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Quantum of Solace: New Bond Film an Enviro Thriller?

The scary fact is that the plot of the new Bond film is eerily true and an environmental nightmare.

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Two of the biggest and most aggressive players in the world water market are the French companies Veolia and Suez. The casting of a leading French actor, Mathieu Almaric, as the creepy Greene seems like more than a coincidence, especially given the film's large European and Asian audiences who have direct experience with those water titans. U.S. audiences won't get the association, alas, and will simply view Greene as generic Eurotrash in the mold of Mads Mikkelsen in Casino Royale and Klaus Maria Brandauer in Never Say Never Again.

The tentacles of rapacious, ruthless profiteering do extend to the U.K. and the U.S. in Quantum of Solace, but you have to be alert to spot them. Greene's hidden network of investors and partners reaches all the way to a British minister's office, a detail meant to illustrate the obstacles Bond's MI6 intelligence service faces in thwarting the plot. But it also raises the specter (pun intended) of Thames Water, the British giant that made a few notorious and ill-advised forays into the U.S. market, notably in Stockton, California.

The American interests are represented by a rogue CIA agent secretly in Greene's employ, but the knowledgeable viewer won't be put off by that smokescreen. In devising Greene's ambitious stratagem, the screenwriters would seem to have been inspired by the machinations of Texas oilman T. Boone Pickens, who recently bought 200,000 acres above the Ogallala Aquifer with the long-term goal of pumping and piping its water to Dallas and El Paso.

Pickens, like Thames and Veolia and any other company that aspires to control a municipality's water supply, needs a lot of friends (paid or otherwise) in city councils, state legislatures and the courts. This low-key, largely unseen band of accomplices likewise has its shadowy parallel in Quantum of Solace.

In previous Bond films, the chief bad guy typically commanded a well-paid army of thugs and scientists. Dominic Greene has no such strength in numbers, at least not that we see. But in lieu of battalions of uniformed minions, Greene has infiltrated every key office—even MI6—and has a confederate in place. It's an understated but cutting metaphor for the curiously large number of public officials under the sway of the private water companies.

The key reveal in Quantum of Solace, from a water standpoint, is the choice of Bolivia as the flashpoint for Greene's scam. It was Cochabamba, in Bolivia, where arguably the most concerted and unflinching protest ever against water privatization took place in 2000.

The World Bank had impelled the city to lease its public water system to a private company; the newly installed Bechtel subsidiary then jacked up the rates. Without the immeasurable benefit of a superspy, the people of Cochabamba refused to back down, eventually forcing Bechtel to bail out.

Cochabamba's citizens are now part of the annals of global people-powered democracy. For all the good James Bond does in Bolivia in Quantum of Solace, working up a sweat and a thirst dispatching a ruthless egomaniac bent on upsetting the world order, he's doesn't attain their level of heroism.

Michael Fox is a San Francisco-based film critic and journalist, and the co-author with Alan Snitow and Deborah Kaufman of "Thirst: Fighting the Corporate Theft of Our Water" (2007).

 
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