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'Quantum': Plenty Of Action, Just Not Bond's Kind

Critic David Edelstein says the new Bond film makes plenty of noise — just not the seductive kind. Actor Daniel Craig, though, holds things together nicely enough.

05:59

Other segments from the episode on November 14, 2008

Fresh Air with Terry Gross, November 14, 2008: Interview with Don Byron; Review of the James Bond film "Quantum of solace."

Transcript

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Still Setting Standards: Don Byron At 50

DAVE DAVIES, host:

This is Fresh Air. I'm Dave Davies, senior writer for the Philadelphia Daily News, filling in for Terry Gross. We're celebrating the 50th birthday of a composer and clarinetist whose music we've played a lot on Fresh Air, Don Byron. The Manhattan club the Jazz Standard is celebrating his birthday with a series of concerts. Byron is always full of surprises. He first became known for playing the Jewish pop known as klezmer music, which baffled a lot of people since Byron is African-American.

Then, he became known for a mix of original compositions and new interpretations of music by jazz greats, like Lester Young and Duke Ellington, as well as pop, funk, and hip-hop performers like Herb Alpert, Earth, Wind & Fire, Sly Stone, the Sugar Hill Gang and Junior Walker. In 1999, when Byron was voted clarinetist of the year for the eighth straight time in the Down Beat readers' poll, the accompanying article said, the current that runs through Byron's work is the rediscovery of America. We're going to hear excerpts from several of his interviews, but let's start with a tune from a performance he gave with his band in our studio back in 1997. This tune, "Frasquita Serenade," was composed by Franz Lehar, who wrote operettas.

(Soundbite of WHYY's Fresh Air, January 23, 1997)

(Soundbite of song "Frasquita Serenade")

DAVIES: That was "Frasquita Serenade," performed by Don Byron's Bug Music Ensemble, recorded in our studio in 1997. We'll hear more of the concert later. First, in 1990, Terry spoke to Byron about klezmer music. When he was studying at the New England Conservatory of Music, Byron was a founding member of the Klezmer Conservatory Band and later formed his own klezmer group. Let's begin with a recording of Mickey Katz's "Wedding Dance."

(Soundbite of WHYY's Fresh Air, June 6, 1990)

(Soundbite of song "Wedding Dance")

TERRY GROSS: What are some of the reactions you've gotten when people have seen you, a black musician, playing klezmer music?

Mr. DON BYRON (Jazz Clarinetist): Well, it's different now than it was when I first started playing with the Klezmer Conservatory Band. I mean, the Klezmer Conservatory Band, I mean, that was pure shock. When I first started playing with them, I used to wear this big hat and everybody thought I was wearing this big hat because I was trying to look like a religious Jewish person. I was wearing this hat because I didn't want to see the first five minutes of people checking me out and not being able to believe that I was up there. These days, people pretty much, you know, their shock is done while they're reading the paper. They already know who I am, who I'm going to be, what I'm going to look like before they get there, so it's not so bad.

GROSS: Tell me what you like and what you didn't like about klezmer music when you started to play it.

Mr. BYRON: Well, I mean, I'm very objective about music, and that's one of my main principles in life, is to be objective about music. I heard some klezmer tunes that I like and some that I didn't like, and what I liked about them is pretty much the same things that I like about all of the music, is a certain level of innovation, of avante-garde-ness, of whatever you want to call it, that I look for in music and I've been able to find in all of the different genres that I've studied or played actively. And I heard that in klezmer, and once I heard that, that's what I wanted to do, was go to that end of the music.

GROSS: How do you think of your approach as a band leader compares with the approach of the Klezmer Conservatory Band?

Mr. BYRON: I think that Klezmer Conservatory Band was relatively staved compared to the way, certainly, I conduct myself on stage. And my attitude towards the music is pro-weirdness and pro-fun. Mickey Katz in particular is very pro-weird and very pro-fun.

GROSS: Tell me why you've been playing so much Mickey Katz lately.

