Meewella | Critic

According to P

Tag: Judi Dench

QuickView: Murder on the Orient Express (2017)

“I can only see the world as it should be. And when it is not, the imperfection stands out like the nose in the middle of a face. It makes most of life unbearable. But, it is useful in the detection of crime.”

Hercule Poirot

Kenneth Branagh’s slickly produced take on Agatha Christie’s most famous novel is filled with shots of sweeping grandeur but what lies beneath is disappointingly bland. Branagh invests some time getting beneath Poirot’s magnificent whiskers, exploring the way an obsessive need for perfection informs his skill as a detective. The remainder of the characters are merely sketches, providing the fantastic ensemble cast little to do with just a few scenes apiece. Presumably intended to capitalise on Sherlock Holmes’ return to popularity, the film works best as a character study of Poirot and the moral quandary he must resolve. However, it still relies on its central mystery, a whodunnit that unfolds poorly with excessive exposition and an unsatisfying reveal peppered with flashbacks to provide information not previously communicated.


Quantum of Solace (2008)

Quantum of Solace poster

director: Marc Forster
writer: Paul Haggis, Neal Purvis, Robert Wade
starring: Daniel Craig, Judi Dench, Olga Kurylenko, Mathieu Amalric
running time: 106 mins
rating: 12A

The first thing you should know about us is… we have people everywhere.

Despite clocking it at around half an hour shorter than any of the recent Bond films, Quantum of Solace actually proves one of the most exhausting to view, feeling like a single protracted action sequence in which the adrenaline never really lets up. The downside is that neither the story nor characters are given a chance to breathe. Given the scant fragments of the former that is perhaps not an issue, but the latter leaves this film an underwhelming experience.

Picking up shortly after the end of Casino Royale, Bond [Daniel Craig] and M [Judi Dench] interrogate Mr. White, revealing an organisation called Quantum who blackmailed Vesper. Still motivated by revenge for her betrayal and death, Bond cuts a swathe of destruction as he hunts down Dominic Greene [Mathieu Amalric] who is buying up land to control the most important natural resources. Meanwhile Bond meets Camille [Olga Kurylenko], a woman with her own vendetta and a useful ally as a rogue Bond must keep ahead of the CIA, terrorists and even MI6.

Quantum of Solace still

It is telling that the film opens on car chase already in progress, but perhaps its style is moreso. The action direction leaves much to be desired, featuring a lot of lazily edited quick cuts that serve to confuse the viewer rather than let them enjoy the events. I thought we were beyond that. Some is clearly borrowed from Bourne, but adequately reproduced such as a lift escape scene. The noteworthy exception is a fight through a glass ceiling onto scaffolding which is expertly choreographed with a great tracking shot as they fall. This moment of brilliance ends up standing out since it is sadly not repeated.

Quantum of Solace still

Such is perhaps the trouble with a franchise that replaces its director each film. By contrast the cast, returning and new, are all impressive. Craig’s Bond will continue to delight all those who enjoyed him in Casino Royale, effortlessly cool with suppressed rage while his tense chemistry with M remains as compelling as ever. Unfortunately what arguably made the last film so compelling was character development in Bond, but since it had the entire arc, there was really none left. Olga Kurylenko does well in providing another strong Bond girl and could have filled this gap had she been given the time to do so. Meanwhile the villains felt surprisingly flat this time round. Real perhaps, but decidedly uninteresting.

One emerges with the sense this is the middle instalment of a trilogy — the plot already set up and largely action heavy — although those involved refuse to comment. The truth is that the relentless pacing actually fits the plot rather well, with Bond on a rampage of revenge while everyone else is after him. The problem is that the result is just not very Bond. There is more to a Bond film than simply action, and in failing to deliver that, Quantum feels untrue to the franchise in a way that Casino Royale, while a reboot in style and tone, never did.

rating: 2/4

Casino Royale (2006)

director: Martin Campbell
starring: Daniel Craig, Judi Dench, Mads Mikkelsen, Eva Green
running time: 144 mins
rating: 12A

Casino RoyaleThe selection of Daniel Craig as the new Bond sparked an outcry at the idea of this blonde-haired, blue-eyed Bond. I was a vocal supporter having seen him carry Layer Cake and later his memorable supporting role in Munich. Now I expect even his most ardent critics to be floored by the transformation Bond has undergone in arguably his best incarnation yet.

Going back to his roots, we see in black and white the two kills that promoted Bond [Daniel Craig] to 00 status. M [Judi Dench] is clearly worried about his early promotion and arrogant recklessness, storming an embassy. On the heels of terrorist financier Le Chiffre, the banker is backed into a corner once Bond foils his attempt to blow up a plane. Gambling with his clients’ money, Le Chiffre is left with no choice but to win it back in a poker game at Casino Royale in Montenegro. Bond joins in, with the Treasury’s investment being watched by the alluring Vesper Lynd [Eva Green].

Bond scarredComparison can be drawn with the return to the Dark Knight’s roots in Batman Begins. Similarly the tone shifts to a darker, more gritty world. The action sequences are far more gripping for the simple reason that in contrast to the old clean, almost clinical, violence, now when Bond fights he gets hurt. After killing two men in a stairwell his white shirt is drenched crimson with blood, in later scenes we see his face scarred from earlier fights. The film pushes its 12A rating with two uncomfortably protracted strangulation scenes.

This is not to say the kinetic, unbelievable action set pieces, the staple of the Bond experience, have gone. Indeed it opens with a highly memorable le parkour free running chase through a building site. There are no car chases, although they do destroy a beautiful Aston Martin DBS. In its new-found realism gone too are the gadgets and Cleese’s Q, as well as Moneypenny. Much of the overt comedy is stripped away as a result although the subtler humour remains. The only link to the past is in Dench’s M and she is superb. She never tries to outshine Bond but her calm, staid composure is the perfect complement. As for Campbell’s direction, it has become quite clear that he certainly knows how to introduce a new Bond — he was, after all, the man behind Brosnan’s arrival in Goldeneye.

Bond and VesperThe villains are all competent yet standard. However Green provides one of the most fascinating bond girls to date. She is required to combine verve and depth in her character as well as luscious good looks, and she pulls it off fantastically. Verbally sparring with Bond, she is a refreshing change from vacuous tedium of the average “love” interest. She is also the pivotal point for Bond’s shifting character as we see Bond emerge from a shell and mature in this film. As he stares into the camera with those incredibly bold blue eyes at the end, telling us his name, we know he will be back and could not be happier.

rating: 3.5/4

"A film is a petrified fountain of thought."

(CC) BY-NC 2003-2023 Priyan Meewella

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