Tag Archives: Matt Damon

Taika Waititi’s Thor Ragnarok

Taika Waititi’s Thor Ragnarok has got to be the most fun I’ve ever had watching a Marvel film. Trust Hollywood to make a sterling decision once in a blue moon, and hiring a deftly comic, renegade underdog subversive improv genius like Waititi to take the wheel is a smart, bold move. Now before I sing it’s praises to Valhalla, they don’t quite let him (he’s the Kiwi wunderkind behind the newly minted classics Hunt For The Wilderpeople and What We Do In The Shadows) go completely bonkers, which he clearly wants to do, and although he’s kind of bogged down by a generic villain and a recycled point of conflict in plot, a lot of the time he’s allowed to stage a zany, uncharacteristically weird (for the MCU, anyways) pseudo space opera that is a blast and a half. Thor finds himself, after a brief encounter with Benedict Cumberbatch’s Dr. Strange, carted off to a giant garbage planet surrounded by space portals (one of which is referred to with a straight face as ‘The Devil’s Anus’, which sent me into a fit) and lorded over by a certifiably loony Jeff Goldblum as the Grand Master, a demented despot who holds intergalactic gladiator matches for his own entertainment. There Thor is forced to fight his old buddy the Hulk, and somehow find a way to escape Goldblum’s nefarious yet hilarious clutches. He’s got just south of reliable allies in his brother Loki (Tom Hiddleston) and an exiled Valkyrie (Tessa Thompson) with an attitude problem, as well as rock-armoured warrior Korg, voiced hilariously by Waititi himself as the film’s most engaging character. Meanwhile back in Asgard, trouble brews when the equally dangerous and sexy Hela (Cate Blanchett, with enough authoritative, husky smoulder to make me weak at the knees) tries to steal Odin’s throne for herself, with the help of defector Skurge (Karl Urban, who gets a mic drop of an action set piece later on). Here’s the thing about Hela: Blanchett is in top form, a commanding, dark presence… but the role is as blandly written as a number of other MCU villains, and one wonders how they’ve managed to flunk out at creating engaging antagonists a few times over now. She’s stuck in a subplot that we’ve all seen before, one that’s stale and at odds with the fresh, humorous and wonderful storyline between Thor and Banner. Their side of things is like buddy comedy crossed with screwball fare and works charming wonders, especially when they’re blundering about in Goldblum’s cluttered trash metropolis, it’s just inspired stuff. Throw in a great 80’s inspired electro pop score and a cool VHS retro vibe (I’m all about the old school) and you’ve got one of the best MCU movies to date, and most importantly one that *tries something new*, which the genre needs more of, even if it doesn’t ultimately fully commit, this is still a gem we have on our hands.

-Nate Hill

Advertisements

Edward Zwick’s Courage Under Fire


The darker side of the military is a touchy subject for Hollywood, as it’s supposed to be an outfit that sets a glowing standard of honour and nobility for everyone. But, like any other business or organization, it has a flip side too, and in Edward Zwick’s Courage Under Fire we see just what can go wrong in the ranks when no one is looking. Denzel Washington plays a traumatized gulf war vet who is tasked with assessing whether a heroic, deceased helicopter pilot (Meg Ryan) is worthy of the medal of honour, which would be awarded to the first female officer in history. Only problem is, testimonies from her fellow comrades in arms simply don’t add up. Two in particular, played by a gaunt Matt Damon and an excellent Lou Diamond Phillips, certainly know more than they let on and appear to harbour some deep guilt riddled scandal. With some help from a stern superior general (Michael Moriarty) and a journalist source (Scott Glenn) Washington must navigate this minefield of misdeeds and deception, and the story takes him to some fairly visceral, intense places. It’s just shy of melodrama when the secrets do come out, the third act a horrifying exposé, everyone’s expectations and image of the platoon unravelling. The rest of the soldiers are played by a hectic bunch including Bronson Pinchot, Zelijko Ivanek, Sean Astin, Sean Patrick Thomas and Bruce McGill. Ryan fares well in a role that’s essentially just a plot device, as we already know the eventual outcome of her arc, but she adds mystery and resilience to the scenes she does get. It’s like a political horror story, this one, showing the absolute worst outcome of a situation like this, and the lengths some scared individuals will go to smother any mention of it. Zwick handles the broad strokes well, and we end up with quite a stalwart, fiercely made war piece. 

