A film review by Craig J. Koban


2004, PG-13, 109 mins.

Jason Bourne: Matt Damon / Marie Helena: Franka Potente / Agent Landy: Joan Allen / Nicolette: Julia Stiles / Ward Abbott: Brian Cox / John Nevins: Tim Griffin / Zorn: Wanja Mues

Directed by Paul Greengrass /  Written by Tony Gilroy / Based on the novel by Robert Ludlum


Jason Bourne is more or less how a real life James Bond would be.

You know, the type of espionage and intelligence agent that is forced time and time again to rely purely on his brawn and mind and not on those ingenious and ridiculous Q invented gadgets.  Bourne does not need pens that shoot lasers, cars that have rocket boosters, or shoes that have retractable blades.  Bourne is an ordinary, human character not too unlike many of us.  He wants a life, a girlfriend, and searches for answers for the meaning of his existence.  However, it just so happens that Bourne is also a world-class hand-to-hand combatant and a mastermind at counterintelligence tactics.  Who needs cool gadgets when your best weapon is, well, yourself? 

Matt Damon plays Bourne just as that, as a character haunted by his past that he canít altogether remember and is faced with insurmountable odds that require him to use his expertise in intelligence to keep himself alive.  THE BOURNE SUPREMACY, the sequel to the surprise 2002 hit THE BOURNE IDENTITY, is a solid, intensely paced, and well-written and acted espionage thriller.  Itís really what the last few James Bond films desperately should have been like, and its so refreshing to see a good, adult spy thriller done with wit, style, and emotional tension that does not involve overblown special effects and visuals. 

For those unfamiliar with the first film in this series, I will briefly bring you all up to speed.  In that film Jason Bourne was on the run from a secret section of the CIA that essentially created him as a killing machine and first class spy.  The film placed an interesting twist on the spy genre by introducing us to Bourne as a man that has amnesia and canít remember his troubled past with this CIA covert group.  The film detailed him piecing together his past while trying to outrun the people that want him captured, or dead for that matter.  He managed to escape at the end of that picture with his girlfriend Marie (Franka Potente).

THE BOURNE SUPREMACY essentially takes place two years after IDENTITY where Jason and Marie are settled down in the seclusion of the beaches of Southern India.  However, just as he seems to begin enjoying some semblance of a normal, adjusted life, it becomes painfully obvious that someone with truly bad intentions has found him.   Bourne does not have much time to enjoy his newfound freedom.  At the beginning of the film a assassin (Karl Urban) is quickly dispatched to exterminate Bourne, but, to make matters even worse for poor Jason, he is framed for the murder of a CIA agent in Berlin. 

Of course, the CIA returns in full form this time and realizes that they need to get Bourne before it's too late.  The team that hunts down Bourne is headed by Pamela Landy (Joan Allen) and Bourne's old boss Ward Abbott (Brian Cox, in another sly and sarcastic performance).  Bourne doesn't sit idle and thinks that the CIA is behind the assassination attempt on his life.  Before you can say DEATH WISH, Bourne decides to take matters into his more than capable hands, does some hunting of his own and tries to track down old CIA friends and effectively removes them before they become anymore of a nuisance on his already messed up life.  His exploits take him from India, Italy, Russian, and Germany and he finds many obstacles along the way.

Bourneís real antagonist in the film (like IDENTITY) is really himself.  In that film he awoke with amnesia and desperately tried to pick up the jagged pieces of the jigsaw puzzle that is his life and attempted to put them back together to find closure.  This did not go as smoothly as he had hoped, of course.  Nevertheless, he soon discovered that he had abilities that he never knew he had that could be used spontaneously at any time without any conscious reinforcement on his part (I found it quite convenient in the first film that, despite the fact that he could not remember anything about his life, he still could kick serious arse at the drop of a dime, but I digress).  Even more convenient was the fact that he left himself a series of passports and money in the first film that would make his exploits of revenge that much easier, especially in the sequel.

