Thursday, January 20, 2005

video review: The Bourne Supremacy

Let me start out by admitting that I'm a big fan of Matt Damon. After a great start in Good Will Hunting, Damon has gone on to prove himself an interesting and versatile actor, taking small parts at times, taking big risks at other times, but always producing studied, deep, thought-provoking characters. It's interesting to contrast Damon's career with close friend and Good Will costar Ben Affleck, who has taken more "high-profile" parts and is now on the verge of complete cultural irrelevance. Besides Changing Lanes, Shakespeare in Love, and Good Will Hunting, I can't think of any Affleck movies that I really enjoy (sorry Kevin Smith fans . . . Dogma, Chasing Amy, and the like don't do anything for me). His Jack Ryan in Sum of All Fears was an abomination, and Paycheck may be one of the worst movies I've ever seen. I admit, he's got a good sense of humor about himself, and tends to be funny on Saturday Night Live, but hey, so was Brian Doyle-Murray, and I'm not about to pay $5 for any of his movies either. But I digress. This is a post about Matt Damon, not that other guy.

The thing about Matt Damon is that even in movies that should just be popcorn filler, he still makes each role unique and real. The Bourne movies are a great example. Bourne Supremacy starts up two years after Bourne Identity left off. Now in hiding in India, Jason Bourne thinks he's "off the grid" for good and is enjoying (if enjoying means always looking over your shoulder and frequently being forced awake by feverish nightmares) life with his girlfriend, Marie, played by the always intriguing Franka Potente, whose name is just a few notches behind Soleil Moon Frye in the Pantheon of Ludicrous Names.

Without giving away too much of the plot, let's just say that before long Jason Bourne is back to his old tricks and narrow escapes, all while trying to learn the truth about his past and his relationship with the CIA.

Bourne Supremacy has a much darker tone than its predecessor, and that's not necessarily a bad thing. The spy game here is a far cry from the slick, sexy, Ikea-inspired espionage of shows like Alias. Instead, you get the feeling the intelligence business is cold, brutal, and emotionally void. This is in part thanks to a strong supporting cast that includes Joan Allen and Brian Cox. These people's lives revolve around the CIA, and their gruffness is partly a survival method in a business where death, though a setback, is just part of the job. Black ops here is a dirty business, and no one gets out competely clean.

That feeling comes through particularly well because of cinematographer Oliver Wood. This world looks gritty, and Wood doesn't hold anything back to make sure the audience feels the grit. The film is at times washed out and at times grainy and coarse. There are almost no still camera shots, and the jerky feel supports the idea that no one in the film quite knows who's in charge. I've been told that the bouncing camera was obnoxious in the theater, and I can see how watching these images on a thirty-foot screen might cause a little bit of motion sickness. On DVD, however, the cinematography works beautifully. The car chase near the end of the film, particularly, is both chaotic and inspired. It's one of the roughest car chases on film, but the bone-crunching feel of the scene is invigorating.

In all, I think this is a great follow-up to the The Bourne Identity, and fans of the first film will likely enjoy this one as well. I've never read any of Robert Ludlum's Bourne books, but if they're half as exciting as the films, I may have to pick them up soon. Grade: B+

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