Brutal Bond’s mission to thrill
QUANTUM OF SOLACE ★★★★ (Cert12A;106mins) CASINO ROYALE was always going to be a hard act to follow. Daniel Craig’s first Bond epic grabbed the age-old franchise by the dinnerjacket lapels and dragged it into the 21st century.
The back-to-basics approach chipped away at the smooth surface of the familiar formula to create a rougher, tougher Bond who was little more than a government-licensed thug. Nobody had left us this shaken or stirred since Sean Connery still had his own hair.
Quantum Of Solace is set one hour after Casino Royale and finds Bond on a rampage of revenge, crisscrossing the globe in pursuit of the men responsible for the death of his beloved Vesper. It is a grim spectacle. There is no time for sardonic oneliners, flamboyant baddies or ingenious gadgets.
What we do have is a breathless, hard-hitting spy thriller that seems less like a traditional Bond than ever, which is not always a good thing. The music is strangely muted throughout and the big-explosive finale is a bit of a mess.
It’s safe to say that Craig doesn’t do flippant. He’s not about to slip out of a wet safari suit and into a dry martini. In Quantum, it takes seven lethal cocktails before he even realises what he is drinking.
He wouldn’t drive to work in an invisible car either. He’s the kind of Bond who smashes through a front door, kills everyone in sight and might think about asking some questions later. It’s all about results and you are either on his side or an annoying hindrance.
The relentless focus of Bond is reflected in the ferocious commitment of Craig’s performance. The film begins with a car chase that places the viewer right in the thick of the action. Craig appears to be doing much of the stunt work himself and the way he is thrown about, injured by flying glass or almost forced off the road makes it all seem incredibly real.
A subsequent chase on foot across the rooftops of Siena is the highlight of the movie, with a supremely fit Craig throwing himself through glass and wood like a man possessed. He already has the role and the Bafta Best Actor nomination. He doesn’t have to land himself in hospital just to prove a point.
The picture’s strange title is taken from an Ian Fleming short story and refers to the author’s belief that a relationship cannot be salvaged unless there is a measure of comfort between the two parties – a quantum of solace.
According to Dame Judi Dench’s M, Bond is inconsolable with grief and looking for enough solace to lay his relationship with Vesper to rest. The global organisation behind the blackmail and death of Vesper also happens to be called Quantum. It is that group’s leader, Dominic Greene (Mathieu Amalric), who becomes the target for Bond’s wrath.
He’s not the only one seeking to make amends for the past as the beautiful Camille (Olga Kurylenko) also has some old scores to settle and is using Greene to get to evil General Medrano (Joaquin Cosio).
Skipping from Italy to Bolivia, Austria, London and Panama, Quantum is a no-nonsense action thriller that is the shortest Bond film ever made. There is little room for humour or humanity and Gemma Arterton’s spiffing, ill-fated agent Fields provides the only bedroom action for Bond.
Director Marc Forster continually emphasises a world in which the old-school distinctions between good and evil no longer apply, loyalty can be bought by the highest bidder and betrayal is an easy option.
Craig’s rogue killing machine is a Bond for a bleak, dog-eatdog world in which there is nobody left to trust. Thank goodness he is on our side. HUNGER ★★★★★ (Cert15;95mins) TURNER PRIZE-winning artist Steve McQueen has never made a feature film before but you wouldn’t know it from Hunger. His ambitious debut displays the calm assurance of a veteran film-maker, addressing complex issues with a lingering intensity that is utterly compelling.
The subject is the H-Block of Maze Prison in Northern Ireland during the early Eighties and the republican inmates who were prepared to die for the right to be recognised as political prisoners.
McQueen conveys the living hell of the prison with a forensic eye for detail. Cell walls are smeared with excrement as part of a “dirty” protest. Prisoners who refuse to wear a uniform only have a blanket to cover their nakedness. There is also a potent sense that the humanity of both prisoner and guard has been destroyed.
Prison officer Raymond Lohan (Stuart Graham) checks under his car for a bomb every day before setting off to work. His split, bloodied knuckles rarely have a chance to heal.
The focus gradually narrows to Bobby Sands (Michael Fassbender) and his commitment to a hunger strike. In one bravura sequence, Sands argues the case for martyrdom with Father Dominic Moran (Liam Cunningham). The camera never moves for 20 minutes as the debate rages between them and your attention never falters.
McQueen is well served by Fassbender, whose shocking physical transformation into the emaciated, dying Sands is just one aspect of an extraordinary performance.
Hunger may be a bleak, gruelling experience but it is an artistic triumph for McQueen and a picture of immense power and unexpected beauty. OF TIME AND THE CITY ★★★★★ (Cert12A;72mins) IT IS a banner week for British cinema with Bond in top gear, a bright new talent in Steve McQueen and the welcome return of director Terence Davies with his highly personal, beguiling essay Of Time And The City.
Davies has previously transformed elements of his life into landmark films such as Distant Voices, Still Lives and The Long Day Closes. Of Time And The City is a salute to his home town of Liverpool that blossoms into a poignant kaleidoscope of nostalgia, poetry and wistful regret.
The 63-year-old Davies uses archive footage to revisit the key sights and sounds of his youth and there are images that will strike a chord for everyone of
his generation, whether it’s the Bank Holiday pilgrimage to the New Brighton beach – “pleasure on a budget” – the magic of a real-life movie star Gregory Peck coming to town, the Christmas treat of a pomegranate or the Sunday afternoon lure of going Round The Horne with Julian and Sandy.
The poverty of his childhood is contrasted with the pageantry of the royal wedding and the sense of being oppressed by his Catholic upbringing and homosexuality remains potent.
In his velvety-voiced narration, the prickly Davies laments the passing of a city in which he now feels an alien but recognises that not everything about the past deserves a rosy glow and a fond sigh. His sense of the past as a lost paradise is encapsulated in the Chekhov quote that the “golden moments pass and leave no trace”.
Touching, incredibly funny and always shamelessly idiosyncratic, this is a gem of a film. MIDNIGHT MEAT TRAIN (no stars) (Cert18;97mins) VINNIE JONES hitches a ride on Midnight Meat Train in the latest scary movie taken from a novella by master of the genre Clive Barker.
An inscrutable Vinnie stars as Mahogany, an American Psychostyle serial killer. By day he works in a meat-packing factory. When night falls he dons a suit and tie and uses his work tools on the human victims that he meets on the Los Angeles subway. Leon (Bradley Cooper) is the mild-mannered photographer who becomes fascinated with the case.
Midnight Meat Train received some favourable reviews on its US release earlier this year but the fact that it is being released in the UK without a press screening is never a good sign. RING ★★★★ (Cert15;95mins) JUST in time for Hallowe’en, Japanese chiller Ring returns to cinemas. Ten years ago it marked a new chapter in scary movies, telling a clever story with eerie atmosphere and grungy style. Prequels, sequels, rip-offs and remakes have taken the edge off the premise of a cursed video tape that, if watched, will lead to the viewer’s death within seven days.
Journalist Reiko Asakawa (Nanako Matsushima) investigates the mysterious deaths of her niece and three friends and starts to unravel the mystery of the killer video.
Creepy if overly familiar these days.
IN THE FIRING LINE: Olga Kurylenko as Bond girl Camille
ACTION MAN: Daniel Craig is a ruthless Bond. Above, Gemma Arterton plays Agent Fields