Watching the most recent James Bond film, I wondered about something. Lets put some things to rest immediatly: Daniel Craig is the best Bond since Sean Connery- or possibly Roger Lazenby. He is neither a comic turn (Mr Moore take your bow) nor a pale imitation of a comic turn (Brosnan). There are other reasons to welcome 'Quantum of Solace' to our screens- it is no Casino Royale. The first Craig Bond film was much better- but it is also shorter than Casino, whose last half hour dragged. The story is confused. Some parts are hardly developed at all- Gemma Arteton is required to do stern, orgasmic, confused and lastly naked dead and that's the sum total of her part. The story, taken seriously as political analysis, is something that Umberto Eco would love to deconstruct: this is Foucault's Pendulum for the visual age- replace the Illuminati or the standard villains of second rate thriller writers like Dan Brown with the modern spinners and political businessmen and you've got the picture. And yet there is a good film in there somewhere.
What the film has is darkness. Bond is a sadistic killer. That should come as no surprise- it is his job afterall. But its something worth reminding ourselves of. The old vision of the secret services as places of sadness, distrust and depression, so visible in Alec Guiness's Tinker Tailor Soldier Spy and Smiley's People (both fantastic serieses), is worth cultivating and its hinted at here. Bond is a man who has decided, after the death of a girl he loves, to forget about human emotion and live only in the vicarious and vicious second. He has become a secret agent- and as Smilley would think that kills. However this darkness is not given context- again I compare to Alec Guinness's performance. For with Guiness you saw the sadness drip off the man like the grimy rain falling around him: you saw him for what he was, an old man, bent below the wind. Bond is younger- but in this film you don't feel the inner torment- he is even allowed to act for the good side and in a sense, the justice of his cause makes him a less not a more interesting character.
That's the issue with this film ultimately and its something that makes it an example of what doesn't work in modern cinema. Ultimately the film falls down not on special effects (of which there are plenty of good ones), not on actors (Mr Craig can act- as can Miss Kurylenko and Dame Dench) but on dialogue. In order to have a good film, you need a good script. The problem is that these guys can't write a good script. Bond could turn into one of the classic flawed heroes of cinema- here even the Bond girl has almost been written out- Bond beds Miss Arteton but in a half hearted way, and then goes on to kiss but not bed Miss Kurylenko. The film makers have intelligence- they are happy to reference other Bond films in the past- when Miss Arteton lies dead on her bed, naked and covered in oil the reference to Goldfinger is obvious. When Felix Leiter returns, the indications are clear- these guys know their Bond. But dialogue is vital in order to turn that intelligence into something worth watching and listening to- it is the rail on which the actors hang their performances.
This film you see brought me back to a genre filled with flawed heroes- film noir. There is a reason that Quantum of Solace cannot compete- it could with its actors, with its effects- but it cannot so long as the dialogue remains this poor. Even a story can be incomprehensible (Raymond Chandler had no idea who did one of the murders in the Big Sleep) though it helps to be comprehensible- but you have to earn your right to be intelligent and more often than not its the words you use that earn you that right. There are exceptions of course to every rule. But here I found myself wondering about whether directors start from a script or from an action choreography, I would love the former, I regret to say I fear the latter is true. Quantum of Solace isn't a bad film- its enjoyable and a perfectly pleasant way of losing a couple of hours- but there is so much more that could be done with the flawed Bond and with these performances. Get a good script, sort out a good story and the rest will follow because of the quality of the people involved.
The film is no failure- but neither is it as successful as it should be- if Bond films are going to be, as both Casino Royale and this demonstrate, more than a Carry On Franchise, they have to be judged by the standards I would expect of any other film. Quantum of Solace meets the criteria for one of the better films of this year- but it will not be remembered as a great film and nor does it deserve to be.