turning it into an hour and 45 minute marathon of explosions. One of the few things I enjoyed about Casino Royale was that it followed a well thought out script and centered on characters that you learned a lot about. Quantum of Solace gives no backstory to many of the characters, leaving you in the dark when it comes to actually caring about what happens. The shift in director could also be to blame for the mediocre downslope the franchise took in just 2 movies. Marc Foster took the reigns from Martin Campbell, and I would like to take this opportunity to ask him to give them back. Quantum of Solace is the first action film to hit Foster's resume which is comprised of serious pictures such as The Kite Runner and Monster's Ball. From this, it is no wonder Foster seemed out of his element helming a James Bond film. His camera work was utterly dreadful in even the simplest shot. Every action sequence looked as though the man holding the camera was having a seizure. Foster also manages to take all of the intensity and anticipation out of a long awaited film that should have kept the audiences heart's racing. Quantum offers no build up to a final resolution, and the showdown between Bond and Greene was so lackluster that I didn't even realize it was the final showdown until the movie ended five minutes later.

If there is a positive thing to say about Quantum of Solace, it is that Daniel Craig is just as dynamic as he was in Casino Royale as the suave super agent James Bond. His performance alone keeps this film out of the dollar movie bin at Stop & Shop. His dedication to the role actually had me believing it is that easy to be entangled in a series of ropes yet still have the ability to accurately shoot a gun. Sadly, not many of the people around Craig were very convincing. Olga Kurylenko, whose most recent films include Max Payne and Hitman, pretty much lives up to her resume in her role as Bond girl Camille. A flat performance topped off by an inability to understand a word she says really doesn't do much to make the film respectable. In some scenes, Kurylenko's character discusses some grim memories of her family being killed. An actress of higher caliber would have been able to make this monologue memorable, but instead I was left straining my ears, struggling to comprehend the words that were heavily coated in a thick accent. Mathieu Amalric is not bad playing the villain Dominic Greene and is sometimes very engaging. But a one dimensional character makes his villain a forgettable and fruitless minor inconvenience.

Quantum of Solace is (mercifully) the shortest Bond film in the franchise, and I believe that may have been a disadvantage to the film. Perhaps the writers were afraid they would lose the audiences attention if they made the film too long. Whatever the reason, added length could have given Quantum of Solace the honor of being told properly with much more development. But it is futile to sit here pondering "what if's" and I must talk about the film for what it was. With only one and a half good performances, Quantum of Solace is nothing more than a a brief itch that once scratched is gone from your mind for the rest of your life. My rating (3/10)

Burn After Reading (2008)

In 1998, Joel and Ethan Coen introduced us to a man in a used up brown robe that liked to be called "The Dude" (or El Duderino, if you please). A simple man who wanted nothing more than to go bowling and drink white Russians. But instead this poor man was thrust into a world of nihilism, kidnapping, and ferrets just so he can receive some compensation for his defiled rug. After all, that rug really tied the room together. This, of course, is The Big Lebowski, the film that incorporated the Coen Brothers into mainstream America for the first time. Anybody who has seen it cannot go to a bowling alley without laughing at least a little bit. Ten years later, the Coen Brothers are returning to the world of comedy-crime-capers with the star studded Burn After Reading. Looking at the billing alone, one knows what they should expect from this film. Main actors John Malkovich, George Clooney, Frances McDormand, Tilda Swinton, and Brad Pitt have all either won or been nominated for an Academy Award. Cap it off with the reliable Joel and Ethan Coen, and you have a Best Picture award waiting to happen. Sadly, Burn After Reading does not warrant this praise, nor is it anywhere near as good as the iconic Big Lebowski. But like I said, if you put enough delicious ingredients into a single bowl, you are bound to find something to like. Burn After Reading is a terrific ensemble piece that takes effort from everyone involved to create something wonderful.

