Eric German | Sunday, 16 November 2008

A legacy of sin and guilt - ***

The new version of Evelyn Waugh’s novel is a heavily condensed one.
In 1940s England, Charles Ryder (Matthew Goode) begins his studies at Oxford where he meets and becomes infatuated with Sebastian Flyte (Ben Whishaw), a homosexual who comes to dote on Charles. He belongs to an aristocratic and Catholic family whereas Charles is middle class and an atheist.
When Sebastian takes Charles to visit his home, the Brideshead mansion, the latter falls in love with the place and its art and then with Sebastian’s sister, Julia (Hayley Atwell). Their mother, Lady Marchmain (Emma Thompson), a stern Catholic, rules their lives and strongly disapproves of Charles being an atheist.
Evelyn Waugh’s novel was done justice by the faithful 1981 British TV mini series which some purists consider to be the best book TV adaptation of all time. That was 600 minutes long whereas the film runs for 133 minutes, and a lot of the novel’s significance and substance has been lost.
This may cause some audiences to view it as an anti-religious and anti-Catholic film but the background detail in the book and mini series, including the experiences of English Catholics as a minority, gave a realistic view. All that is lacking in the film.
Yet it’s this theme and Charles’ bid to free brother and sister from their mother’s dominant grip that gives the film its dramatic meat, creates rousing conflicts and romantic obstacles.
Both Sebastian and Julia are the victims of their mother’s religious fanaticism. As Julia confides to Charles, guilt and sin were drummed into their minds every day in the nursery.
Unable to cope with his being “a sinner” in his mother’s eyes, Sebastian becomes an alcoholic and Julia remains shackled by the mental chains that her mother cast upon her.
The first part is weak, mostly because its protagonist, who should be the film’s motor engine, is so thinly drawn that it’s difficult to care for him or to see him as Sebastian and Julia do.
Even worse, Matthew Goode’s performance always retains a distance between the actor/character and the audience. These deficiencies are emphasised by Goode sharing so many scenes with Ben Whishaw who gives an excellent portrayal of Sebastian as a tortured, tragic figure.
Emma Thompson excels in her interpretation of an ambivalent character, but it’s Hayley Atwell who surprises with her portrayal of Julia and the many changes that the character goes through.
And there are good supporting performances from Michael Gambon as Lord Marchmain who left because he couldn’t bear what his wife was doing to their children and Greta Scacchi as his mistress.
In its earlier, weaker stages, the film is pleasantly, if lazily, watchable because of the locations, sets, vintage cars, the splendour of Castle Howard which doubles for Brideshead as it did in the mini series.
But it’s much later that the film becomes watchable for more interesting reasons than the above-mentioned accessories, so to speak. It finally emerges as a good film but not the great one it should have been.

The first non-Bond Bond - **

The film’s poster could be promoting an American independent movie or a European arthouse film but it doesn’t look anything like you’d expect for a Bond film. It’s appropriate because Quantum of Solace bears only the slightest and most superficial resemblance to a Bond film.
If it can truly be considered as a Bond film at all, it’s as bad as Casino Royale was good.
The plot doesn’t matter as the film has been made for one thing alone- as producer Barbara Broccoli promised, the film has “twice as much action” as Casino Royale.
That promise turns out to be a threat because, as in the inferior action films which glut the market, the action has been chopped by someone suffering from an anxiety state so extreme that he cannot get his trembling hands to behave.
No shot lasts for longer than the time it takes for the eye to register it briefly and quickly. You can barely keep up with the onslaught of shots that rush by and you cannot follow what’s taking place. The camera seems to be in perpetual motion during the action and everything is fragmented into tiny bits and pieces.
This isn’t cinema. It looks terrible, absolutely terrible and it’s maddening and infuriating. Casino Royale successfully rebooted the franchise and promised a new and better one. This one caters for pre-teen boys.
The plot kicks in when the film is at an advanced stage and by then I had been assaulted by so much choppy action that I had lost my interest. It’s just as well since this is a very generic plot despite the many meaningless references to Vesper’s death in the previous film.
They’re all in the trailer but they only serve as an excuse for the action with the revenge-seeking Bond coming across an organisation that, posing as an environmentalist concern, destabilises governments for a hefty price.
After he kills an MI5 agent, M (Judi Dench) calls him in but he goes on the run and, joining the undercover agent Camille (Olga Kurylenko), he tries to find out the plans of an organisation leader, Dominic (Mathieu Amalric).
Quantum of Solace reduces Bond to the level of action movies made for those with an attention span deficiency. It’s very much like a bad imitation of one of the Bourne films, but played out at a frantic speed and with a bigger budget.
Looking much thinner, this time around, Daniel Craig’s Bond is the equivalent of an electrified rabbit for the dogs to chase. The character gets buried beneath the rubble of the destructive action.
None of the filmmakers have time or inclination for plot, characters, high style living, connoisseur drinking, bedding women, humour or wit. Clumsiness has replaced elegance and the film is as barren as the Bolivian desert that serves as the setting for the climactic action set piece.

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