Mr. BYRON: Mickey Katz, to me, was the most advanced klezmer musician in a lot of ways. And I think his talent really got obscured partially because of the whole comedy aspect, which, I guess, a lot of musicians who really focus on being funny and being entertaining - like Louis Armstrong, Dizzy Gillespie, Rahsaan Roland Kirk - a lot of times, people tend to be miss what musically is actually coming out. Mickey Katz had the strongest band maybe ever, and the musicians in the band were actually studio-level jazz musicians who were Jewish-American musicians who, even though they had total mastery of jazz or whatever, they still made time to play klezmer music and played it extremely well.

DAVIES: Don Byron speaking with Terry Gross recorded in 1990. More after a break. This is Fresh Air.

(Soundbite of music)

DAVIES: This is Fresh Air. We're listening back to interviews and music from clarinetist Don Byron. Let's get back to the 1997 concert and interview Terry recorded with Byron after the release of his CD, "Bug Music." We'll be hearing his performance of the Duke Ellington song, "Dicty Glide."

(Soundbite of WHYY's Fresh Air, January 23, 1997)

GROSS: I want you all to do another song for us, and this is actually a vocal featured on the record called "Wondering Where." Tell us why you wanted to include this on your record.

Mr. BYRON: I think because it kind of refers to a more kind of black entertainment head space, kind of like almost a - five guys named Moe, type of straighten up and fly right, slim and slim. That's the music that my parents grew up with. It gives me that feeling, and it's fun.

GROSS: And before we hear it, why don't you just take a second to introduce all the members of the band?

Mr. BYRON: All right, solid. On piano, Uri Caine. Our vocalist is Dean Bowman. Steve Alcott on bass. Richie Schwarz on drums. Bob DeBellis is playing alto and tenor saxophones. And Charlie Lewis is playing trumpet. All right.

Mr. RICHIE SCHWARZ: (Snapping) One, two, one, two, uh-uh-uh.

(Soundbite of song "The Dicty Glide")

Mr. DEAN BOWMAN: (Singing)
Wondering where you can be, me and the moon, ah.
Moaning for your company. You seem to stray far.
No use of hiding behind the star.

I want you to know how really mean you are.
Mama, I only have asked for you.
If that ain't enough, it will have to do.

Gazing through a hazy light, me and the moon will
Miss you on the summer nights.
Oh, baby won't you hold me tight.

(Unintelligible). You will be gone.
(Unintelligible) jumps up and I'll be alone,
Wondering where you can be with me.

Gazing through a hazy light - everybody! - me and the moon will
Miss you on the summer nights - louder!
Oh, baby won't you hold me tight.

(Unintelligible) You will be gone.
(Unintelligible) jumps up and I'll be alone,
Wondering why you can't be with me.

GROSS: Well, that was great. Dean, thank you for singing that. Did you ever hear the recording before Don Byron asked you to sing it on the record?

Mr. BOWMAN: I did. Don turned me onto it, and we weren't sure what the lyrics were, and we kind of worked that out.

Mr. BYRON: Dean is one of the only brothers my age who I could call, who could get up in that vibe. You know what I mean? Like, that's like casting. You know, like I read all this Stanislavski stuff...

(Soundbite of laughter)

Mr. BYRON: And you know what I mean? You've got to cast, you know, you ain't going to get Joe Gray to play no, you know, big, macho, action-film, punch-'em-out - you know what I mean? You've got to get the right cats.

GROSS: Don, have you had to transcribe the music from the records?

Mr. BYRON: Yeah.

GROSS: Is that hard to do?

Mr. BYRON: It depends. Because see - if you're talking about a 78 and it's in really bad condition and you have it on a CD, if it's recorded digitally, you can turn it up and turn it up and it won't distort. But even with that, you have the basic scratchy sound, and so a lot of times, the inner parts - the only way to really get to them is to listen at deafening volumes. And I think a lot of people on a transcription vibe tend to guess, and I try not to do that. I tried to like actually be able to follow a part along in space.

GROSS: Well, your new album, "Bug Music," has music by John Kirby, whose music we've been listening to, Raymond Scott, whose music we're about to move into, and Raymond Scott did a lot of music that was used on the Warner Brothers' "Looney Tunes."

