Consider James Bond: liar, killer, rake, spy. What kind of man must he be in order to keep from having a complete mental breakdown? "Everything he touches withers and dies," observes his nemesis Dominic Greene (the wonderfully reptilian Mathieu Amalric). That's the problem that the franchise has been dodging for years, but in Quantum of Solace, the 22nd installment in the venerable series, the answer is just as exciting as anything else 007 has ever done.
The first hint we get that this isn't a conventional action movie comes when M (Judi Dench) first realizes that our hero has dispatched one of his enemies. "He's killed him," she yelps. Immediately, we cut from M's surprised face to Bond's placid one, Daniel Craig's cold blue eyes staring out at the world without pity or remorse. This guy, director Marc Forster wants us to know, is messed up.
To find out what messed him up, you have to watch Craig's first 007 flick, Casino Royale (which, 400 years ago, would have been called "The Lamentable Tragedy of James Bond"), but Quantum of Solace is about absolution, which Bond finds in his new fling, Camille (Olga Kurlyenko). Bond has had plenty of girls, but every other screenwriter has refused to make his paramours into kindred spirits, perhaps for fear of cracking Bond's shell and finding it empty.
In Paul Haggis' script for Quantum, Camille cracks into Bond, and within him she finds the hidden engine that drives him through so many spectacular chases-the film's opening car chase is worth the price of admission, and it's the least of the action highlights (the PG-13 rating is about right-teenagers will have fun here, and they won't see anything they haven't seen already).
"I don't think the dead care about revenge," Bond finally admits with that same emotionless frankness we saw at the beginning of the film, but by the time he's delivered the line, something has changed behind the chilly stare. There is, amazingly, solace waiting for Bond at the end of this movie. He's able to go on not because he's been damaged, but because he's been healed.