Film review: “Quantum of Solace”
James Bond, 007. For decades the British super-spy’s name stood for deadly charisma, over-the-top international espionage, and fancy gadgets – until the series took a more realist approach two years ago when actor Daniel Craig took over the role from Pierce Brosnan. The critics hailed Craig’s turn in “Casino Royale” for his icy cool and the physical presence he brought to new, grittier action sequences. This was finally a Bond for the new century, they said.
From an anti-kyriarchy point-of-view, I think Quantum of Solace better fits that description. Casino Royale’s plot was based on Ian Fleming’s original Bond novel about a corrupt financial magnate. The story took place mostly in Europe and turned on a high-stakes poker match played by ultra-rich elites.
With Solace, all the familiar elements are still there – the frenetic action, expensive cars, the constant tension between Bond and M, his boss at MI6, played by Judi Dench. As in every other Bond movie, most women in the film look like supermodels and are used or controlled by men, whether by force or by Bond’s charm. He sleeps with one of them in this movie, slightly down from absurd average of 2.5 women per film.
But James Bond fighting to protect the water supply for impoverished indigenous Bolivian villages? From a wealthy villain who poses as the head of an eco-friendly company called “Greene Planet” and conspires with U.S. intelligence to overthrow a leftist president? Now there’s something new and timely.
Bond’s vengeful pursuit of the killer of his love-interest from previous film takes him early on to Haiti. Just before embarking on an explosive boat escape in the docks of Port-Au-Prince, Bond observes Dominic Greene, the creepy and ruthless businessman brilliantly played by Mathieu Amalric, in a candid exchange with a general who aspires to dictatorship.
General Medrano: And you can do all this for me?
Greene: Well, look at what we did to this country. The Haitians elect a priest who decides to raise the minimum wage from 38 cents to 1 dollar a day. It’s not a lot, but it’s enough to upset the corporations who were here making t-shirts and running shoes. So they called us. We facilitated a change.
This is the first time, to my knowledge, that the real story of the U.S.-backed coup against Jean-Bertrand Aristide, the twice-elected President of Haiti, has been acknowledged in the mass media. While a few solitary investigative journalists have written books or produced documentaries about the coup, the major U.S. news media dutifully covered up or ignored the story. Leave it to this latest Bond film, of all things, to help counter the propaganda about Haiti as the country continues to suffer from years of abuse at the hands of neo-colonial powers.
Bond infiltrates, drives, flies, and shoots his way through the rest of the movie trying to stop another coup from taking place in Bolivia, where Greene wants to privatize the water rights in collaboration with the U.S. government by re-establishing a friendly military junta there. The Washington Post’s critic derides all this as “a ludicrous environmental cautionary tale about corporate control of water.”
Tell that to Bolivians, whose water rights were privatized by the World Bank in 1997. In what some called a “water war,” Bechtel was chased out of the country as Bolivians took to the streets in mass opposition to the company’s high prices for basic water services. Evo Morales, Bolivia’s first-ever indigenous president, now plans to enshrine a right to water in the constitution. Indeed, the indigenous Bolivians depicted as demure victims in the film have proven in the real world that they don’t require the violent heroics of a rich white guy like Bond to organize and take back their own country.
Along the way Bond is helped by the movie’s sole independent person-of-color of any significance to the story, the black C.I.A. agent Felix Leiter played by Jeffrey Wright. He defies his boss and opposes the coup in Bolivia. His now-second appearance in the Bond series, along with the election of Barack Obama, has spurred talk of Jamie Fox, P. Diddy (really, Diddy?), or some other actor (what about Denzel?) becomingvthe first Black Bond in the near future.
“Quantum of Solace” is a fine blockbuster film (it’s grossed some $454 million worldwide) with some amazing action sequences. It has all the requisite elements of your standard Bond film, with the unfortunate exception of spiffy high-tech gadgets. A general failure to portray women and people of color as unique individuals, much less agents of their own destiny is par for the course for the Bond series. A story that questions “greenwashing” and calls attention to U.S. complicity in imposing neoliberalism on the two poorest countries in the hemisphere certainly is not. And it’s a welcome departure from the simplistic man-saves-world-from-brown-skinned-terrorists thread that’s all too common in action films these days.