' ' Cinema Romantico: The Supremacy of Jason Bourne

Thursday, August 02, 2007

The Supremacy of Jason Bourne

This weekend I will at long last end this two-week-plus movie theater exile, and thank God because I'm literally starting to freak out about it. (Can you imagine if I didn't have coffee for two-plus weeks? Same thing.) But I'm yearning to write something, anything, and so I'd like to address a film I loved, loved, loved since this blog wasn't in existence way back when I saw it the first time.

Namely, "The Bourne Supremacy" (which was the sequel to "The Bourne Identity") and which will be followed up by "The Bourne Ultimatum" which opens tomorrow.

For anyone not up to so-called speed, Matt Damon portrays a CIA-trained assassin named Jason Bourne. Oh yes, he's also an amnesiac who has no idea how he came to be a CIA-trained assassin and is desperate to, you know, determine his true identity even if it means getting involved with lots of action sequences and an obligatory love interest named Marie (the beguiling Franka Potente). I enjoyed the first one, I suppose. I enjoyed it more than most summer movies but it certainly didn't leave much of an imprint on me and I didn't find the need to think about it, really, past the stoplight in the parking lot of the theater.

But the second one. Oh me, oh my. I had one of the wonderful moments I dearly crave (and so rarely get) when I turned to Dan my fellow moviegoer midway through and said aloud, "Dan, I'm really enjoying this."

The first one, while not taking all that much time with its backstory, seemed more resolute in the task of Jason Bourne trying to figure out who he was. The sequel does not completely ignore this question but doesn't have as much time for it. This is good. Sequels so often fall victim to the More Of Everything! issue (look no further than the "Pirates of the Caribbean" trilogy). They've gotta' dial it up! Make everything bigger! But "The Bourne Supremacy" dials it down. It makes everything smaller. It's leaner. It's meaner. Oh, much meaner.

(SPOILER AHEAD!!! Although, let's be honest, the frickin' movie was in theaters 3 years ago. And besides, if you've seen the first one and not the second one and then you see the third one in theater you're going to notice the absence of a key character.)

As the movie opens, a CIA mission headed up by agent Pamela Landy (Joan Allen - I mean, Joan Allen in a summer action pic!) goes wrong as a means to frame the "off-the-grid" Bourne for murder. Meanwhile Bourne and Marie are hiding out in India and he is attempting to piece together his past in the dead of the night. Luckily, by the next morning the assassin responsible for the framing has already tracked them down and Bourne says they have to go. They do. And the chase is on. But as they make their escape, Marie takes a bullet. Dead. And the assassin thinks Bourne is dead, too. But he's not. And then it's on.

Straight-revenge, baby.

From here on out director Paul Greengrass crafts one of the greatest actions movie I have ever encountered. The way he shoots it is brilliant, just brilliant. Lots and lots and lots of quick cuts - a pile-driving camera, if you will - which rachets up the intensity in sequence after sequence to almost unbearable levels. And yet with all this jumping around you're NEVER confused as to what's happening.

For instance, take the scene where Bourne has come to Germany to track down the CIA operation on the prowl for him. He finds where Landy is staying, figures out where the operation is, takes his high-powered rifle, climbs to the roof of the building next door to the operation, trains his rifle on Landy, and calls her. He wants to come in, he claims. He wants a girl he knows to bring him in - a girl from the first movie (Julia Stiles). "I don't know if we can find her," says Landy. "That should be easy," replies Bourne. "She's standing right next to you."

Sweet Jesus, what a sequence. The editing, the way it's put together. It's beyond thrilling. It's action-packed and yet nary a bullet is fired. Nary a punch is thrown. Nary a thing is blown up. It's called FILMMAKING.

And it just continues to escalate. It paces itself.

Typical Summer Movie Director: "Pacing? I'm not familiar with this word."
Cinema Romantico: "Yeah, you probably wouldn't be, would you?"

The sequence in the city square where Bourne is one step ahead of everyone. Again, no gunshots and no explosions but more exciting than any movie that uses dozens, if not hundreds, of the items just mentioned. And the car chase at the end which - as any movie car chase does - probably owes some debt to "The French Connection", though that doesn't stop it from being arguably the finest action setpeice I've seen thus far this decade.

But what about all the other cars? What about the many, many innocent victims? Oh, Christ. If that's your complaint then it should be nothing but documentaries for you.

Can "The Bourne Ultimatum" live up to the pulse-pounding thrill (and joy) ride that was "The Bourne Supremacy"? I don't know. It'll be tough. But I have faith in both Greengrass and Damon.

Greengrass said this in an interview regarding the new movie: "I always remember from Supremacy when he uses the magazine in the fight, and that's all it is - just a magazine." Everyone else can have as much CGI as they want. I'll take Jason Bourne and a magazine.


Wretched Genius said...

I'm in 100% agreement.

In fact, the day after I saw "Supremacy" I dragged my whole family to the theater so they could watch it, too.

Rory Larry said...

I too agree, although I don't think "Identity" was forgettable. I think "Bourne Identity" was brilliant, its why I went to see the sequel with such enthusiasm and I actually remember it more fondly than "Supremacy".