Mr. BYRON: Yeah, not in his versions, but by a big...

GROSS: By Carl Sterling's...

Mr. BYRON: Carl Sterling...

GROSS: Yeah.

Mr. BYRON: Basically, studio orchestra.

GROSS: So, how did you find this music? Was it through watching cartoons or in another way?

Mr. BYRON: Well, I had heard, like most Americans or most people around the world - I mean, you can go to, you know, Bali, you probably can hear these tunes - but I had heard a lot of these tunes on those cartoons. And then, you know, a few years ago, some cats started reissuing the original performances, which are really different, you know, they're small group.

GROSS: Don, you want to say anything else about this before we hear it, about the arrangement, about what drew you to it?

Mr. BYRON: "The Penguin"?

GROSS: Yeah.

Mr. BYRON: "The Penguin" is one of the most famous tunes in the world. I mean, it's one of the ones that anybody who's seen the cartoon will recognize. So, that's probably one big thing.

GROSS: Do you remember the cartoon that went along with this?

Mr. BYRON: Usually when he was - somebody was drunk...

(Soundbite of laughter)

Mr. BYRON: Knocked out, just got hit with an anvil, you know, something like that.

(Soundbite of laughter)

Mr. BYRON: What'd you say? I don't know - you know, you're kind of wobbly, that kind of vibe.

GROSS: All right. This is Don Byron and his Bug Music ensemble.

Mr. BYRON: Uh-oh. Bug Music Ensemble.

Mr. BOWMAN: There it is.

Mr. BYRON: There it is.

(Soundbite of laughter)

Mr. SCHWARZ: (Snapping) One, two. One, two, ready.

(Soundbite of song "The Penguin")

GROSS: Yeah. That was great. That's music by Raymond Scott, performed by Don Byron and his Bug Music Ensemble. I find it so interesting that you always are both very much rooted in the present and very much looking back into the past of jazz. How did you first start going back into the past? What got you there?

Mr. BYRON: Well, you know, I used to have this phobia of the past. And my father was a big fan of Charlie Chaplin. I could never watch Charlie Chaplin; I mean, he made my flesh crawl for hours on end.

(As Mr. Donald Byron, Sr.) Look at that tramp, Donald.

And I'd be like, no, because I felt like I was looking at dead people. This was my phobia. I mean, I'm really getting Freudian here.

(Soundbite of laughter)

Mr. BYRON: And I had kind of come into music thinking that what I was going to do was new music. You know, I wanted - I probably told you at one point I fantasized about being in an orchestra that only played new music, you know, like Pierre Boulez has, something like that. And I think it was probably working on some Hot Five, Hot Seven stuff...

GROSS: Armstrong.

Mr. BYRON: Yeah - and the klezmer stuff, and Beiderbecke and early Ellington, that really kind of broke that phobia. And nobody was into that at the time, when I was in school, and you know, I knew all these cats, like Donald Harrison and Jean Toussaint, you know, all these, like, first wave of like young Blakey-ite cats, and they weren't into that. They were into, you know, Wayne Shorter and John Coltrane, and I was into that, too. I just had this little other thing.

DAVIES: Clarinetist and composer Don Byron with Terry Gross recorded in 1997. His ensemble included Charles Lewis, trumpet; Robert DeBellis, tenor saxophone; Uri Caine, piano; Steve Alcott, bass; and Richie Schwarz, drums. We'll hear more of Byron's life and music in the second half of the show. I'm Dave Davies and this is Fresh Air.

(Soundbite of music)

DAVIES: This is Fresh Air. I'm Dave Davies filling in for Terry Gross. Don Byron is a clarinetist, saxophonist, composer and arranger, and a musician of remarkable range. He's an African-American who grew up in the South Bronx and first made his name in klezmer music. He's also written and performed classical, salsa, hip-hop, rhythm-&-blues and a wide variety of jazz styles. Byron is celebrating his 50th birthday with a series of concerts at the Jazz Standard in New York, featuring many of the different musicians he's played with over the years. We're listening back to music and interviews he's recorded with Terry. Here they are in 2005, after the release of Byron's album, "Ivey-Divey," in which he pays homage to Lester Young.