-Nate Hill

Jason Bourne: A Review by Nate Hill 

He’s back, baby. God it’s so good to see Jason Bourne doing his thing on the big screen again, especially in a flick that’s every bit as excellent as the original trilogy in all the old, good ways, while adding a few twists of its own that suit the digital age we have progressed into, and the concerns which go hand in hand with it. It’s been sometime since Jason swam away out of frame as an unsure news report claimed that his body was never recovered, and a slow smirk spread over Nicky Parson’s (Julia Stiles) face as she observed on TV. With ex CIA director Kramer (Scott Glenn) no doubt incarcerated, the agency is headed up by the worst apple of the bunch so far, Robert Dewey (Tommy Lee Jones), a surveillance hound dog who has ties to Bourne’s past and wants to use a record breaking social media app to illegally spy on users for ‘national security’ purposes (heard that one before). Scary stuff, but simply a backdrop for Bourne to come speeding back onto their radar and make hell for them, after Nicky hacks the database and spurs him on. Damon is beefed up, weathered and has never been more furious as Bourne, and if you thought his revenge rampage in Supremacy was something to behold, just wait til you see these fireworks. It feels a bit more intimate than the last three, with a lot of time spent on Bourne, and less agency types howling in control rooms and backstabbing each other, save for Dewey and his eager beaver protégé Heather Lee, played by Alicia Vikander in a slightly perplexing character arc that I’m still trying to think through. She has her own agenda, clashing with that of a ruthless rogue asset (Vincent Cassel is going grey, but damn he can still run around like nobody’s business) that Dewey foolishly sends after Jason. Paul Greengrass is back in the director’s chair again, and after this chapter I can honestly say I think he’s the best captain  to ever sit at the helm of a Bourne flick. He just has this way with action that never feels too stylized or obviously cinematic, while still delivering a pure rush of thrills that exist in a realistic space. There’s an early scene taking place in Greece during a dangerous riot that feels like they just dropped the cast and crew in the midst of a real life police skirmish and started shooting, in more ways than one. My favourite has to be a thundering car chase down the Vegas Strip in which a SWAT tank causes a jaw dropping bout of vehicular Armageddon. Sounds too over the top for a Bourne flick, right? You’d think, but somehow they just make the thing work and stay within the parameters of this world. I had this fear that they wouldn’t be able sneak another Bourne movie onto the back end of an already perfect trilogy without it feeling out of place. While it certainly is different than it’s predecessors (we live in a radically different time), it still has that magic, feverish rush that I love so much and that has carried the franchise along on wings of adrenaline. A blast. Cue Moby’s Extreme Ways to play out my review. 

THE BOURNE ULTIMATUM – A REVIEW BY J.D. LAFRANCE

bourne1

After two films with Jason Bourne (Matt Damon) on the defensive and on the run, The Bourne Ultimatum (2007) sees our hero going on the offensive and taking the fight to his handlers. Coming full circle not only thematically, but also on a production level – the film was born out of chaos as principal photography began without a completed screenplay – it managed to come out the other side with a coherent final product that endeared itself to both audiences and critics. Ultimatum not only avoids the dreaded third installment of a trilogy jinx (they are notoriously the weakest), but ends up being the strongest one of the series as Bourne gets some definitive answers to who he is and his past.

Ultimatum picks up right where The Bourne Supremacy (2004) left off with Bourne on the run in Moscow after being seriously injured in an exciting car chase with a fellow Treadstone assassin. Meanwhile, Simon Ross (Paddy Considine), an investigative reporter with The Guardian, a British newspaper, is working on a story about Bourne and a top-secret CIA operation known as Blackbriar. Naturally, the agency finds out and puts Ross under surveillance in the hopes that Bourne will contact him, which he does, at a busy London train station.

Bourne’s rendezvous with Ross amidst the hustle and bustle of the train station is a nice homage to the opening of Francis Ford Coppola’s The Conversation (1974) as the two men are heavily scrutinized by all kinds of CIA surveillance. There is a lot of fun to be had watching Bourne masterfully evade all their manpower and hi-tech equipment in a wonderfully intense and insanely choreographed sequence that successfully ratchets up the tension as the CIA closes in. However, before Bourne can get Ross to reveal his source, an extremely efficient Blackbriar assassin (Edgar Ramirez) kills the journalist and disappears like a ghost.

Fortunately, Bourne takes Ross’ notes and figures out that the source is located in Madrid. During the course of his investigation, Bourne is reunited with Nicky Parsons (Julia Stiles), a CIA operative sympathetic to his plight. Within the agency, the man in charge of Blackbriar, CIA Deputy Director Noah Vosen (David Strathairn) wants Bourne dead because he sees him as a dangerous liability while another agent, Pamela Landy (Joan Allen), wants to take him alive because she doesn’t agree with Vosen’s methods. This results in some wonderfully testy bickering between the two actors as they argue over what to do about Bourne. The rest of Ultimatum plays out as a brilliantly staged cat and mouse game with Bourne turning the tables on his handlers.

