Brevity is the soul of Bond. That's a truism producers mercifully remembered for Daniel Craig's second outing as 007. Quantum of Solace might have the most cryptic title of a Bond film. It might be so action-packed as to give the "This is more Bourne (Identity) than Bond" critics more ammo.
But it fairly races by, a sexy, sadistic, cruel and crackling thriller that is the shortest Bond film since Goldfinger, and certainly the most brisk. Craig coolly settles in, Mathieu Amalric reminds us of the old Hitchcock saying, "Good villains make good thrillers," and the maternal love affair between Bond and his boss, M (Judi Dench, in her glory), comes to full flower. The direction, by Marc Forster (Monster's Ball, Finding Neverland), is breathless, with lovely grace notes — he uses silences to end his action beats. And if this incarnation of Bond still doesn't inspire affection, he does command respect, awe, a sense that a real man is risking life and limb for queen and crown.
As in the Bourne movies, Quantum picks up our story very close on the heels of the climax to Casino Royale. Bond is hunting the folks who set up Vesper, the woman who betrayed him and died. He's not in a rage. But he's not pausing long enough to ask the questions that would unravel the vast conspiracy of industrialists who seem to be behind it all.
In one memorable moment, the 007 killing machine averts his eyes as a man whose neck he has snapped gasps, sputters and breathes his last. Chilling.
The hunt for masterminds takes Bond from Siena, Italy, to Port au Prince, Haiti, to Bolivia and Austria. He seeks the aid of an old foe (Giancarlo Giannini from Casino) and a future friend, CIA agent Felix Leiter, played by Jeffrey Wright with a sneer of distaste over what his boss and his government are up to in South America. That's where industrialist Dominic Greene (Amalric, of The Diving Bell and the Butterfly and Munich) of Greene Planet is plotting land grabs and luring a former dictator back to Bolivia to put him in charge.
Amalric is a pale, iguana-eyed ogre, reinforced by a shot of a real lizard in the desert where Bond and the former Bolivian agent Camille (Olga Kurylenko of Max Payne) go for clues.
The viewer is probably three steps ahead of Bond at this point, catching that phrase "the most precious substance on Earth" from Greene, spying the little "Q" lapel pins he and his fellow robber barons sport.
But no matter. Bond goes "off the reservation," dodges even his own MI6 agents (and beats down a few), flies an ancient DC-3 through a dogfight, grabs a motorcycle in a gesture so effortlessly cool it recalls Sean Connery, gives chase over rooftops and is chased in boats and an Aston Martin.
"There is something horribly efficient about you," Camille purrs. But it's not what you think. He's too busy for that. Well, almost.
Bond films are all "greatest hits" packages these days, and Quantum references Goldfinger, Live and Let Die and For Your Eyes Only. But it's not the solace of the past that makes the heart race here. It's the realization, with every bit of derring-do, that someday, if he learns how to deliver a pithy one-liner, this blond could become the best Bond ever.