09 August 2012

The Bourne Reflection

I decided to once again re-watch all the movies in a franchise prior to the newest release.  This weekend will welcome the latest in the Bourne franchise that exploded on the scene back in 2002.  So, I went over to my shelf and dusted off The Bourne Trilogy on Blu-Ray that I purchased a few years ago, and never watched (I use my money wisely).  As a quick warning, the following article does have some spoilers, as if you haven’t seen the trilogy.

The Bourne Identity opened back in June 2002 to an impressive $21 million second place finish.  It went on to make over $121 million on its $60 million budget.  I remember seeing this movie in theaters back in Indianapolis after my shift at the local movie house.  What a badass film!  That is all I really remembered.  I bought the Extended Edition DVD when it came out in 2004, watched it that night, and never again.  So, when I sat down this past weekend, it had been eight years since I have seen The Bourne Identity.

The Bourne Identity opens on a fishing boat in a storm fishing a body out of the water.  The crew medic examines the nearly lifeless body, and removes the two bullets from his back and a mysterious laser pointer containing a back account number from his hip.  The mysterious man (Matt Damon) awakens with no knowledge of who he is, or what he was doing out in the middle of the ocean.

Once on land, he sleeps on a park bench and gets confronted by some police officers.  Out of nowhere, he takes them down with ease.  The next morning he makes his way to the bank and gets a safe deposit box.  He discovers his name is Jason Bourne, and he lives in Paris.  Next, he makes his way to the US Embassy with his US passport, one of the many passprts he found in his lockbox.  There, he is confronted by more officers and military personnel.  Once again, Bourne dispatches of them and eludes them with ease.  As part of his escape, he pays Marie (Franka Potente) to drive him to Paris.  She is quickly added to the ensuing manhunt as his accomplice.

Meanwhile back in the US, the government is working hard on damage control.  Apparently, there was a black ops mission to assassinate Wombosi (Adewale Akinnuoye-Agbaje), an extremist.  The mission was a failure, and now Wombosi is threatening to name names within the US government about something that no one wants to be made public, unless he is given the would-be assassin.  Of course, the assassin was Bourne.  This leaves Conklin (Chris Cooper), the head of a black ops group called Treadstone, to activate all his other operatives to try and locate and contain or kill Jason Bourne.  This also makes Ward Abbott (Brian Cox) uneasy, as he has some stake in Treadstone, too, and does not want Wombosi’s information to go public.

This puts three operatives on the trail of Bourne, who is still trying to figure out who he is.  As very few pieces come together for Bourne, he is forced to confront the other operatives.  One of which is played by Clive Owen, who informs him of Treadstone, and gives Bourne enough knowledge about it to be dangerous.  Bourne sends Marie on her way for her own good, and sets out to end this with Treadstone.

As I mentioned above, it had been eight years since I last watched The Bourne Identity.  I forgot just how deep and layered the plot is.  All I really remembered was the action scenes.  Doug Liman, who had only directed Swingers and Go, put together a helluva film.  He managed to balance great character development and dialog scenes with down to Earth action.  John Powell’s score helped keep the movie moving at the appropriate pace.  It fit the action as well as the non-action scenes.  The script, written by Tony Gilroy, is based on the first of three books by Robert Ludlum about his memory challenged assassin.  I have not read the books, though I have them and have tried.  Ludlum’s writing is just plain boring to me.  I cannot read his style or Tom Clancy or John Grisham.  I don’t know why.  I love the movies based on their literary works.  I just cannot read the books.  After watching The Bourne Identity again, I might give the book another try.

The cast of this film amazed me, too.  There are just so many actors who have gone on to become household names and faces since this movie came out.  Clive Owen was in the BMW series Driver, and was in the Robert Altman Oscar contender Gosford Park, but he was not known to US audiences.  Adewale Akinnuoye-Agbaje was great as the political extremist, and went on to be Mr. Eko in Lost.  Probably my favorite find was Walton Goggins.  He played a member of Conklin’s research team.  He is better known as Shane from The Shield and Boyd Crowder from Justified.  Julia Stiles plays Nicolette, a member of Treadstone tasked with keeping tabs on the operatives.  Her character becomes more important in the later films.  If you are a fan of foreign films, you might even recognize Franka Potente as she is Lola, from Tywer’s Run Lola Run.  On top of all of these “no-name” actors, you have Academy Award winner Chris Cooper (Adaptation), Matt Damon (Good Will Hunting) and Emmy winner Brian Cox (Nuremberg).  That is a stacked cast set for success.