This time around, David Strathairn is the veteran character actor enlisted to play the CIA honcho tasked to find and eliminate Bourne. Like Chris Cooper (The Bourne Identity) and Brian Cox (The Bourne Supremacy) before him, he has the gravitas to play a take-charge authority figure and part of the enjoyment of this film is watching Bourne constantly thwart Vosen’s plans. In Ultimatum, Landy is a more sympathetic figure as she wants to capture Bourne alive (unlike Vosen). As the film progresses and she learns more about what the United States government did to Bourne and others in Treadstone, she realizes that she can no longer be complicit in the CIA’s illegal activities. Nicky Parsons also undergoes significant development as she ends up helping Bourne and turns out to be a key figure in his past.

Paul Greengrass, who also directed Supremacy, is back behind the camera bringing his trademark, no-nonsense pacing and visceral, hand-held camerawork to Ultimatum. The film’s action sequences are the epitome of edgy intensity as the fight scenes are quick and as brutal as a PG-13 rating will allow. They are realistically depicted – after all, guys as well trained as Bourne don’t waste any time and know exactly how to bring someone down as quickly and as efficiently as possible.

Bourne2Like with the other Bourne films, Ultimatum also has exciting chases, including the police pursuing Bourne over rooftops in Tangiers while he’s chasing an assassin going after Nicky, and a crazy car chase through the busy streets of New York City. Greengrass and his stunt people upped the ante on the chases, most notably the sequence in Tangiers, which starts off with scooters in the busy streets and then after a car bomb goes off, along rooftops on foot. Greengrass’ kinetic camerawork is taken to the next level as we literally follow Bourne leaping through the air from one building to another.

The lo-tech versus hi-tech dichotomy is beautifully realized in all three Bourne films as symbolized in the way he kills the highly trained assassins sent to kill him. In The Bourne Identity (2002), it’s with a pen, in Supremacy it’s with a rolled up magazine and in Ultimatum it’s with a book. The films never make a big deal about it and even show how well Bourne can manipulate technology, but his best chance at survival is to MacGyver it and stay off the grid.

With the phenomenal success of The Bourne Supremacy, Universal Pictures persuaded screenwriter Tony Gilroy to write the first draft of The Bourne Ultimatum for a significant amount of money, but only under the conditions that he could leave after its completion and that he wouldn’t have to speak with director Paul Greengrass, who was also returning, and did not get along with the writer. According to Damon, “It’s really the studio’s fault for putting themselves in that position. I don’t blame Tony for taking a boatload of money and handing in what he handed in. It’s just that it was unreadable. This is a career-ender.”

After Gilroy left the project and a release date looming, Greengrass brought in four other writers including George Nolfi, Scott Z. Burns, and Tom Stoppard, the latter who said of his input: “Some of the themes are still mine—but I don’t think there’s a single word of mine in the film.” Amazingly, before the film’s release date, Gilroy arbitrated and lost to get sole credit. As a result, the filmmakers were writing the script as they were making the film over three continents in 140 shooting days. According to Damon, “There wasn’t a single day where we didn’t have new pages! The main issue was that a question was never answered: Why was Bourne here? … What Paul settled on was that it has to be a story about meeting his maker.”

The exciting chase through the streets of Tangiers was an homage to Gillo Pontecorvo’s Battle of Algiers (1966). It took 14 days to shoot with Bourne’s rooftop leap done by a stuntman jumping right behind Bourne while carrying a small, lightweight camera. According to second unit director and stunt coordinator Dan Bradley, he often allowed the stunt people to hold the cameras because “they’re not too freaked out about getting hit or sliding under something while holding a camera. Some of the best shots in Supremacy and Ultimatum are because the stunt guys were operating.” Once again, Greengrass applied an independent film aesthetic to a big studio movie budget or, as he put it, “one of the ways you do it is to try your luck and set the action in places where you can’t behave like a big movie … You’re forced to sort of be a bit like a student film and make it up as you go along, live on the land and shoot when people are around.”

Bourne3If Identity was about our hero escaping from his CIA handlers and Supremacy was about him figuring out why they are still after him, then Ultimatum is all about getting revenge on those responsible for messing up his life in the first place and figuring out, once and for all, his identity. What elevates Ultimatum (and the rest of the series) above, say, the Mission: Impossible movies, is that it is more than just an exciting thriller (although, it does work on that level). It is also has a sharp, political component in the form of a scathing critique of the CIA’s dirty little secrets. The series ultimately asks, what happens when a highly-trained and conditioned government operative questions what he does and why? How does he undo the programming that made him what he is and come to grips with what he’s done? This film answers these questions to a satisfying degree while also being very entertaining conclusion to the series.

