Here's a question for you. Which self-centered, womanizing, troubled male character was played by Daniel Craig in 2008?
You may think the answer is James Bond. Which would, of course, be true. But this is my blog, and unfortunately that is not the correct answer. No, the answer is actually Joe Scott, Craig's character from the film he made (and made possible) for his friend Baillie Walsh, Flashbacks of a Fool.
Seeing these two films- Flashbacks... and Quantum of Solace- in quick succession makes the Bond film seem more generous towards characters who aren't James Bond than it might otherwise have done. But where Quantum... gives a surprisingly large chunk of itself over to Camille (Olga Kurylenko) and her own quest for revenge, Flashbacks... is all about Joe Scott. Other characters can suffer bereavements, get blown up by mines, get their nose bitten by a dog and it's still all about Joe. Don't believe me? Here is photographic evidence.
Giving away where this scene takes place (both spacially and chronologically) might annoy you (although check out the visual clues if you wish), but still: you aren't even looking at Joe Scott and he still takes up half the frame. Claire Forlani can (not) cry all she wants, but this film doesn't give a damn about her and her tragedies. No. The world revolves around Joe Scott, failing druggy filmstar, who is cared for by housekeeper Ophelia (the rather fantastic Eve) for no good reason as he snorts Emilia Fox's coke and has lesbian orgies. In the past he was played by Harry Eden and has no sexual willpower whatsoever. The only moment where the film actually gives over to another character utilizes the rather superb Roxy Music track I mentioned previously: Joe is forced to take a back seat as love interest Ruth (Felicity Jones, pictured) 'shakes her head with her ponytail' in slow-motion. It is a silver lining in a film that wants- ney demands you admire the craggy lines of Daniel Craig's face and the perfectly-coiffured Harry Eden.
And you wouldn't think you'd ever call James Bond generous, what with all the punching and bedding-of-women and martini-drinking, but maybe sobering up has done good things for the man: when he finally tries to plant one on central Bond girl Camille, it's barely sexual at all; it's just sad, almost pathetic. The man-woman relationship has, as in but differently from predecessor Casino Royale, been built on something other than sex: with Vesper it was love, and here it's the common cause of revenge. Her backstory may be a tad trite but at least they gave her one: when did a Bond girl ever have such suffering of her own, have as much, if not more impetus than Bond himself? The script may not get everything right, but this is, as perhaps Bourne made a requirement, Bond made human. And this can only, surely, be appreciated.
Sure, Marc Forster takes his action cues from Bourne, but there's still humour to be found here: it's just tarter and bitterer than before, the prime example being the oily end to one character than instantly recalls one of the Bond series' most famous images. Sure, the plot is rather vague, but it fills in with well-etched characterizations and excellent casting: Mathieu Amalric suits the slightly reedy magnate to a tee, and Judi Dench is as delicious as ever as M ("I don't give a shit about the CIA or their trumped-up evidence!"). I'm not saying it's perfect by any means- there's too much fuss over things that never come to anything, for one thing- but at the end of the day I'd take this exciting shot to the adrenaline than the preening vainness of Flashbacks of a Fool.
Quantum of Solace: B; Flashbacks of a Fool: D+