I like The Bourne Identity already, but after a long hiatus, I know love it. There was so much about it that I forgot, or just did not catch the last time I watched it.  At the conclusion of the film, Liman and Gilroy wrapped the movie up nicely in the chance that this was the only film they would be able to make.  Damon was no action star back in 2002, not to mention an actor capable of headlining a franchise.  It might have been a big risk in 2002, but now it would be a no-brainer.  Much of his success is due to this film.

As the ending credits rolled for The Bourne Identity, I was faced with a tough decision: Do I risk waking The Kid, who had been sleeping on me for the past hour, to change out the disc?  Or, do I let him sleep, and just watch what is on television?  I took the risk.  I paid the price.  The Kid was not happy with me moving him, and after twenty minutes, I finally got back to the Bourne franchise, and had a sleeping baby.

I did not see The Bourne Supremacy in theaters.  It opened at the end of the summer in 2004.  I just finished interning in Chicago, and was moving back to college as this film opened to a massive $52 million first place finish and was on its way to $176 million on a $75 million budget.  So, I first viewed the movie when it hit DVD.  I rushed out and bought it, watched it once in college while doing something else, and quickly forgot about most of it.  All I remembered was some car chase and Marie getting killed at the beginning.  I also remember not liking it much.  I sat down, hit play, and gave The Bourne Supremacy another chance.

The film opens two years after the events of the first film.  Pam Landy (Joan Allen) is running a CIA operation in Russia to obtain some files about corruption (are there any other kind?).  As the transfer is about to go down, the power and security goes down, a mysterious figure enters and kills both the seller and the buyer.  This leaves Landy trying to figure out what just happened to her op.  A thumbprint left at the scene matches that of Treadstone operative Jason Bourne.  She gets the necessary clearance, and obtains the files on Treadstone.  As she starts to dig into it, she comes across Ward Abbott’s name and interviews him.  Abbott (Cox) is not very forthcoming with information, and is quickly dragged into the case.

Meanwhile, Bourne (Damon) wakes from a nightmare/memory.  He is living with Marie (Potente) in India.  They have made a life for themselves free of the government per Bourne’s request at the end of the first film.  The same mysterious man, Kirill (Karl Urban) comes to India, locates Bourne, and tries to kill him.  Of course he fails, but believes he has succeeded.  All he really did, however, was kill Marie and piss off Jason Bourne.

Bourne then starts to look into why he was targeted, and discovers that yet another manhunt is on, and he is once again the target.  He learns that he is wanted for the hijacking of the money and the files, and now must prove he had nothing to do with it while being chased.  To make matters worse, word gets back to Kirill that he is not dead, and now Bourne must evade both sides.

Bourne makes contact with Landy, and demands a meeting with Nicolette (Stiles).  Bourne confronts her about a mission he was on in Russia.  She tells him he was never in Russia, but he knows otherwise.  As he pieces it together, Bourne discovers that his first mission was off-the-books.  He was used by Conklin and Abbott as a private hit man to take out a Russian bureaucrat.  Bourne puts together that the head of the corruption is none other than Abbott.  He leaks this information to Landy, leaving Bourne to deal with Kirill.  This showdown occurs by the way of ridiculously awesome car chase.  Now, with his name clear, Bourne dares to come stateside and contact Landy.  She informs him of his real name, David Webb, and offers to help him.  This is where we fade to black.

Again, the depth and layers in the script by Tony Gilroy keep coming and keep me intrigued.  I am not sure what I watched the first time, but I cannot believe that I did not love The Bourne Supremacy.  I might go as far even to say that this was better than The Bourne Identity.  The only real change from Identity to Supremacy comes by way of the director.  Paul Greengrass replaces Doug Liman, but Liman sticks around as a producer.  This is the first of three collaborations between Greengrass and Damon.  Both return for the three-quel and then again for Green Zone.  Anyway, Greengrass had not really directed anything of note before getting this job.  He brought a whole new feel to the action by way of fast, frantic, cuts that make you feel like you are in the middle of it.  Unfortunately, this also hinders your ability to see what is going on.  Greengrass uses this style to death in Green Zone.

With the loss of Chris Cooper from the first film, it is refreshing to see Academy Award nominee Joan Allen step in.  She takes the reigns and leads the charge in a convincing manner.  Brian Cox keeps up his great acting, until his untimely ending.  Damon does a fantastic job playing the tortured, memory deprived Treadstone operative.  Julia Stiles sees her role increase, and she takes the opportunity to show her acting chops.  The interesting addition this time around is Karl Urban as Kirill.  Kirill does not have a lot of dialog, but Urban says a lot with his actions.  He just came off the Lord of the Rings trilogy, stepped into this role, and has gone on to other action movies; some better than others.  So, that is two Bourne films down, and one to go.