The Bourne Supremacy: A Review by Nate Hill

  

It’s nearly impossible for me to pick a favourite from the original Bourne trilogy, but I suppose if you held a gun to my head I would have to go for the breathless, breakneck Bourne Supremacy. It’s the first one I ever saw and one of the very first big summer movie experiences of my youth, so I have a burning nostalgia. I wouldn’t base my decision solely on that, though. No, I’ve thought a lot about it, and Supremacy just has every element in pitch perfect place, every second of pacing hurtling by on full throttle and Matt Damon taking names like he never did before. I love the fact that Bourne has something driving him other than a need to know who and what he is this time around. He has revenge for the death of someone he loved, which is never something you want to provoke when you have someone like him gunning for you. Life is quiet for Jason and Marie (Franka Potente 😍) for about five seconds at the beginning of the film, until a highly skilled assassin (a capable, relentless Karl Urban) explodes into their lives, sends their jeep careening off a bridge, resulting in Marie’s death. This pisses Jason off and then some, prompting a global excursion to find out who Urban works for and take them down. Also on his trail is CIA bigwig Pamela Landy (Joan Allen, excellent) and the severely morally misguided Ward Abbott (Brian Cox takes slimy to a whole new level in this outing). There’s also scheming Russian oil magnate Gretkov (a relaxed Karel Roden) with his own reasons for wanting Bourne. As is always the case, Jason is the smartest guy in the room, more so even than those that trained him, and he out thinks, out shoots and outruns them all every step of the way that takes him nearer to his goal. He isn’t simply running scared and confused with no outlet or idea how to use his talents anymore. He’s a lethal asset with emotion and forethought on his side, and he takes no prisoners. Damon is just ridiculously badass, especially in the several furious hand to hand combat scenes he dances through, doling out the smackdown faster than anyone’s reflexes can react. There’s also a humanity to him, burgeoning regret when he learns what Treadstone made him do, and the yearning to set it right, or at least make himself known to the daughter (Oksana Akinshina) of a Russian couple he once murdered. People complain about all the shaky cam, but whatever man, it sure fires up an action sequence and places you right there amid the mayhem of a rattling jeep chase through a Berlin tunnel, a bone splintering man to man with an ex Treadstone operative (Marton Csokas) and more. Julia Stiles is terrifically intense as a girl who used to do the psych evaluations for agents, Chris Cooper briefly returns as Conklin, the devious founder of the program, and watch for Tomas Arana, Corey Johnson, Gabriel Mann and Michelle Monaghan too. Like I said it’s a tricky task to pick a favourite, and on any given day I’d just say I love all three equally. This one just has a bit of an edge on the others in certain spots, and never feels like it bears the curse of the middle chapter. It’s a tightly wound coil of a film that springs into kinetic motion with the force of a piston. I’m curious to see how the new Bourne flick does, but I doubt it’ll come close to the first three, let alone this platinum classic. Cue Moby’s Extreme Ways to play out my review. 

THE BOURNE SUPREMACY – A REVIEW BY J.D. LAFRANCE

bourne1

After the grueling experience that was making The Bourne Identity (2002), Matt Damon was understandably wary about reprising the role of Jason Bourne. However, the film’s substantial box office success meant that the studio was eager to crank out a sequel and brought their leading man back into the fold with the promise of a new director after Doug Liman managed to alienate almost everyone on the first film. Paul Greengrass, director of the critically-acclaimed Bloody Sunday (2002) came on board, taking up where Liman left off by adopting the same loose, hand-held camerawork and cranking up the intensity, especially with the action sequences, to the detriment of some that felt the herky-jerky movements resulted in motion sickness. Regardless, The Bourne Supremacy (2004) was a hit both critically and commercially, outperforming Identity.

Bourne (Damon) and Marie (Franka Potente) have gone off the grid by taking refuge in India and this gives him time to sort through his fragmented memories and feverish nightmares. But, as is always the case with these kinds of films, our hero can’t stay hidden for long and trouble finds him. Meanwhile, a top-secret government deal in Berlin goes bad. Two agents are assassinated by Russian bad guys who steal $3 million and files that pertain to the whereabouts of Bourne. Greengrass ups the stakes right from the get-go as he has Bourne framed for the agents’ deaths and the stolen money and has an assassin (Karl Urban) track him and Marie down. An exciting car chase ensues that leaves Bourne alone and putting on him on the run again. This makes him dangerous as he has nothing holding him back so he can focus entirely on finding out who wants him dead and sift through the remnants of Operation Treadstone from the first film.

One of the first things that becomes obvious while watching this film is how its look harkens back to 1970s American cinema. Director Paul Greengrass utilizes the gritty, realistic look of his previous film, the powerful Bloody Sunday, with a lot of hand-held camerawork and snap zooms to give a you-are-there rush of adrenaline and urgency to the action sequences. In the car chases, Greengrass often places the camera right in the vehicle so that it is almost like we are riding along with Bourne, trying to piece together his fragmented past. In particular, the first chase in India is like The French Connection (1971) by way of Calcutta. Tony Gilroy’s screenplay wastes no time getting into it. We’re not 15 minutes into the film and Bourne is being chased by a mysterious and ruthless Russian assassin. It is this intense, no-nonsense pacing that propels this film so that one barely notices the two-hour running time.