(Soundbite of WHYY's Fresh Air, February 21, 2005)

GROSS: Now, on that latest CD "Ivey-Divey," you play in a silent way from the Miles Davis album of the same name. And in the first part of this track, although the saxophonist on this record is Wayne Shorter, I think you sound really Coltrane-ish. You sound like you're doing John Coltrane on clarinet. I mean, there's this kind of like a big, mystical, ascending sound, and it's a kind of sound you don't usually hear on clarinet. It's a kind of a playing you don't usually hear on clarinet.

Mr. BYRON: Oh, well, thank you. But you know, that is what I've been trying to do on clarinet all along. So, maybe I've just finally achieved it. I think the edge and a lot of the content - both harmonic and spiritual content - of the '60s and '70s really had passed the clarinet by and it's been my intent to put that on the instrument, and it's not the hardest thing to do, because playing like Coltrane is really - it's technically ridiculous on clarinet, which is why not too many people attempt it.

GROSS: Why is it technically ridiculous on clarinet?

Mr. BYRON: Well, just for example - I mean, I'll take the clarinet out here. There are certain basic woodwind fingerings that go on every instrument, and most woodwind instruments will give you a few octaves of that. But the same fingering on clarinet in the lowest register gives you a B natural, gives you an F sharp in the next register, gives you a D sharp in the next register, gives you an A flat in the next register, and gives you a D natural in the next register. And none of them are octaves. None of those intervals are octaves. And so that every time you reach a new register, you're actually - you know, as a clarinet player, you don't really think of it.

But when you try to really, harmonically flesh out the instrument, you realize that there's a different fingering system for every register. It'd be like every time you got to an octave on the piano and you hit a C, it didn't mean a C the next time. It meant some other note. So, you just have to be incredibly well-practiced in your playing of scales to really deal with that. And that's why most clarinetists usually play in the middle register and not too much on the low register and not too much on a high register, because that's the register where normal woodwind fingerings apply.

GROSS: On saxophone, are the fingerings the same in every octave?

Mr. BYRON: In every register and even the higher registers, the altissimo, the extreme high registers can all be fingered with those same fingerings. There's other fingerings that are more advantageous in terms of the stability of the notes, but in terms of the overtone series speaking in a normal way, you can pretty much play those fingerings up and down the instrument.

GROSS: Do you want to say anything else about your version of "In a Silent Way" before we play it?

Mr. BYRON: I think it's actually the place where I sound the most like Lester Young, especially once the groove gets started and - you know, Lester Young used to love to play things like...

(Soundbite of clarinet)

Mr. BYRON: He would - he would create kind of a sequence of intervals that he'd play repeatedly down a scale or up a scale, and the rhythms would usually cross so that the first time he played it, it would be on a beat, the second time he played it, would be off the beat, and it would come back on. And I do a lot of those kinds of motivic things that he used to like to do with scales.

GROSS: So, why don't we play some of the Coltrane-ish part and then hear part of the second part of the piece which is the more Lester Youngish part? How's that sound?

Mr. BYRON: Mm-hm. OK.

GROSS: And this is Don Byron, "In a Silent Way" from his latest album, "Ivey-Divey."

(Soundbite of song "In a Silent Way")

GROSS: That's Don Byron on clarinet from his latest CD, "Ivey-Divey." Now, I read that one of the reasons why you studied clarinet is that you had asthma and your parents thought if you studied an instrument, a wood instrument, it would help your asthma. That's very counterintuitive; you would think that a woodwind instrument or any - or a brass instrument that forced you to blow would be bad for a kid with asthma because their breath might be impaired during certain periods. So, how did that work out for you? Was it a help or was it a problem?

