The Facts of Death: Quantum of Solace, Part IV

With the aid of M and Tanner, Bond learns that Dominic Greene is moving to Bregenz, Austria. The narrative mechanics by which M determines that the CIA have been working with Greene make for one of the better connect-the-dots moments in the Craig films, and it also features the film’s niftiest graphical interface, a large glass display-screen that doubles as a wall of M’s office.

The CIA has significantly more knowledge of Quantum than their British counterparts–Felix Leiter, who makes his first appearance in this film in this scene, will later note that they “know who Greene is” and express his reservations about cooperating with him–but the CIA also knows less than they think they do; they’re being duped by Greene, having been purposefully misled into believing that they might be able to get oil rights out of the Bolivian revolution Quantum is manufacturing.

The Americans come off looking very predatory in Quantum of Solace, with Felix Leiter serving as the the “Not All Americans” ally who lends Bond a hand later in the picture, but even Leiter’s turn only happens reluctantly, after Bond twists his arm. The film laces more than a few barbs at the USA’s foreign policy throughout the picture, but this scene fixates on it. Greene’s remark–“You don’t need another Marxist giving resources to the people, do you?”–is perhaps the most brazenly political moment in the entire Bond franchise.

Wright’s Leiter remains relegated to a largely passive role throughout Quantum of Solace. He sulks his way through the film, following the lead of his superior, the very greasy Gregory Beam (played with wonderful hamminess by David Harbour). In this scene, Beam tests Leiter by pushing him to identify Bond to Greene; Leiter tries to avoid it, only for Beam to call him out in front of Greene. Beam defends this uneasy partnership with Greene on the grounds of realpolitik–“You’re right, we should just deal with nice people,” he sneers to Leiter when Leiter expresses his reservations–and then bullies Leiter into submission by hinting that the success of Leiter’s career depends on his cooperation.

The Craig era continually underlines the notion that spies–and even their masters, like M–are just employees who are subservient to a larger bureaucracy that isn’t particularly concerned with their best interest and will gladly discard them whenever they become too inconvenient. There’s no longer an assumption that Britain and America are necessarily the “good guys” on the international stage.

The architecture of the Bregenz Opera House blends neatly into Dennis Gassner’s more stark, sleek approach to production design, and its watery stage makes for one of the most richly atmospheric locations in the Craig era. In the early drafts of Quantum of Solace, the opera house was to be the locale for the film’s climax, but rewrites shifted this setpiece to the film’s midsection. The notion of a criminal organization using an opera performance for their business meeting is blatantly absurd due to its transparent impracticality–it’s amazing that the crowd doesn’t shush all the members of Quantum who are talking about water rights and piping–it’s also the kind of brilliantly surreal conceit that Bond movies thrive on, transforming something as dull as an executive board room meeting into vibrant spectacle.

Bond isn’t dressed for the occasion, so he steals a dinner jacket from the opera’s cast and crew lockers (naturally, it is conveniently tailored to his physique). The theft of his black tie ensemble unfolds in a confusing string of cuts that marks the one “off” editing beat in an otherwise well-constructed montage depicting the build-up to a gala performance of Puccini’s Tosca.

David Arnold’s eerie cue for this sequence, arguably the highlight of the score, pays homage to John Barry’s “Space March” from You Only Live Twice, reworking Arnold’s sinister motif for the Quantum organization into an electronic-accented march that builds into the “Te Deum” from Puccini’s opera.

Bond identifies a Quantum member by noticing that only a few members of the crowd receive specialty gift bags. The bags contain ear pieces and a “Q” pin. The pin seems a bit too cutesy and seemingly conflicts with later dialogue from Greene that indicates that none of the Quantum members are supposed to actually see one another face-to-face.

As Greene and his entourage take their positions in his private box, Elvis becomes the focus for an odd moment–he gives another of Greene’s henchmen a kind of imbecilic, friendly look, only to be met with a dead stare. It’s yet another of the film’s many curious “gags” related to this character, and one occurs just a few minutes earlier, during the CIA meeting with Greene, when Elvis tries to start up conversation with Leiter and is completely ignored. The nature of Elvis’ relationship with Greene is never addressed directly, but is certainly affectionate (when leaving the box later, Greene will escort Elvis out of the room with his hand on Elvis’ lower back). Certainly, Greene has an unusual tolerance for his bodyguard’s incompetence. Taken with Greene’s desperately performative displays of heterosexuality when it comes to Camille, it is all too easy to read Green and Elvis’ relationship as coding Greene as being homosexual (or perhaps bisexual, given Greene’s desperately performative declarations of heterosexuality throughout the film). That said, both Amalric and Taubman (who plays Elvis) concocted their own backstory for the characters: Elvis is Greene’s cousin, and he had previously been destitute before Greene rescued him by bringing him into the Quantum organization.