Matt Damon plays Bourne with a quiet determination and intensity. It’s a surprisingly minimalist performance devoid of self-conscious tics and proves that his performance in the first Bourne film was no fluke. Bourne is not some invincible, super-soldier, but a tortured man trying to rebuild his past and his identity. He doesn’t kill unless absolutely forced to. And yet, he is certainly a man of action, capable of going from an inert, passive figure to one full of explosive action in a heartbeat. Supremacy sheds more light on his past as he’s haunted by a job where he killed a Russian politician and his wife. Damon does a nice job of portraying a man coming to terms with the fact that he is a killer. Bourne also comes to terms with the notion that what was just another mission for him forever changed the life of a young woman who was made an orphan because he killed her parents. It is an important part of the humanizing of Bourne as he sheds his past of being a detached assassin to someone trying to redeem himself. He tracks down people like Nicky Parsons (Julia Stiles), introduced in Identity as a handler to the Treadstone assassins, that can provide him with pieces of his past so that he confronts it and understand what he was in order to change who he is in the present.

The primary bone of contention that critics had with The Bourne Supremacy was how Greengrass films the action sequences. There is an impressively staged fight scene between Bourne and another Operation Treadstone survivor in Munich that is dizzyingly claustrophobic thanks to extensive hand-held camerawork that dives right into the chaos. It is memorable not only for its jarring brutality but also for Bourne’s skill with a rolled-up magazine that he uses to defend himself against a rather large knife. Greengrass’ camera flies around the tight confines of this room, dragging us along for this visceral, almost primal sequence. He treads a fine line between being edgy and incoherent, but knows just how far to push it – something that the countless imitators didn’t always achieve. This approach drew criticism for being too fragmented and disorienting, making it difficult to see what was happening but I think it was Greengrass’ attempt to put the audience right in the middle of the action and to experience the sudden and brutal nature of how quickly these guys fight.

bourne2Joan Allen’s Pamela Landy is an interesting character in that initially it appears as if she will be an antagonist like Conklin in The Bourne Identity, but when she’s assigned to investigate the Berlin job she uncovers the existence of Treadstone and this brings her up against Ward Abbott (Brian Cox), the operation’s caretaker and the man who also mothballed it. She’s no dummy and quickly figures out its nature, what Conklin was up to and Bourne’s role, which, in a nicely executed scene, quickly recaps the events of Identity for those who haven’t seen it. Over the course of Supremacy, she shows indications of sympathy towards Bourne’s plight that are developed further in The Bourne Ultimatum (2007). Allen’s scenes with Cox are interesting as they are often fused with tension as Landy uncovers the secrets of Treadstone while Abbott, clearly uncomfortable with his dirty laundry being aired, tries to cover his ass, which makes for some heated exchanges between the two as they butt heads.

The Bourne Supremacy gives more screen-time to the character of Nicky Parsons. Landy brings her along because of what she knows, but Nicky ends up playing a crucial role when Bourne confronts her, asking questions about the operation. Stiles was an up and coming movie star in the late 1990s with films like 10 Things I Hate About You (1999), but had dropped off the mainstream radar by the mid-2000s. It is nice to see her pop up in the Bourne films even if she isn’t give much to do initially.

The Bourne Supremacy was based loosely on the 1986 best-selling novel of the same name by Robert Ludlum. Universal Pictures offered screenwriter Tony Gilroy $3 million to write the screenplay and he agreed, but only if it wasn’t a repeat of The Bourne Identity. Gilroy used a plot point from the novel – Marie is kidnapped and held ransom, forcing Bourne out of hiding – as the impetus for the sequel. The screenwriter came up with the idea of taking Bourne on “what amounts to the samurai’s journey, this journey of atonement,” said producer Frank Marshall. Gilroy didn’t want to make a revenge movie because “Bourne killed people and he doesn’t start the movie with a clean slate. There’s a lot of blood on his hands.” He decided to make Bourne a reluctant murderer and that he should suffer for his crimes. To this end, Gilroy envisioned Supremacy as “The Searchers of action films,” but was upset that Greengrass came in and placed an emphasis on action and not Bourne’s atonement.

Next, the producers had to find a new director that would have an affinity for the subject matter. Gilroy recommended that Marshall watch Bloody Sunday, directed by Paul Greengrass. It was a gritty recreation of the 1972 peaceful civil rights march in Derry, Northern Ireland that ended in violence. The producers were impressed with the film’s immediacy and sense of realism. Greengrass liked The Bourne Identity and how it “married an independent sort of feel with a mainstream Hollywood sensibility.” He flew to Prague and met with actor Matt Damon and they talked about the character of Bourne. Greengrass said of the character: “I think this film is not so much about a man who’s lost his memory, although that is part of it – but it’s more about what happens when you’ve recovered your memory and realized that you’re actually a bad man.”

