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The Bourne Supremacy
Fast-paced hopscotch spy game with a slate of in-your-face action
by Michael Koch on Aug 20, 2004
Two years ago, Universal Pictures sent an action-packed chill down audience's spines with a slick film version of the first installment of the late Robert Ludlum's Bourne trilogy, the The Bourne Identity. Directed by Doug Liman (Swingers) and featuring a towering, against-type performance by Matt Damon as the professional assassin Jason Bourne, the film pumped new life into the spy thriller genre, which appeared to have lost its most formidable targets in the post-cold war era, much like Rod Lurie's The Contender revived the political thriller at a time when the genre appeared to have gone the way of the Dodo.
True, The Bourne Identity is not without its flaws - the plot is little more than an excuse and a setup for its close-quarter fight sequences and a sensational car chase through Paris, and Bourne's love interest only exists so that the film's reticent loner hero has someone with whom to talk. But these shortcomings are more than made up for by Liman's ability to guide his audience through a web of intrigue without spelling out the more or less obvious, while challenging his cast to deliver some of their finest performances.
For The Bourne Supremacy, Liman passed the directorial baton to British filmmaker Paul Greengrass (Bloody Sunday) and assumed the more nebulous role of executive producer. The result is a film that looks and feels both familiar and fresh. Greenberg's locations have the same noir wintry look that distinguishes The Bourne Identity, his direction maintains the same aggressive style that audiences have come to expect from the Bourne franchise, and his use of handheld cameras, fast pans, and haunting, fragmented dream imagery lend an air of immediacy and realism to the unsettling, shadowy experiences that shape and drive Bourne's edgy, amnesiac existence and continuing search for his true identity.
At the end of The Bourne Identity, Jason Bourne (Matt Damon) walks away from the deadly world of Threadstone - a covert operation that spawned cold-blooded CIA assassins like him - with the promise of retaliation should anyone attempt to contact him again. He escapes to the sunny beaches of Greece to surprise his love interest and lifesaver, Marie (Franka Potente), fully aware that their relationship will be haunted by the ghosts of his past. When we catch up with them at the beginning of The Bourne Supremacy, the couple maintains an anonymous underground existence in the sleepy Indian state of Goa, fueled by Bourne's painful nightmares and haunted by a past he can't remember. But the peace and quiet of their uneasy existence comes to an abrupt end when a paid assassin, Kirill (Karl Urban), surfaces in town, leaving the couple no option but to run yet again. For Bourne, it is just the beginning of a complex cat-and-mouse game in which he finds himself framed by former allies and pitted against a determined CIA agent, Pamela Landy (Joan Allen), who likes to run things her way.
Like Liman, Greenberg doesn't pander to his audience. Instead, he and his writer, Tony Gilroy, plant the seeds of an intrigue and trust the viewers to connect the dots as Bourne hopscotches across Europe and Russia determined to make good on his promise. Greenberg's choice of locations and visual style mirrors the interior journey of the film's anti-hero and provides a formidable backdrop for Damon's chiseled facial features, reminiscent of the characters and settings in Jean-Pierre Melville's French noir classics. And the film's car chases are sure to raise the stakes for future action films in terms of impact and camera work. All in all, The Bourne Supremacy is a venerable addition to the Bourne franchise. Don't forget the popcorn.
by Michael Koch on Aug 20, 2004