Mr. BYRON: It was a help, except for I still have asthma. So, like, it didn't really work out the way that we wanted it to. It didn't eradicate my asthma. I mean, swimming and playing a wind instrument at the time were the things that were considered - the wise things to get a kid to do. I had no talent in swimming whatsoever, couldn't even float - can't even float. So, it was - of the two choices - and I guess it had been the clarinet because my uncle had owned a clarinet that the family had held onto for many years. And so by the time it was time for me to study clarinet, you know, there was this wooden, you know, nice, kind of German-made clarinet that played pretty well and I played it almost into high school. So, I think, partially, the reason that I chose the instrument was because there was a good instrument floating around.

GROSS: How old were you when you started playing clarinet?

Mr. BYRON: Seven or eight, something like that.

GROSS: When you were studying classical clarinet as a kid, what did you envision for your future? Did you think that you would be in an orchestra, you know, in a classical orchestra?

Mr. BYRON: Well, I thought about that, but I'd never seen that and...

GROSS: You had never seen an orchestra or never saw a...

Mr. BYRON: No, I'd never seen a black musician in any of the orchestras that I'd ever seen. You know, I'd seen - by the time I left high school, I'd seen the city ballet. You know, I'd seen all the orchestras in New York. I'd never seen a black musician in the woodwind section of any of those orchestras ever. And I still haven't, you know what I mean? And that's with, you know, lots of black clarinet players and black flute players who've come through all the conservatory stuff and have tried to make it in New York. I still have not seen that. I've seen a Puerto Rican clarinet player who played in the Metropolitan Opera who's very good, but I haven't seen an African-American clarinet player play in one of those gigs. So, on the one hand, I would say, yeah, I kind of had that hope. On the other hand, you know, I had never really seen anybody do that.

GROSS: So, when you started getting serious about making music your life, what did you think you were going to do with that if you couldn't be - if you were training for classical music, but you couldn't imagine yourself actually getting a job in an orchestra, because no one had ever given such a position to an African-American musician before in the orchestra's you'd seen, where do you think you were heading?

Mr. BYRON: I didn't really know. And, you know, when I left the schools in New York, which I had had my fill of to go to Boston...

GROSS: To the New England Conservatory of Music.

Mr. BYRON: To the New England Conservatory. At that time, I think I wanted to - my heroes in music were guys who were Latin arrangers. You know, I had come out of watching the salsa scene of the '70s quite intently. And there were two Latin arrangers - Louie Cruz and Luis "Perico" Ortiz - and those guys were my compositional idols. And what I wanted to be was an arranger for the Fania.

GROSS: Really?

Mr. BYRON: I wanted to write arrangements for, you know, recording artist on Fania Records. That's what I wanted to be when I grew up. And so by the time I got to Boston, I could play piano in a group, I could write charts, and I walked in by accident to a rehearsal studio within a month of getting there and just started playing piano in a band and writing charts for all the bands that came through the rehearsal studio, you know. And that's where I met Edsel Gomez and some of the people that are in Six Musicians now. I met them in that period.

GROSS: Since we've been talking about classical music and your classical training, I thought we could play your interpretation of a Puccini aria, "Nessun Dorma," which you recorded on your album, "A Fine Line." Do you want to talk about...

Mr. BYRON: I wish you would play the last cut on there from "The Larghetto," from the (unintelligible).

GROSS: OK. Will do. Will do. Tell me why you want to hear that.

Mr. BYRON: That I love.

GROSS: OK.

Mr. BYRON: That's my favorite thing that I've recorded like that.

GROSS: Tell me why.

Mr. BYRON: Because it really sounds - it really has the phrasing of Arthur Rubinstein. It really has - it really shows an absorption of that. You know, it really shows that passion, you know? You know, like, when I came out with klezmer music, people say, how can he sound Jewish? But to me, sounding Jewish was just another way of sounding European. You know, Jewish music is just another European kind of music, and I really related it mostly to stuff like Faber(ph), which is just kind of very - kind of melodramatic kind of classical music. But really, what I work at when I'm playing all these different kinds of European music is my feeling about playing European music. And I would say Arthur Rubinstein and Pablo Casals and all of these guys that like I checked out when I was in high school - just trying to be a straight up classical player, they've had a lot of impact on the way that I play.