Damon spent months doing personal and combat training including special firearm instruction in order to portray a trained assassin. The actor worked with a SWAT expert in Los Angeles so that when Bourne first picks up a gun in the film “it needs to look like an extension of his arm,” Damon said. He and Greengrass got along right away with the actor happy to have a director “who was putting you first and saying, ‘Be as natural and real and honest as you can and it’s our job to capture it rather than yours to adjust for the sake of my shot.’ That’s the thing an actor wants to hear.” The actor had no problem doing most of his own stunts, but was apprehensive doing an underwater scene where Bourne’s car goes crashing into a river. “I didn’t want to do that at all,” Damon said and so he worked with a diving instructor a couple times a week for a month in order learn how to relax underwater without an oxygen mask and eventually be able to do simple tasks like tying a shoe. Still, after one day of shooting under water, he “woke up probably four times gasping for breath, thinking I was drowning. It was terrible.”

Principal photography began on the streets of Moscow then moved to Berlin with the city’s former eastern sector doubling for the streets of the Russian capital and finally ending in Goa, India. Producer Patrick Crowley wanted the transition from locations to mirror Bourne’s arc “from lush, tropical and warm to more progressively cool, steely, blue, then finally to grays.” To depict the visceral car chases, the production utilized a high-speed, low center of gravity, chassis replacement stunt driving camera platform that was piloted by a stunt driver from a moveable cockpit, which allowed all kinds of camera placement around the vehicle.

bourne3The people behind the Bourne franchise are smart and willing to take chances. They cast an atypical action hero with Matt Damon, surrounded him with an eclectic cast that mixed Hollywood and internationally known stars (with the likes of Julia Stiles, Brian Cox and Karl Urban) and hired independent filmmakers like Doug Liman and Paul Greengrass against type to direct, letting them put their own unique stamp on their respective films. Ultimately, The Bourne Supremacy is all about the title character making amends for his past. There is a scene where he confronts the woman, whose parents he killed, that is rich in understated emotion as Bourne takes responsibility for his actions and tells her what really happened. It’s a great way to end the film as Greengrass eschews the cliché of a climactic action sequence (which happens before this scene) in favor of a more poignant one as Bourne atones for one of his many sins while also setting things up for the next installment.

THE BOURNE IDENTITY – A REVIEW BY J.D. LAFRANCE

bourne1

When The Bourne Identity (2002) debuted in theaters, audiences were hungry for a new kind of spy film. The James Bond movies adhered to a tried and true formula and it had gotten old. Mission: Impossible II (2000) collapsed under John Woo’s stylistic excesses and a boring love story with no chemistry between Tom Cruise and his love interest played by Thandie Newton. The world had changed dramatically since the events of 9/11 and a new international espionage action thriller would have to acknowledge this new reality. Along came The Bourne Identity, a very loose adaptation of Robert Ludlum’s novel of the same name and it connected with audiences even if most critics hated it.

A mysterious, unconscious body is found floating out at sea by a boatload of fishermen. Two bullets in his back and a device that stores a Swiss bank account are found embedded in his hip. He wakes up with amnesia and one of the men onboard fixes him up. It isn’t until almost five minutes in that the first bit of understandable dialogue is uttered. Up to that point director Doug Liman drops us into this strange world without any set up so that we are disoriented, much like the film’s protagonist and therefore we identify and empathize with him almost instantly. These first few scenes establish the film’s style – constantly moving camerawork often with jarring, jerky movements that mimic our hero’s disorientation.

After two weeks at sea, he makes his way to land and begins a quest to uncover his identity. Over time, he discovers skills he didn’t know he had but that come out instinctively, like the ability to disable two armed police officers with his bare hands in Switzerland. He checks out his Swiss bank account and discovers that his name is Jason Bourne (Matt Damon). The safety deposit box contains money, passports for several different countries, and a gun. It becomes obvious that Bourne assembled this stash of supplies in case of a situation like the one he’s currently experiencing.

After a daring escape from the United States embassy, Bourne pays a young German woman named Marie (Franka Potente) to drive him to Paris where he apparently lives. It turns out that he’s some kind of lethal, CIA-trained assassin who has something to do with a top-secret operation known as Treadstone and he should be dead. It seems that the United States government is trying to silence an exiled Nigerian dictator by the name of Nykwana Wombosi (Adewale Akinnuoye-Aghaje) now living in Paris. He wants the CIA to put him back in power in six months or he’ll blow the whistle on their attempt to assassinate him. The man in charge of Treadstone – Alexander Conklin (Chris Cooper) – wants to make sure Bourne is dead because he was supposed to kill Wombosi when something went wrong. He sends three other assassins after Bourne and Marie.

