The Bourne Supremacy

star2 star1 halfstar

Director: Paul Greengrass

Writers: Robert Ludlum (the book) & Tony Gilroy (the screenplay)

Main Cast:

Matt Damon – Jason Bourne
Franka Potente – Marie
Brian Cox – Ward Abbott
Julia Stiles – Nicky
Karl Urban – Kirill
Gabriel Mann – Danny Zorn
Joan Allen – Pamela Landy
Marton Csokas – Jarda
Tom Gallop – Tom Cronin

Running time: 108 Minutes

Rating: PG-13

Year of Release: 2004 

To sum up: Former spy, Jason Bourne, just wants to live the quiet life; if only the spy world would let him leave it behind. At least that’s what I think is happening since someone can’t hold the camera still!

“You told me I had one month off.”
“You told me Jason Bourne was dead.”

        Jason Bourne (Matt Damon), a former assassin for the U.S. government, is living alone with Marie (Franka Portente), his lady love. Having essentially told his former CIA bosses that if they leave him alone, he’ll leave them alone, he hopes to pass his years hidden from the world. Someone else has a different idea. A group of baddies perform an assassination and strategically leave a fingerprint of Jason’s to make it appear that he pulled the job. The CIA, therefore, goes after him and Jason is forced out of hiding with his former bosses and the real bad guys both gunning for him. But rather than run, Jason plays it unexpectedly bold and brings the fight to them.

         So begins the fun in the interesting follow up to the film The Bourne Identity. And while it is a complex and potentially intriguing film, I can’t bring myself to recommend it due to the convoluted technical production.

         There are many interesting aspects to the film. One is the fascinating, high-tech spy world; presented here as a hard-edged profession. Matt Damon and his costars all carry a professionalism about them that makes it feel as if these people could actually do this in the real world. Damon looks sufficiently fit and comes across as an expert at killing people (I wonder if he gets to win all the arguments between him and Ben Affleck). Joan Allen and Brain Cox both have the feel of government professionals down.

         Another is the believability that Damon brings his character. It helps that the type of character he plays is highly sympathetic. We all know what it’s like to want to be left alone and just live our lives. Then along comes some “boss” and demands that we go to work. The film also gets our empathy by having Bourne be enough of a badass that he can show the “bosses” just what he thinks of that idea. We would all love to do that. As Homer Simpson said, “Kill my boss? Do I dare live out the American dream?” Damon injects his character with a quiet non-talky personality. This makes it easier for the audience to relate to him. He always manages to seem like a regular guy (who just happens to have the ability to kill everyone in the room).

         Although the plot is fairly straightforward in its execution, there are enough twists, turns, and surprises to keep us engaged beyond the basic chase picture structure that this film essentially is. With Jason caught in the middle of several people all looking to get him, the fact that he is able to keep his head above water long enough to figure out what’s going on is pretty surprising.

         All of those things taken together would make this an enjoyable little thriller. But there is one thing that nearly sinks the whole thing. That is the execution.

         If I understand semi-correctly, quantum physics teaches us that at the molecular level, electrons buzz around a nucleus not like mini planets, but more like a hazy cloud. The electrons exist everywhere at once, making the act of observing them very difficult. Indeed, if one is able to catch sight of an electron, it is usually accidental. That’s what the film’s action scenes are like. The result of the editing creates a jumble of images flying past the eye so fast that if one is able to catch sight of one and glean a bit of coherency from it, it is quite accidental. We now have the world’s first Quantum Mechanics film.

         In the first Bourne film, the fight scenes were edited in a similar fashion, very short images cut together to produce a quick, staccato paced action set piece. But they let the visuals play long enough so we were able to follow the action. For this film it seems that they have done the same thing but trimmed 3 or 4 frames off of each shot, shortening it to the point that I had a hard time following it. For example, going in, I knew that in one fight, Jason picks up and uses a magazine as a weapon against his opponent. But when the time came, it was such a blur that I couldn’t see him grab said magazine. It was only because I read about it and knew ahead of time what he was reaching for that I knew he had that magazine.

         It’s not just the editing either. The camera work was driving me nuts too. The camera could not sit still. It was constantly on the move. Even during a quiet scene when Jason is talking to the daughter of a man he has killed, it was photographed so that the shot of the girl was over Jason’s shoulder. But it was barely over his shoulder. Actually, the shot was mostly of his shoulder. Most of the time, his shoulder obscured her face where you could kinda see her eyes and nose, and occasionally her whole face. It got to the point that I found myself leaning up to try to look over his shoulder to see her face, forgetting that this was a movie and that it couldn’t be done.

         Remember all of those family functions when one of your relatives had a camcorder and just let it run and the composition of the shots was that there was no composition, with the camera just wandering and not really focusing on anything? Watching this film was sorta like that. Yep! That’s right! They got my Uncle George to be the cameraman. Maybe it’s cutting edge. Maybe it’s considered exciting. Maybe it’s time to move beyond the music video crap. Maybe it’s a mess.

         In the end, I still enjoyed the original Bourne Identity more than The Bourne Supremacy. Both are essentially chase pictures with Jason trying to survive all that is gunning against him. While the first film had a far simpler plot, it also had the bonus of a budding relationship between Damon and Potente. And while the latest film is loaded more on the spy intrigue, it lacks the growing characterization and is far harder on the eyes. Maybe it will be more enjoyable on the small screen.

         Not Supreme. 



(2004. Reviewed by Frederick Holbrook)


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