GROSS: OK. Well, why don't we hear it? This is from Don Byron's CD, "A Fine Line."

(Soundbite of song "Larghetto")

DAVIES: That's music from Chopin, interpreted by clarinetist Don Byron, from his CD, "A Fine Line." More with Don Byron after our break. This is Fresh Air.

(Soundbite of music)

DAVIES: We're listening back to music and interviews Terry recorded with clarinetist and composer Don Byron. Terry last spoke with Byron in 2006 after the release of his CD, "Do the Boomerang," featuring songs from saxophonist Junior Walker. She asked him why he wanted to do an album of Junior Walker tunes.

(Soundbite of WHYY's Fresh Air, November 1, 2006)

Mr. BYRON: I had always been a fan of Junior Walker's music, and I had never really had any way of really understanding it other than I liked it. And quite a few years ago as I was moving through various phases, I discovered black Gospel religion and culture and found that a lot of the music that had happened in the 20th century was pretty much coming out of that, and in my exploration, I kind of figured out where he was coming from that a lot of the mannerisms that he was using, if you want to call them mannerisms, or really, gospelisms(ph), and they came out of the singing and preaching of the black church.

GROSS: You think of yourself as having been influenced by Lee Strasberg, the great actor who is also famous for teaching The Method, and you said that it gave you the idea that you could change yourself musically the way an actor changes for different roles. And I was wondering how deep that change goes. I mean, when you change yourself musically, is it just the music that's changing, or are you changing other things? Like in a performance, do you behave differently on stage? Do you dress differently? And when you're home working through different periods or different styles of music, do you find your own personality changing during that period?

Mr. BYRON: Wow, that's yet another super-provocative question of yours. I would say, for the most part, no, but in this particular case, you know, getting to a place where I could play Junior Walker's music meant really dealing with gospel blues in the way that was very personal. I don't think I could've gotten to this music without embracing some of the boundless hope of gospel music. And I think, to do this project, I had to have some kind of epiphany about the structure of my religious beliefs. And in that way, it's a much bigger change than playing, say, klezmer music where, you know, there was never any kind of feeling when I was playing klezmer music that I wasn't like the same person, like a Christian person from the Bronx. But then as I said, the whole mentality around embracing this culture is a big change for me.

GROSS: Well, Don Bryon, great to talk with you again. Thanks a lot for talking with us.

Mr. BRYON: Well, thank you, Terry.

DAVIES: Don Byron with Terry Gross in 2006. Let's hear "Ain't That the Truth" with Don Bryon on tenor saxophone.

(Soundbite of song "Ain't That the Truth")

DAVIES: Don Byron celebrates his 50th birthday this weekend with a series of concerts featuring a variety of styles and different performers he's worked with over the years. They're at the Jazz Standard in New York. Coming up, David Edelstein on the new James Bond film. This is Fresh Air.
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..PGRM:
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..TIME:
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..NTWK:
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"Quantum": Plenty of Action, Just Not Bond's Kind

DAVE DAVIES, host:

You may have noticed there is a new James Bond movie opening this week. It's called "Quantum of Solace," and it stars Daniel Craig, who scored such a hit in "Casino Royale." "Quantum of Solace" picks up where that movie left off. The new Bond is directed by Marc Forster, who made such non-action movies as "Monster's Ball" and "The Kite Runner." Film critic David Edelstein has a review.

DAVID EDELSTEIN: "Quantum of Solace" opens in mid-car chase, which wouldn't be so bad if at any given instant you could tell whose car was on what side of the windy road. The art-house refugee director, Marc Forster, doesn't edit together the jolting close-ups with any fluidity. You only know the chase is over because something blows up. This is followed by the credit sequence, and a song called "Another Way to Die," a non-fusion of Jack White's caterwauls and Alicia Keys' breathy soul stylings that's the worst Bond theme ever.

