Agent of Change

Forster (pointing) and Craig (walking, in suit) on the set.Photo: Greg Williams

Here’s a flashback of how James Bond’s new director, Marc Forster, became one of Hollywood’s most committed liberals. At age “5 or 6,” he took a walk with his father, a conservative Swiss businessman who, he says, “used money as a replacement for love.” They paused by a river, into which his father’s pharmaceutical factory pumped waste, and Forster pointed downstream from the factory. “I said it like this,” says Forster softly: “‘Why are there no fish on this side, but so many on that side?’” His father looked upstream: “There are plenty on that side.”

“Enough fish on that side …” Forster repeats, spearing a forkful of salad, his shaved head and sharp cheekbones a stark contrast to his gentle voice. “It sort of sums up for me what the world is about. I always wanted to include that in a film—I just never found the right time.”

Don’t worry, Quantum of Solace (opening November 14) isn’t that time. No heavy-handed sentimentality has been imposed on Forster’s Bond, despite a résumé that makes the director arguably the unlikeliest choice to helm a Bond film: small-scale indie fare like the Oscar-winning Monster’s Ball, the melancholic Stranger Than Fiction, and the wistful Finding Neverland. “They said, ‘You’re more of an emotional storyteller,’” he recalls being told by Barbara Broccoli, who manages the franchise, “but I love action. The intent was to make this Bond relentless.” To wit, Agent 007 (played, we assume you remember, with an impeccable blend of sophistication and grit by Daniel Craig) is introduced mid-car-chase, in a gun battle at 90 mph, and he never slows down, hurtling across the screen in jet boats, planes, and the usual nifty cars.

Forster brags that his Quantum is “the most expensive Bond ever,” shot in the most locations ever—with twice as many stunts as its already hyperviolent predecessor, Casino Royale. Maybe that’s how he got away with making the franchise’s first subversive film.

Bond purists, beware: There’s no “Bond, James Bond” (“We shot it but it didn’t work”), no Miss Moneypenny or Q, no bad guy with a deformity (“Mathieu [Amalric] said, ‘Can’t I have a hook? A scar? Something?’”), and Bond only has sex once with one woman (“I wanted to show his pain”). Forster slipped in some more substantive critiques, too.

“It’s like I worked under this political regime with extreme censorship,” Forster plainly admits, describing his arrangement with Bond’s producers, the infamously controlling Broccoli family. “I had to subversively inject my ideas to make the movie my own.”

Forster has a frisky social conscience, and the Bond franchise has an outrageously politically incorrect history. It’s not just the racist caricatures of Caribbeans in Dr. No or the obvious objectification of women and rampant xenophobia in, well, almost every Bond film. It’s also the specific political parallels—the way that Bond reminds Forster of Dick Cheney. “I question the role that these Secret Service agencies play today—is their role really to protect the country? Or the interest of a few?” In Quantum, a secret syndicate takes MI6 entirely by surprise, revealing M to have intelligence as poor as Bush and Co.’s regarding 9/11.

Forster says agencies like Bond’s support “sites like Guantánamo, where torture is practiced, where there are no rules if the government considers you a threat.” His film heats up in Haiti “because the CIA created the changeover there, when companies wanted to jack up the minimum wage, and big American corporations didn’t like that” (a fact the film references). The action moves to South America because he saw “a documentary about water shortage in Bolivia.”

The evil syndicate in Forster’s film is a company called Green Planet. “Chevron is green now, Shell is green,” he says. “These big oil conglomerates all say, Green sells—let’s make money out of it.”

Most radical, Forster argues that “Bond isn’t a clear good guy—the villain and Bond overlap.” In fact, the director—never a Bond fanatic—is surprised that 007 has survived this long, “especially as a colonialist or imperialistic character. That’s why you have to put a dent in him, because those powers can’t survive. It’s the end of the American world power in the next few decades.”

In the meantime, there’s big, loud, gratuitously violent action flicks to ease the pain, which Forster happily delivers. Bond “obviously shouldn’t be political,” he says, adding that he declined an offer to film the next Bond. “You just can’t change the world with a movie like this. But you can throw some things in there.” Daniel Craig’s rock-hard pecs do sugar the pill.

Agent of Change