As an action film, THE BOURNE SUPREMACY is easily IDENTITY's equal.  However, despite the inventiveness and fun that director Paul Greengrass has with the scenes, his style is, unfortunately, one of the film's weaknesses.  Greengrass goes for a fever-pitched, kinetic visual style to his respective action scenes and employs sharp and fast (really fast) intercutting of images and quick, milli-second edits.  It's really quite a jarring experience and I think he's essentially trying to recreate the intense visceral feel of how hand-to-hand combat, chases, etc are in real life.  In reality, fights are not static and clear cut, they are fast, chaotic, and all over the place.  For the most part,  Greengrass is somewhat successful in his execution and implementation of this fast style, but it nevertheless is overwhelmingly distracting and takes away from the whole. 

Yes, I understand that he's trying to capture a sort of neo-Expressionistic approach to the mayhem that focuses on energy and not cadence, but itís just so damn hard to discern what is happening on screen most of the time.  This is especially true of the film's climatic car chase.  The cutting is so quick and tight that you end up suffering from eye fatigue more than being entertained.  The film's action scenes are directed like Michael Bay on acid mixed with equal parts speed.  The visual style really takes away from the film being something special and too often suffers from BLAIR WITCH-itus.  That's too bad, because Greengrass films the quieter moments in a spontaneous and loose style with hand-held shots that focus on the characters (Steven Soderbergh would be proud). Those dramatic scenes shine, the action scenes distract. 

The plot is the only other real weak aspect of SUPREMACY.  It does not really tread that much new ground from the original film.  SUPREMACY is, like IDENTITY, a standard revenge thriller with the hero dodging death every few minutes while the antagonists secretly plot his every move.  That's not to say that SUPREMACY is not an exciting two hours of entertainment, but I am just more or less concerned that the series is slowly getting stuck on auto-pilot in a repetitive tail spin (kind of like the recent entry in the HARRY POTTER series).  The film does work because of Damon's performance and because of that the character of Jason Bourne is intrinsically interesting, but I just hope that the makers explore more with the character in the next flick. 

Bourne is played with a coolness and a perpetual, forceful determination.  He's really the complete antithesis of James Bond. Whereas Bond is whimsical, care-free, and cocky and arrogant to the bone, Bourne is restrained, forceful, quiet, introverted and very aggressive.  He says one word for every fifty words that Bond utters.  The Bourne character emerges as a radical and fresh departure from the spy genre norm.  He's kind of a film noir anti-hero mixed with an intelligent and cunning agent.  He does not have time to bed the ladies, play cards, or drink martinis that are shaken, not stirred.  He's a super soldier with only singular goals in mind.  If you are tired of how stale and repetitive Bond has been getting over the years, Bourne is definitely your cup of tea. 

The rest of the cast is does well with what they are given.  Brian Cox is slowly emerging as another Christopher Walken, playing small and effective cameo roles that bring a certain level of charm and pompous energy.  Cox in SUPREMACY, as in TROY, is a real hoot.  Joan Allen is also very effective as the antagonist and brings a lot of underplayed, fiery conviction to her part.  And isn't it refreshing to see the female antagonist in a spy thriller not end up in bed with the hero?  Julia Stiles also returns, but she seems more of a plot point than a realized character.  The screenplay curiously disregards and forgets about her when she is extraneous to the rest of the story.  She leaves, never to return again in the story as if the writers just decided to carelessly forget about her. 

Yet, THE BOURNE SUPREMACY is a fine action film and a worthy sequel to the equally entertaining BOURNE IDENTITY.  Its action is fast paced (but too kinetic), the plot advances well (but with a bit too much familiarity), but the character of Jason Bourne emerges as a really fresh and interesting property of the spy genre.  Damon doesn't get a lot of credit for these types of film.  He has that everyday, boy next door good looks and manner, but he brings a real hidden ferocity to the part and is always convincing and charismatic.  I only hope that Bourne is given more to do in the next film in the series than seek revenge, avoid government agents, and engage in wild car chases.  Okay, the car chase in both films rock, but how many do we need to see that before we tune out and rent another Bond film?  Bourne, baby, don't wreck a good thing you've started here.  In the next film If you start wearing tuxedos, flirting and hitting on women, and offer up lame one-liners, then I'm outta there!


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