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Re: Bourne
A film review of THE BOURNE SUPREMACY by Camus

Joy! A no bullshit, intelligent thriller - with (triple joy) no (noticeable) CG. I can forgive wire removal and the FX that never call attention to themselves but this slick, impressive sequel manages to thrill without a single altered pixel. The Bourne Supremacy is a movie that treats its audience with respect and earns it back effortlessly. Matt Damon's too all-American smile is condemned to a single past times happy snapshot with his live-in girlfriend (the impressive Franka Potente of Lola Rennt fame). This is Damon as an automaton, a highly trained killer and he's the bee's knees. As a leading man, he must have had the fewest lines to learn since Mel Gibson's iconic but monosyllabic turn in The Road Warrior but Damon's body language and demeanour are pitch perfect. It's so much easier to regard American square jawed heroes with a laughable contempt but Damon does such an impressive job that I was sold. This is practical secret agentship, not Bondian wave surfing fantasy.

So what crisis nudges Bourne out of his hiding place, nestled in with Lola in Goa in India? A Russian assassin is working to frame him, kill him and have the CIA running in circles trying to find the 'dead' killer. In an unusually clumsy bit of exposition, we are asked to believe that a super-spy would leave a fat, juicy thumbprint on a bomb that was never meant to go off. It's the only wrong foot The Bourne Supremacy makes. As the assassin catches up with the tortured but seemingly content Bourne in India, he misses his literal shot. The miss (and what he hits) leads to one of the most haunting images of loss I've seen in a cinema for many years. As 'inciting incidents' go (as our screenwriting gurus would have us believe), it’s hard to top.

From then on Bourne has his own mission; find out what the hell's going on whilst trying to remember his past wiped clean in the previous movie. The film's style is Bourne Identity x 3. The camerawork is faux-verité, always edgy, moving around, no line of frame ever truly locked down. It's an urgency that works. The editing doesn't make any nods to specific continuity (jump cuts abound) but - and this is the important thing - the narrative is crystal clear. The shots that are cut in to make us understand how or why something is happening are mere frames, not even full seconds but do they work. Bourne is visiting a hotel room where significant events took place. He ascertains that the authorities are on to him from seeing flickering shadows under the hotel room's door-frame. It's such a brief shot but it allows us to hang on the coat tails of a movie that is always moving just that bit faster than its audience. Watching the film is a constant reward of the chilled drink after exercise when you've been led to believe it would be lukewarm.

Bourne’s CIA contact is played by Joan Allen. I admit I sat in the cinema speed-dialling my memory trying to figure out where I had seen that chiselled, beautiful face before and in what context. Then it hit me. Joan Allen and Brian Cox had appeared in another movie though had played no scenes together. It's definitely an Outsider movie – Manhunter... Cox played Hannibal Lector and Joan Allen was Reba, the blind girl who turned a monster into a man. In Bourne, she attempts to turn a trained assassin back into a man, a man called David Webb, his name before the US government chose to wipe the hard disc and reformat.

The Bourne Supremacy globetrots. I mean, before you've been slightly patronised with the subtitle 'London, England' or my favourite 'New York, New York', you are whisked to another continent. This gives me hope for US education. After being bombarded with terrifying statistics like 11% of Americans own passports or President (Governor at best) Bush had never visited a country pre-presidency, outside the US, it makes a warm body feel good that other nations exist albeit in celluloid form. Europe is brought to life. I mean even Germany is brought to life and for an American film I see this as an extraordinary feat of recognition. "Look, Ma, them's other folk in other places."

Bourne visits another Bourne-like assassin. For a fleeting moment during their brutal fight, I flashed on 'Red' Grant's tussle with a certain James Bond on the Orient Express. The fact that I mention that epic scrap in the same paragraph should convince that I was impressed with the fight. It even echoed Torn Curtain – how hard is it to kill a man? Two expert killers trying their mojo on each other, each man able to parry or deflect any move each would make. It was brutal and as a moviegoer, eminently satisfying. As Quentin once said "People love violence in movies." Who'd have thought that one of the chief purveyors of violence in the movies would be named 'Quentin'? In my high school, that was the sort of name that got your face intimately acquainted with the ground part of the playground.

Director Paul Greengrass does a superlative job making a film that simply is a thriller, revels in its straightforwardness and delivers in almost every department. If the Bourne series can maintain such high standards, there's no reason to believe that subsequent episodes would simply pale… Bring on the Bournes.

The Bourne Supremacy

USA 2004
108 mins
Paul Greengrass
Patrick Crowley
Frank Marshall
Paul Sandberg
Tony Gilroy
from the novel by
Robert Ludlum
Oliver Wood
Richard Pearson
Christopher Rouse
John Powell
production design
Dominic Watkins
Matt Damon
Franke Potente
Brian Cox
Julia Styles
Joan Allen
review posted
15 September 2004

related review
The Bourne Ultimatum

See all of Camus's reviews