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"A roller coaster ride of unglamorous sophistication and artful escapes."
"It's the innovation and the agility that keeps us wanting more."
"An oversimplification of the story...one that describes its characters simply as the pursuer or pursued."
The Bourne Supremacy  

Cast

Jason Bourne: Matt Damon
Marie Helena: Franka Potente
Agent Landy: Joan Allen
Nicolette: Julia Stiles
Ward Abbott: Brian Cox
John Nevins: Tim Griffin
Zorn: Wanju Mues
Review July 2004

If you're looking for a mindless action thriller, "The Bourne Supremacy" fits the bill quite nicely. Continuing the saga of the amnesiac Jason Bourne and his attempt to reconcile past memories of super agenthood, the film deviates from the novel quite a bit to focus entirely on the chase. While CIA Agent Landy searches for Bourne in an elaborate game of cat and mouse, a Russian assassin aims to have Bourne killed. From the shores of India to the city streets of Berlin and Moscow, everyone seems preoccupied with Bourne - including director Paul Greengrass, who finds a way to maintain intrigue and suspense without the need for character complexities. Representing the second piece in Robert Ludlum's three part series, "The Bourne Supremacy" de-emphasizes melodrama while emphasizing the action quotient. And the end result is a roller coaster ride of unglamorous sophistication and artful escapes.

Off the southern coast of India, in the remote province of Goa, Jason Bourne awakens after an intense dream. Haunted by the memories of his past, he and his German girlfriend, Maria, find safe refuge way out of harm's way. But not for long, as a Russian hit man discovers their whereabouts and pursues Bourne and Maria with pinpoint accuracy. Meanwhile, in Berlin, a covert CIA operation goes south when an agent and his inside contact are murdered by a man masquerading as Jason Bourne. Following the disaster, the head of the operation (Agent Landy) discovers Bourne's fingerprints at the scene and takes immediate action to research and capture Bourne, despite cautious resistance from her boss, Ward Abbott.

Narrowly escaping assassination, Bourne makes his way to Italy to visit Jarda, the only other super agent left. Uncertain why someone would want to frame him, Bourne seeks answers from Jarda but winds up getting in a mad tussle instead. And unfortunately, during the fight, his location is blown. With the Italian police after him, the CIA in hot pursuit, and an unknown Russian contingency wanting him dead, Bourne must once again find all the right answers while avoiding capture. And this chase takes him from Italy to Berlin and all the way to Moscow where he must make an apologetic visit to one of his mark's daughters.

The most fascinating part about the Bourne trilogy is the character, Jason Bourne. And Matt Damon's performance is what keeps the film afloat. Unlike James Bond, who flirts with the ladies and exudes a cocky affluence, Bourne is an unsophisticated persona. Approaching the character in a matter of fact way is what gives Damon's Bourne a mix of boyish innocence and a verve of intellectual tenacity. Although the script prevents Bourne from getting involved emotionally and psychologically, it's the innovation and the agility that keeps us wanting more. The way he approaches situations, mathematically deduces the probabilities, and executes with foresight is amazing and fun to watch. Whether using a rolled up magazine to attack an opponent, a toaster to ignite a fire, or having the wherewithal to disarm a guard and take his cell phone call list, Bourne is a super agent with a MacGyver boost.

But for those who are familiar with the Ludlam series, this film may once again come as a disappointment. Like "The Bourne Identity," which deviates from Ludlam's novel shortly after Bourne is rescued in the middle of the Mediterranean, the second installment is a total rewrite. Perhaps this variation is due to the complexity of the novel, which involves the assassination of a Chinese vice-premier, the kidnapping of Bourne's wife, and a consequential struggle for power in the Far East. There are many story arcs to resolve and to do so satisfactorily in just a few hours might have been asking for too much. Yet screenwriter Tony Gilroy doesn't even make an attempt. In the film version, an irrelevant assassination occurs in Berlin, Bourne's wife (is he even married?) is never kidnapped, and none of the action takes place in China, let alone anything that would impact world affairs. This demonstrates an oversimplification of the story, one in which there is nothing to gain or lose, and one that describes its characters simply as the pursuer or pursued.

Another knock on the film comes in the form of a visual jolt. Influenced by director Paul Greengrass, the cinematography of Oliver Wood gets overshadowed by an insatiable urge to hyper edit. This occurs in nearly every action scene, where hand-to-hand combat and chase sequences are throttled with dizzying effects and split second cuts. Although Greengrass used this gritty style to perfection in the docudrama, "Bloody Sunday," the result of this technique here can only be described as disruptive. Normally, such effects are necessary to heighten action points and make simulated movements quicker. But it can also have the opposite effect, as an audience strains to keep up.

Still, there's nothing like the thrill of a good o'l fashion car chase. And within "The Bourne Supremacy," there are quite a few. In particular, there is a wheel grinding, whiplash induced tunnel chase that will satisfy even the diehard action buffs. Without blue screens or visual razzle dazzle, this exhilarating ride appears authentic and spontaneous, as Bourne looks back at his pursuers in the middle of an intersection only to be plowed by oncoming traffic. Of course, the repercussions for such sequences involving mass pileups and citywide destruction is never addressed, but then again, this isn't reality either.

"The Bourne Supremacy" is an action thriller with a simple premise and a simple game of hide and seek. It's casual entertainment, watching Jason Bourne defuse a variety of scenarios with innovation and expertise. And Matt Damon applies just the right personality traits. But it's not more complicated than that. In fact, too much simplicity prevents the characters from exploring new territory and a jostled camera with steroid latent edits deflates some of the thrill. Rather than reign supreme, this Bourne has everything in between.



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