Because Bourne suffers from amnesia and is being hunted by a secret branch of the CIA, we sympathize with his plight. It doesn’t hurt that he’s portrayed by Matt Damon who comes across as instantly likable and empathetic. Before The Bourne Identity, he was not regarded as an action star and so his capacity for sudden bursts of ruthlessly efficient violence and the ability to escape from several dangerous situations was a revelation. Damon pulls it off and more importantly is convincing as a deadly assassin with no memory. He is nothing short of a revelation as Bourne and the actor does an excellent job of not only gaining our sympathy early on, but also maintaining it throughout as we root for Bourne to figure out who he is.

When Bourne breaks out his martial arts for the first time in the film we are as surprised as he is and not just because it’s the first time we’ve seen him do so, but at the time Damon had never done a film like this before and it was his debut as a man of action. To his credit, he looks very adept and comfortable in the fight scenes and doing the stunts. The first substantial fight sequence where Bourne is attacked by a fellow Treadstone assassin is a visceral set piece as he uses everyday objects like a pen to defend himself. This is not the clean, polished style of Bond movies, but down and dirty fighting that looks bloody and painful. It has a personal vibe to it as the fight takes place up close and personal in an apartment. I like that the film shows Marie’s reaction to what has just happened. She is genuinely shocked and upset at the sudden outburst of violence she witnessed. As she and Bourne flee the scene she even throws up as a reaction to being in real danger.

The casting of Franka Potente as Bourne’s love interest is an intriguing choice. She doesn’t have the supermodel looks associated with the Bond girls. She’s beautiful with a nice smile and an easy-going charm. She’s relatable and grounded – part of the film’s realistic aesthetic. Marie is an everyday person thrust into extraordinary circumstances once she encounters Bourne. Potente also brings a certain amount of international cinema cache thanks to her breakout performance in Run Lola Run (1998). As a result, she doesn’t come across as some damsel in distress, but a proactive foil for Bourne. They quickly develop an easy rapport as he finds her constant, nervous talking comforting. Damon and Potente play well off each other in these early scenes as her character humanizes Bourne so that he’s not just some inhuman killing machine.

Chris Cooper is ideally cast as the no-nonsense bureaucrat Conklin who knows more than Bourne and yet is always one step behind in finding and catching the elusive assassin. He isn’t given much to do, but makes the most of his limited screen-time as he orchestrates the search for Bourne with considerable technological resources at his disposal. Cooper exudes just the right amount of uptight malevolence that we’ve come to expect from a Republican-controlled government. A young Clive Owen shows up as a Treadstone assassin who methodically tracks and then kills his targets. His showdown with Bourne in a field of tall grass is a tension-filled sequence as our hero uses misdirection to get the drop on the assassin, neutralizing him, but not before he imparts crucial information about Bourne’s past.

One of the reasons that The Bourne Identity was such a game changer for the spy movie genre came as a result of taking the hi-tech surveillance used in movies like Enemy of the State (1998) and updated it on a global scale as Conklin and his room full of I.T. specialists (including character actor extraordinaire Walton Goggins in a small role) track Bourne’s movements in Europe. Everyone leaves electronic footprints be it through credit card use or being picked up on security cameras and this was even more prevalent after 9/11. This heightened sense of surveillance has become a part of our daily lives. There is a certain delicious irony at work as Liman crosscuts between Conklin and his staff using sophisticated technology to find two people who are doing their best to stay off the grid, which results in them taking refuge in a house in the French countryside.

I like that Liman shows Bourne and Marie actually trying figure out his identity by doing the legwork involved as they call potential leads on the phone, visit key locations and talk to people as they try to put together the jigsaw puzzle that is his past. There’s a nice sequence where Bourne walks Marie through a task that he needs her to do for him. As she makes her way through a hotel lobby his words play through her head and we hear them over the soundtrack in voiceover narration.

bourn2.pngAt the time of its release, much was made of the chaotic production that pitted indie director Doug Liman and against Universal Pictures. Their dirty laundry was aired in the mainstream press and there was speculation that The Bourne Identity was going to be a box office failure. After the critical and commercial success of Go (1999), Liman decided to pursue his passion project – an adaptation of Robert Ludlum’s The Bourne Identity, a book he loved while growing up. It had been published in 1980 and featured an ex-foreign-service officer on the CIA’s hit list. Liman read it again while making Swingers (1996) and found that the characters still engaged him. He inquired about the film rights and found that Warner Bros. controlled them. Over time, the rights expired and Liman met Ludlum at his home in Montana, securing the rights. In 2000, Liman asked screenwriter Tony Gilroy if he would rewrite the screenplay he had for The Bourne Identity. After the success of The Devil’s Advocate (1997), Gilroy had gotten a reputation for saving damaged scripts.

Gilroy was not thrilled with the source material: “Those works were never meant to be filmed. They weren’t about human behavior. They were about running to airports.” Liman persuaded Gilroy to read the script, which he realized was “awful,” but they met and the latter asked the former why he wanted to make this film. Gilroy declined Liman’s offer, but when pressed gave him a suggestion: toss the novel and keep the idea of an assassin with amnesia. “You only have one way to find out … What do I know how to do? I guess your movie should be about a guy who finds the only thing he knows how to do is kill people.”

