Wednesday, September 23, 2015

Quantum of Solace (2008) | Bond

Actors and Allies

Like in Casino Royale, trust is still a huge issue between M and Bond, but it's not about Bond's ego anymore. Part of it's just about knocking off the rough edges from his personality. As Vesper said in Casino Royale - and we learn more about in Skyfall - M tends to recruit orphans. But the lack of attachment M's looking for in candidates has to be moderated if they're going to be good agents. Bond's big problem is that he doesn't trust anyone. He learned to trust Vesper, but now he believes that was a mistake. He's still drinking the drink that he named after her - lots of them - so he's clearly not as over her as he claims, but he simultaneously loves and hates her. And that's wreaking havoc on his black-and-white worldview.

M sees this - and that Bond isn't being honest with himself about it - so that puts up another barrier to her trusting him. He keeps killing people who are potential leads, which is irritating for the investigation, but also suggests a deeper issue to her. It may not be just that he's an immature spy. She's worried that he's more interested in revenge than his duty to uncover Mr White's organization. He can always mature, but if he learns to put his personal feelings above his job, it'll make him useless to her as an agent.

His anger is fueling his distrust of everyone, so it comes full circle and M stays on him about both issues. "When you can't tell your friends from your enemies, it's time to go," she says. And Bond's relationship with Mathis is a great example of that.

Bond gets in a lot of trouble over Mathis' death, not just with the Bolivian police, but also the CIA and apparently with MI6. I've often wondered why anyone entertained the idea that Bond might have killed Mathis, but seeing the story through M's eyes, I get it. Bond totally considered Mathis an enemy at one point and Bond totally still has trust issues. And Bond totally has a habit of killing his enemies before he asks them any questions. I can see how M might wonder if Bond temporarily teamed up with Mathis to get to Quantum and then killed him. It's shortly after that when she outright says that she doesn't trust Bond.

But of course Bond had learned to trust Mathis, which is a beautiful thing. I've always liked Mathis in the novel Casino Royale and Giancarlo Giannini plays him wonderfully. Fleming writes him as a fun, friendly character, but Giannini adds a ton of heart. Quantum makes great use of him and turns him into the only person after Vesper that Bond learns to trust. (Bond trusts M, too, to an extent, but that's a different relationship. Bond knows that M will always put Britain's interests over his. In contrast, Mathis - and Vesper, he'll argue - were intensely loyal to Bond as a person.)

Mathis has no reason to help Bond look into Quantum's activities in Bolivia, but he does it because he's a good man who believes in forgiveness. Bond, on the other hand, isn't, but Bond's goodness isn't a prerequisite for Mathis' mercy. Bond never even really apologizes or seems to regret his distrust of Mathis, but that's okay. In the simple act of turning to Mathis for help, Bond has admitted that he was wrong. And that's all Mathis needs to find hope that Bond can be redeemed.

Mathis helps Bond investigate Dominic Greene, but his real mission is to put Bond on a better path as a human being. He encourages Bond to forgive Vesper and to learn the right lesson from knowing her. In spite of everything, he's truly concerned about Bond, even with his dying words: "Vesper. Forgive her. Forgive yourself." He's completely selfless. If for no other reason, Quantum has a special place in my heart for doing right by him. I love that character so much.

For his part, Bond leaves Mathis' body in a dumpster and takes his money. Camille is there and she's horrified. "Is that how you treat your friends?"

"He wouldn't care," Bond replies. And he's right. Mathis is the freaking Giving Tree. But Bond should care. And when he doesn't, it reveals that he doesn't deserve a friend like Mathis. That's the whole point though. That's why Mathis is the only person Bond can trust for most of the film.

Bond even has reason to distrust Felix, his unequivocal ally in Casino Royale. The CIA is in bed with Greene and that makes Felix look guilty by association. Happily, Felix is able to turn that around. His hands may be tied - and the implication is that the CIA isn't any happier about it than Felix (his boss notwithstanding) - but they recognize in Bond a way to make things right. They can't move against Greene, but Bond can. Ironically, his withdrawn independence gives him freedom to be the force for justice that the establishment can't be.

M recognizes this too. Once it's revealed how connected Quantum really is, M is told by the Foreign Secretary to call off the investigation. "Mr. Greene's interests and ours now align." After that, M goes to Bolivia, finds Bond, and suspends him. Again. Seriously, this is the third movie in a row. But while I believe that she has multiple reasons for relieving Bond of official duty, I also have no doubt that one of them is to free him to do what she can't order him to do. She puts a detail on him to get him out of the country, but as soon as he escapes - which is right away - she tells Tanner that Bond's "my agent and I trust him." She says that she knows he's onto something and she wants him followed, but not interfered with.

Her comment about trusting Bond is curious, because she explicitly stated earlier that she didn't. In fact, she's riding him hard about rage and trustworthiness earlier in that scene. The only thing I can see that's changed is that when he escapes his escort, he doesn't take off into the night, but comes back to talk to M some more about Agent Fields. He's concerned about Fields' reputation, but he's also concerned about his relationship with M. "You and I need to see this through," he says, reminding her that they're a team and reassuring her that this isn't about his grief. It's quick and subtle, but it seems to be enough for her.

He puts duty before revenge a couple of more times, too. First, he saves Greene's life in the exploding hotel just on the slim chance that he has a chance to question the villain later. Even more importantly, he also lets Vesper's boyfriend live; the man who'd betrayed Vesper and caused her to betray Bond.

And he forgives Vesper, too. After her boyfriend is taken away, Bond tells M, "Congratulations. You were right." And when she asks him about what, he clarifies, "About Vesper." It's a reference to a conversation they had at the end of Casino Royale where she asked if he ever wondered why Quantum hadn't killed Bond. "Because," she suggested, "she made a deal to save your life." Bond hadn't accepted it then, nor had he accepted it at the beginning of Quantum when Mr. White outright confirms it. According to White, if Vesper hadn't killed herself, Quantum would have used her to control Bond, too. That's how they operate.

But thanks to Mathis and M and even Felix and definitely Camille (whom we'll talk about tomorrow), Bond has made peace and learned that he's not alone. Mathis was right, and he'd be pleased.

M, on the other hand, was wrong about Bond. She was right about Bond's not facing his grief, but wrong about how that affected his job. Bond was certainly angry, but his mission to uncover Quantum was never about revenge. It was always about duty and serving her. At the end of the movie, he's technically still on suspension, so M tells him that she needs him back. His response is lovely. "I never left."

Best Quip

"We are teachers on sabbatical... and we have just won the lottery."

Worst Quip

"Thank you. She's seasick."


No gadgets in this one unless you count the fancy computer interfaces at MI6.

Top Ten Gadgets

1. Lotus Esprit (The Spy Who Loved Me)
2. Aston Martin DB V (Goldfinger and Thunderball)
3. Jet pack (Thunderball)
4. Iceberg boat (A View to a Kill)
5. The Q Boat (The World Is Not Enough)
6. Aston Martin V8 Vantage (The Living Daylights)
7. Glastron CV23HT speed boat (Moonraker)
8. Acrostar Mini Jet (Octopussy)
9. Crocodile submarine (Octopussy)
10. X-Ray Specs (The World Is Not Enough)

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