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 V.13 No.31 | July 29 - August 4, 2004 

Film Review

The Bourne Supremacy

Damon puts the thrill in thriller with another amped-up outing

“Ben Affleck’s coming. Step on it and pretend you didn’t see him.”
“Ben Affleck’s coming. Step on it and pretend you didn’t see him.”

The Bourne Supremacy

Directed by Paul Greengrass

Cast: Matt Damon, Joan Allen, Brian Cox

In the summer of 2002, The Bourne Identity was an iffy moviegoing prospect. It was based on a pulpy page turner by Robert Ludlum that had been floating around supermarket shelves since 1980. It had been made into a serviceable, if forgettable TV movie staring Richard Chamberlain. And it was to star Matt Damon, who had just tanked in All the Pretty Horses and The Legend of Bagger Vance. In fact, there was every reason to believe that The Bourne Identity would be crushed under the tank treads of The Sum of All Fears, a mega-budget paperback-turned-movie, which had opened two weeks earlier. Surprisingly, Bourne proved to be a sharp and savvy piece of entertainment, grabbing more than $100 million at the box office and its fair share of critical praise.

Since then, Damon has become a hot prospect, while pal Ben Affleck (who starred as Tom Clancy's immortal character Jack Ryan in The Sum of All Fears) has gone on to appear in the likes of Gigli and Jersey Girl. While Hollywood hasn't quite gotten around to producing another Jack Ryan film, the next episode of the Jason Bourne saga has already hit the big screen.

The Bourne Supremacy picks up right where the last narrative left off. When we last left our amnesiac assassin, Jason Bourne, he was retired and lounging it up with his girlfriend (Franke Potente) on a lush Greek isle. If Hollywood sequels have taught us anything, though, it's that retirements never last. Sure enough, Bourne is framed for the murder of two CIA operatives in Berlin. Suddenly, he finds himself pursued by both his former spy-biz bosses (including slimy Brian Cox) and a heartless Russian hit man (Karl Urban from The Lord of the Rings: The Return of the King).

Julia Stiles: actress or Gap model?
Julia Stiles: actress or Gap model?

Naturally, Bourne is called upon to kill a bunch of people and engage in a lot of car chases in order to clear his name. Leading the investigation against Bourne is no-nonsense CIA bureaucrat Emily Landry (the always surprising, always believable Joan Allen). Woven in and around the assorted brawls, explosions, crashes, crunches and leaps for life, is a complicated conspiracy plot that will certainly confuse those unused to paying attention during action movies. Literate-minded audience members will do just fine; others will find enough distraction in the nonstop action that plot intricacies really won't matter.

The script takes quite a few liberties with Ludlum's original novel (moving the action from China to Berlin for starters), but the story still comes across as smarter than the average summer action movie.

Doug Liman (Swingers, Go), who directed the first movie, has departed and been replaced by U.K. camera-slinger Paul Greengrass (who helmed the gritty thriller Bloody Sunday). Amazingly, Greengrass is able to keep pace with Liman's zippy, hyper-caffeinated style. The Bourne Supremacy is as nonstop adrenaline-pumping as its predecessor. That's hard to do without resorting to MTV-stylistics. Greengrass manages with a combination of gritty cinematography and raw, handheld camerawork. Such breathless pace is necessary, of course, to keep up with our hyperkinetic main character.

As portrayed by Matt Damon, Jason Bourne is sort of the anti-James Bond. Bourne is no suave seducer. He's a creature of action, a frighteningly efficient killing machine. He doesn't plot or plan. He simply does. Watching the easygoing Damon burst into action, subduing his enemies with anything at hand—a gun, a magazine, a toaster—is ceaselessly thrilling.

Bourne, let's be honest, is a bit of an easy conceit: a man without a past, with limitless skills and near superhuman abilities. Theoretically, there's nothing he can't do. If the situation requires him to speak Russian, or jump off a bridge or pilot the space shuttle, he can do it. It's to Damon's credit, really, that Bourne remains such a sympathetic character on screen. Damon isn't required to emote much, but his character, for all his fantastic skills, feels quite real. We understand him. He just wants to be left alone. He doesn't want to know his past, because it's probably pretty ugly. The film gives Bourne some nice character moments, without polishing off his rough spots.

Tougher, smarter and even more breathlessly entertaining than its predecessor, The Bourne Supremacy cements Damon's place in one of the best movie franchises to burst out of Hollywood in ages. Here's hoping screenwriters are hard at work on the third film in Ludlum's Bourne trilogy, The Bourne Ultimatum. I'm already amped up for it.

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