The story of Burn After Reading is very difficult to explain given the numerous characters and their respective plot lines. If it gets to be confusing... try reading it again. Linda Litzke (Frances McDormand) is a physical trainer at Hardbodies Gym. She is a very unhappy woman who surfs internet dating sites for Mr. Right. She is also intent on undergoing numerous reconstructive surgeries to help boost her self esteem. However, her dreams are dashed when she finds she does not have the money to pay for all these procedures. Her luck seemed ready to change when her co-worker Chad Feldheimer (Brad Pitt) discovered a disc in the women's locker room which held secret CIA information. Linda convinces Chad to help her find where the disc came from so they could blackmail the person, which could help her pay for her surgeries. They find that the information came from Osborne Cox (John Malkovich), a CIA analyst who recently quit his job after they tried demoting him for his drinking problem. Unhappy with her husbands decision, Osborne's wife Katie (Tilda Swinton) files for divorce, kicking him out of the house so she can be with her man on the side Harry Pfaffer (George Clooney). Katie knows that Pfarrer is cheating on his wife with her, but little does she know he is also cheating on her with anybody he can find. After a chance meeting on the internet, Pfarrer ends up hooking up with Linda, who is still in the process of trying to blackmail Osborne. As every one's lives begin folding over into the others, the result is a very funny (and confusing) film.

To the Coen Brothers, it is not simple enough to just make a comedy. They cannot just write a film that is riotously funny, because it seems to be somewhat beneath them. Much like The Big Lebowski, Burn After Reading is not a one dimensional story that relies deeply on hilarity. The humor in Burn After Reading is found more in subtle plot elements and the traits of the characters than in actual jokes. It is the clever writing and perfect execution by the actors that makes the movie funny. There are few directors that could use this technique effectively, and the Coen's fall into that category. Joel and Ethan are unstoppable forces in the world of film making, able to mold a film exactly to their liking, whether it be a taught thriller or a goofball comedy. This is proved by the 1-2 punch they executed with No Country For Old Men and Burn After Reading. The brothers make sure they are involved in every element of the film making process. Acting as writers, directors, and producers of every single one of their films ensures that no outside force affects their work. Unswayed by the uneducated criticism that "the Coen's make boring movies", they repeatedly come out and deliver exactly what they want to, and the result is usually terrific. Burn After Reading is not their best effort, but in the hands of any other directors, it would have failed miserably.

But I'm sure if you were to ask the Coen Brothers, they would tell you that their success rests heavily on the shoulders of the actors. In Burn After Reading, spot on performances by every single actor involved helps keep the movie afloat. Given the confusing plot, it was imperative that the performers delivered exceptionally well to keep the audience interested. With not a single wet match in the pack, the movie exceeded typical standards that are expected even of a Coen Brothers film. Frances McDormand, whose character Linda can be considered the main protagonist, is often hilarious as she becomes wrapped up in the world of blackmail. Her real moments of recognition came as she interacted with Pitt and Clooney. Pitt acted as the real comic relief in Burn After Reading, due to his character's dimwitted nature and humorous dancing while listening to his iPod. He also served as a significant character foil in the film, especially when sharing screen time with Malkovich's smart Osborne Cox. George Clooney delivers the most engaging performance in the film as the womanizing hobbyist Harry Pfarrer. He brought a real sense of charisma to the screen and proved to be very enjoyable. But the two actors who deserve outstanding praise are John Malkovich and Tilda Swinton. Both are absolutely unforgettable in their roles. Malkovich's scathing and deeply irritated portrayal of the jaded Osborne Cox was not only intensely dramatic and entertaining, but also served as the jumping off point for some jokes. That is the textbook definition of getting the best of both worlds. Swinton too deals out a performance worthy of the Oscar winning actress. Balancing a divorce and an affair, her character was devoid of comedy but still managed to be fascinating.

Although Burn After Reading was blessed with brilliant writing, directing, and acting, it still manages to fall short of what you would hope it to be. The main reason for this is the constantly developing story that takes quite some time to fully reveal itself. Pacing usually is not a problem for the masterful Coen's, who can make a lengthy sequence of desert shots with no dialogue interesting like in No Country, but they seemed a tiny bit off their game here. In this one single aspect they suffered, and it managed to bring the film down a noticeable amount. Their script was full of cunning wit and clever components, but it was still confusing as hell. Even George Clooney in an interview stated he had no idea what the movie was about because it was so damn puzzling. I'm sure he was exaggerating a little, but it gives you an idea of what we are dealing with here.

Burn After Reading is a pleasant 96 minutes long, which is something I thank the Coen's for. Even The Big Lebowski, as terrific as it was, was verging on obscenity with it's length. Even if you are not a fan of the Coen's, Burn After Reading is a different movie for them, and I think they will be able to make a fan out of you. My rating (8/10)

Movies given a 10/10

  • Milk
  • In Bruges
  • Slumdog Millionaire
  • The Dark Knight
  • Iron Man
  • No Country For Old Men
  • The Shining
  • A Clockwork Orange