In new Bond film, Daniel Craig is superb as 007

Daniel Craig may be the best James Bond ever. He certainly qualifies as the actor who has most thoroughly confounded critics who thought a blond and blue-eyed fellow known previously for artsy films and stage acting could never pass muster as Ian Fleming’s edgy, hard-drinking and frequent smoking master spy.

Frequent smoking has left the series, but edgy and hard drinking remain. Craig’s performance in the 2006 film, “Casino Royale,” blew most away most critics.  With “Quantum of Solace,” a solid sequel story that begins just minutes after conclusion of the last film, Craig secures his place in the Bond pantheon alongside the original and still most popular 007, Sean Connery.

Speaking of Connery, there is a brief hotel lobby scene in “Quantum”where Craig’s character checks on a message, then retrieves a briefcase belonging to someone else, a crucial moment in the plot development.  Before and after an exchange between Craig’s character and a girl at the desk, the camera provides brief glimpses of a fellow reading in an easy chair near the front desk.

I was certain it was Sean Connery. A note posted on Tulsa Today, at the The City Sentinel’s MySpace page, and at Norman activist Bobby Cleveland’s blogsite brought a flurry of responses. Most agreed with me, but an impressive minority report it is Michael G. Wilson, producer of the film who has popped up (Hitchcock-like) in the last few installments. The latter group is no doubt correct, but see for yourself. The moment referenced is about 15 minutes into the film.

It would help, but is not essential, to have seen the last installment before going to this one.  The essentials of that story are: Bond falls in love.  The object of his affections dies in a way that makes him believe he was betrayed.  He was not, and thereby lies this tale.

This is a story about revenge, regret, sorrow, heartbreak and the call of duty in a world gone mad.  Evil men and their minions pose as caring environmental stewards, yet still have allies among world leaders and intelligence agents when all the duplicity and deceit of the group known as “Quantum” (long-time Bond fans, think: Spectre) is understood.  While certainly a brilliant action film with lots of explosives and several brutal fights, this is nonetheless a Bond story for those with literate tastes and an appreciation for compelling character portrayals.

A few critics have said this is the least subtle Bond ever filmed. I must have seen a different motion picture.  Craig pours spectacular and believable emotion into a glance, a stare, a gulp of liquor, a kiss for a woman he never beds, and a flurry of eloquence in tribute after learning of the death of a woman he did.

The supporting cast is uniformly superb, but special praise goes to Olga Kurylenko as the Bolivian agent who becomes Bond’s friend, Mathieu Amalric as retired agent Rene Mathis, whose departure from the series is masterfully handled, and Jeffrey Wright as American agent and Bond friend Felix Leiter. The bad guys might be the film’s relative weakness, but one that is not disabling.

For this reviewer, this excellent movie is not quite the equal of its immediate predecessor, but my wife liked it better for both the abundance of action and Bond’s believable vulnerability and understated grief.

The film includes a poignant exchange between Craig’s Bond and the incomparable Judi Dench’s M, director of the British secret service. Their emotional back story in the “Casino” and “Quantum” gives meaning to her words, like mother to son: “I want you back.” He replies, “I never left.”

That’s good news from Bond, James Bond. 

About the author:
Patrick B. McGuigan is a Contributing Editor for Tulsa Today, managing editor of The City Sentinel, an Oklahoma City weekly, and a lifelong fan of Ian Fleming’s books and the James Bond film series.