The Bond production team originally hoped to utilize the Bregenz production of Verdi’s Un Ballo in Maschera as the setting for this sequence. The set for Un Ballo in Maschera featured a giant skeleton flipping through the pages of a book, an image very suited to a series as dominated by death-imagery as the Bond series is, but they were quickly informed that this would not be possible, and so the Bond team agreed to utilize Tosca instead.

The extravagant floating set for the Bregenz production of Tosca centers around a giant eye. Bond perches at the top of this ever-watchful eye as he observes the crowd, identifying himself (and the profession he embodies) with it. Quantum’s business meeting unfolds as of Tosca‘s first act reaches its climax, the “Te Deum.” During this spectacular moment, Tosca‘s villain, Scarpia, declares his love for the diva Tosca and his plans to coerce her into becoming his lover. The bold fanfare that accompanies Bond and Greene’s face-to-face encounter in the opera lobby marks the musical conclusion of the act. The subsequent montage of scenes from Tosca that are interspersed with Bond’s firefight with the Quantum assassins breaks with the opera’s chronology and mingles different moments from the opera, but will most directly fixate on Tosca’s murder of Scarpia at the end of Act II, foreshadowing Camille’s struggle with the predatory General Medrano during the climax of Quantum of Solace.

If you listen carefully, you can hear that this is the first time the organization refers to themselves as “Quantum”; this only happens one more time, towards the end of the film, when Greene mentions the name to Bond. The organization’s name was apparently chosen very late into production; scribe Paul Haggis stated that he was unaware of the name or the reasons for its selection.

Bond decides to interrupt the meeting, hoping to force Quantum out of the anonymity of the crowd, and does so with dialogue that is more blandly functional than clever (“Can I offer an opinion? I really think you people should find a better place to meet”). To identify the members of Quantum, he uses a nifty phone app that captures and reconstructs their faces from blurry photographs by assembling various angles into a composite face.

Mr. White has come to the Quantum meeting, too, but he’s sharper than the rest of his organization, and, accordingly, he gets the best line of the scene. Noting the departures of his colleagues, he turns to his companion: “Well, Tosca isn’t for everyone.” This turns out to be Mr. White’s last scene in the film, leaving a loose end which Spectre later picks up on. The original ending of Quantum of Solace actually featured Bond killing Mr. White, but the Bond producers deemed it to be too much of a cliffhanger and was ultimately left on the cutting room floor.

The impressionistic montage that depicts Bond’s tangle with Greene’s henchmen is self-consciously arty in way the series has rarely been, eschewing the thrills of well-documented action choreography for the thrills of montage. It resolves itself in one of the film’s more self-referential moments; Bond cornering one of the henchmen on the opera house’s rooftop recreates a similar moment from The Spy Who Loved Me. Unlike the baddie in Spy, this henchman does not cooperate with Bond, and Bond promptly drops him off the roof without a word.

The henchman actually survives, landing on the hood of Greene’s car. In keeping with this film’s penchant for overcomplicated plotting, the henchman isn’t one of Greene’s, but is actually the bodyguard of Guy Haines, a powerful advisor of the Prime Minister. When M learns, via Tanner, that the henchman was found shot, she naturally blames Bond (which isn’t entirely inappropriate, given that Bond did drop him off a roof and presumably intended for him to meet his demise).

M, recoiling from the news that the Quantum organization may have significant influence on the British government, tries to pull Bond back to Britain to debrief him. Bond refuses to let the trail go cold, and, when M attempts to restrict his movements, he effectively goes “rogue,” a choice that Craig’s Bond makes quite regularly throughout these films.

Bond learns that MI6 has shut him down when his company credit card is declined at the airport. Bond, ever courteous to service representatives, charmingly asks the attendant to tell anyone who calls about him that he’s headed to Cairo. We’ll very quickly find out he has other plans.

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