After a start like that, it's a tribute to the film that it's pretty exciting. In part, that's because Daniel Craig is a great, edgy Bond, with blue eyes so cold they chill and burn at once. His first Bond film, "Casino Royale," was a romantic tragedy. This one is darker. It's about the impossibility of accomplishing anything noble if you have to work within the system - stopping short of "The Dark Knight," the biggest popcorn-movie downer of all time, but not by much. Our next president might instill in us "The Audacity of Hope" and end the age of pessimistic superhero movies. But for now, we must rely on the hope of our heroes' audacity.

In "Quantum of Solace," 007 is an outsider who can trust no one. The British government and the CIA look the other way while a shadowy, multi-tentacled criminal enterprise installs a murderous general as Bolivia's president in return for rights to the country's natural resources. That the slippery baddie, played by Mathieu Amalric, works under the guise of an environmentalist is the ultimate insult. The plunderers have appropriated the vocabulary of the saviors. Against this, Bond is icily single-minded. To hell with protocol and Judi Dench's M, who insists he's motivated by revenge over the death of his "Casino Royale" love, Vesper.

(Soundbite of movie "Quantum of Solace")

Dame JUDI DENCH: (As M) You look like hell. When was the last time you slept? Vesper's boyfriend, Yusuf Cabirra(ph), the one who was abducted in Morocco, the one she was trying to save, his body was washed up on the beach in the Ibiza. His wallet and ID were in his pocket.

Mr. DANIEL CRAIG: (As James Bond) Well, that's convenient.

DBE DENCH: (As M) Quite. Which is why I did a DNA check on a lock of his hair found in Vesper's apartment. It's not him.

Mr. CRAIG: (As James Bond) A lock of his hair? I wouldn't have thought Vesper the sentimental type.

DBE DENCH: (As M) We never really know anyone, do we? But I do need to know, Bond. I need to know that I can trust you.

Mr. CRAIG: (As James Bond) And you don't?

DBE DENCH: (As M) Well, it'd be a pretty cold bastard who didn't want revenge for the death of someone he loved.

Mr. CRAIG: (As James Bond) You don't have to worry about me. I'm not going to go chasing him. He's not important, and neither was she.

EDELSTEIN: I love Dame Judi's exquisite deadpan. Her scowl contains multitudes. But I'm not sure how I feel about M as a scolding mother who dispatches agents to waylay her prodigal son and is quietly pleased when he eludes them. What a cynical message. M has become another in a line of movie and TV authority figures who tacitly say, do what we both know is right, but I won't back you up; I'll put obstacles in your path. Well, at least they're thrilling obstacles.

"Quantum of Solace" is deliriously convoluted, one scene hurtling ingeniously into the next, as Bond's impulsiveness and calculation work in tandem. If the action had any wit, the movie might have been as crackerjack-ed as "Casino Royale." The screenwriters - Paul Haggis, Neal Purvis and Robert Wade - take their cues from two of the best Bonds, "From Russia with Love" and "Goldfinger," but the differences are telling. The damaged-goods 007 doesn't even put the moves on the Bond girl, Olga Kurylenko, a tall drink of latte also driven by revenge. This left at least one male viewer in need of a cold shower. The other, related difference is the absence of catharsis. Such villains as Robert Shaw and Harold Sakata had classic comeuppances, whereas the "Quantum" villains meet their fates off screen.

Craig holds it all together. My heart sank a bit when his Bond professed neither to know nor care if what he was drinking was shaken or stirred. Sean Connery's Bond was every bit as masculine-hard, but could still reel off Bordeaux vintages. Craig embodies the new, anti-elitist Bond, the unstable toughie in a world of ever-shifting alliances, a world of neither queens nor super-villains. He looks splendid in a tux, but he's not at home in it; he's in his element when shirtless, his chest and arms so engorged he can barely sit straight. It's the body of a brooding obsessive, humorless, friendless, forsaken. He's the first Bond whose psyche is a source of suspense and the first who makes us think he needs more sex.

DAVIES: David Edelstein is film critic for New York Magazine. For Terry Gross, I am Dave Davies.
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Transcripts are created on a rush deadline, and accuracy and availability may vary. This text may not be in its final form and may be updated or revised in the future. Please be aware that the authoritative record of Fresh Air interviews and reviews are the audio recordings of each segment.

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