Liman eventually wore Gilroy down and he agreed to work on the script. While the first five minutes of the film comes from Ludlum’s book everything after Bourne gets off the boat was created by Gilroy. At the time, Matt Damon wanted to “try an action movie … exactly the way I’d love to do it, with someone who was thinking outside the box. Doug being Doug, this would be an interesting movie.” He agreed to do the film after meeting Liman and reading Gilroy’s script.

Liman took the project to Universal Pictures in the first place because “it was just as important to them as it was to me to make this a character-driven movie and not just a generic action movie.” By his own admission, the director was mistrustful of studio decisions like their suggestion that he shoot in Montreal instead of Paris to keep costs down. He argued that the Canadian city didn’t look like the City of Lights and the studio relented. Liman applied his often chaotic, unpredictable style of filmmaking to a big budget studio film with mixed results, often angering the producers. For example, once in Paris, he hired a crew that didn’t speak English (so he could practice his French).

When Damon arrived he didn’t like the changes made to the script after the one that made him sign on in the first place. Liman had brought in David Self (Thirteen Days) to fix what he felt was a problematic third act when Gilroy left to write Proof of Life (2000). Some of the character-driven material had been removed in favor of bigger action sequences. According to Damon, Self “went to the book and did a page-one rewrite. Every few pages, something blew up … It was not the movie I agreed to do.” Editor Saar Klein remembers, “We went into production with a script that was just a mess.” Liman agreed and Gilroy came back after finishing Proof of Life to write new scenes and fax them from New York City to Paris.

Producer Richard Gladstein left the production because his wife was going through a difficult pregnancy. Universal did not want Liman filming unsupervised in Europe and brought in veteran producer Frank Marshall who had known the director since he was a child. The studio felt that Liman’s approach was unorganized and unnecessarily costly. He responded by saying, “I like to keep my options open. I’m known for changing my mind.” The studio also felt that he lacked maturity. For example, one night Liman paid the crew overtime to light a forest for him to play paintball. Liman claimed that the studio hated him and they tried to shut him down: “The producers were the bad guys.”

It got so bad between Liman and the studio that they rejected anything he said. The director ended up using Damon as his surrogate, but this only worked for a short time. One day, Liman realized he’d missed a shot and asked the producers if he could redo the scene. They said no and so he loaded four minutes of film in a camera and reshot the scene himself, which infuriated the producers. This resulted in a giant screaming match on the set. At one point, Liman even toyed with auctioning off his director’s credit on eBay. Despite all the friction between Liman and the studio the end result speaks for itself. The Bourne Identity was a commercial hit, but the studio had not surprisingly soured on Liman and banned him from directing the sequels. “I lost my baby,” he said.

The Bourne Identity was shown to a test audience who liked it, but wanted more action at the end. After much debate with the studio, Liman and Gilroy devised a new action sequence. The screenwriter did not enjoy the experience of working with Liman finding that the director “didn’t have any sense of story, or cause and effect.” Liman found Gilroy “arrogant” and at one point attempted to hire a new screenwriter until Damon threatened to quit if his script wasn’t used. Gilroy saw a rough cut during post-production and was worried that the film wasn’t going to be good. It had come out a year late and went through four rounds of reshoots. He tried to take his credit off the film and arbitrated against himself. He wanted to share credit (and blame) with someone else. After all the dust had settled the film went over budget by $8 million and two weeks over schedule. This forced Universal to move the original release date of September 2001 to February 2002 only to push it back again to May 31 and finally settling on June 14.

What separates The Bourne Identity from the Bond films at the time is that it took the international espionage thriller and personalized it. For the most part, the adventures that Bond had in his movies never affected him personally (the notable exception being License to Kill and now the Daniel Craig films) while in The Bourne Identity it is very personal, but without sacrificing all the things we’ve come to expect from a spy movie: exotic locales, exciting car chases, lethal bad guys, and intense fight scenes. What made the film such a breath of fresh air was how it tweaked these tried and true conventions.

bourne3At its heart, The Bourne Identity is a mystery as Bourne tries to figure out who he is and why there are people trying to kill him. This gives Liman the opportunity to ratchet up the tension as Bourne is constantly looking over his shoulder, never able to rest for too long and unable to trust anyone except for Marie. Known previously for character-driven independent films Swingers and Go, Liman showed his adeptness at working in multiple genres by bringing his trademark loose, almost improvisational approach that breathed new life into the spy genre. It had become safe and predictable and it took an outsider like Liman and casting against type with Damon to shake things up. Without The Bourne Identity, Casino Royale (2006) would have been a very different film and the subsequent Daniel Craig Bond films wouldn’t be as gritty and substantial as they are.