It took a few days until I found the time to finish the trilogy, but the important thing is: I found the time.  I originally saw The Bourne Ultimatum during its massive $69 million opening weekend.  It went on to gross a franchise high $227 million.  I remember the shaky-cam filming more than anything.  I remember thinking, thank goodness The Wife did not accompany me to this, she would be sicker than sick.  I also remembered a lot of action, and the ending.  I am not sure why these movies did not leave a bigger impression on me, but I am sure after watching all three of the Matt Damon Bourne films in such a short time period, and enjoying them, they will stick with me better.

The Bourne Ultimatum opens right after the Kirill action scene of The Bourne Supremacy.  The story fills the gap, which you don’t know is there, from the car chase to Bourne calling Landy at the end of Supremacy.  Bourne is bleeding, finds a pharmacy, administers his own first aid, takes out a few Russian cops, and begins his journey to the States.

In the meantime, over in Italy, Simon Ross (Paddy Considine), a reporter, is meeting with CIA whistleblower Neal Daniels (Colin Stinton).  Ross has been trying to piece together the story of Bourne.  Daniels informs him of a top secret CIA program codenamed Blackbriar.  So, being the typical reporter, Ross blurts the codename on his cell phone, and immediately gets flagged by CIA Agent Noah Vosen (David Strathairn) and his team.  Vosen is part of the cover-up going on with Abbott.  The head of the CIA Ezra Kramer (Scott Glenn) is in on it, too.  Landy (Allen) gets involved to help track Bourne.

Bourne makes his way to England to meet with Ross and find out what he knows and who his source is.  This meeting does not go well, as Vosen has sent a Blackbriar operative Paz (Edgar Ramirez) to kill both Bourne and Ross.  After Paz takes out Ross, this leaves both the CIA and Bourne on the hunt for Daniels.  Vosen sends another Blackbriar operative Desh (Joey Ansah).  Along the way, Bourne runs across Nicky Parsons (Stiles), and they go after Daniels.  Desh is then sent orders to kill Nicky and Bourne after dispatching of Daniels.  He bats one for three.  The hunter/hunted scene between Nicky, Desh and Bourne seems to go on forever before Bourne finally puts an end to Desh.  Now, with Daniels and Desh dead, Bourne tells Nicky that she must lie low and stay on the run.

So, Bourne finally makes it back stateside to find out who he is, what happened to him, and to take his life back.  This is when Landy receives the call from the end of the second film.  This is 75 minutes into the 115 minute running time.  The last forty minutes deals with Vosen still trying to locate, capture and kill Bourne while keeping Landy from finding out how dirty he is.  In the end, Bourne confronts Dr. Albert Hirsch (Albert Finney), the man responsible for turning him into Jason Bourne.  After a long, semi-painful scene of dialog that explains everything, Bourne is forced to escape one more time.  He is shot as he jumps into a river, and believed to be dead.  But we all know better.

Again, a solid script by Tony Gilroy keeps this entry moving forward.  Sadly though, The Bourne Ultimatum is unwatchable by anyone who gets motion sick while watching movies due to the excessive shaky cam shots by director Paul Greengrass.  The Wife sat down during the last fifteen minutes and had to vacate the couch in less than five.

Once again, the franchise is forced to replace a great actor, Brian Cox.  How do they do that?  They get Academy Award nominee David Strathairn.  Strathairn does a great job standing toe-to-toe with Joan Allen.  I am only saddened that Scott Glenn is under utilized as the director of the CIA.  Julia Stiles sees her role increase yet again, and she takes advantage of it.  Matt Damon takes his character into deeper and darker places yet again.  The rest of the cast puts in a solid job for what many of them considered the final chapter in the Bourne franchise.  But, we all know that if that were the case, or I would not be writing this article. 

While I enjoyed The Bourne Ultimatum, I do not think it is as strong as the first two.  It relies heavily on long action scenes to carry it to its conclusion.  The story does what it has to in order to wrap up the story of Jason Bourne.  The ending is both final and yet open. I prefer this method to the closed, no more Jason Bourne movies, this is it type ending; and the cheesy, is this it, we could make more style.

I am glad that I took the time revisit this franchise, as it has been better than I remembered.  Individually, each film has its strengths and weaknesses.  As a whole, the franchise is stronger than most trilogies.  A lot of times, by the time the third movie rolls around, everything is tired and boring.  The last entry becomes about making money.  That is not the case here.  There is a definitive ending that is being aimed at, and it is achieved.  Hopefully, I will not wait another eight years before watching them again.

I look forward into seeing the fourth entry, The Bourne Legacy, but I think it will be hard to capture the magic of the original.  Come back Monday to find out how it fares…


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