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Bourne to Kill

 

The Bourne Supremacy

Paul Greengrass, USA, 2004

Rating: 3.0

 

 

Posted: July 26, 2004

By Laurence Station

The hunted becomes the hunter in The Bourne Supremacy, the second in a trilogy vaguely related to Robert Ludlum's best-selling espionage novels, in which Matt Damon reprises his role as amnesiac ex-CIA assassin Jason Bourne. As the first film revealed, Bourne had been slated for decommissioning (i.e., assassination), but managed to survive and spent the remainder of The Bourne Identity struggling to figure out who he was while fending off the various operatives dispatched to kill him. The Bourne Supremacy finds our protagonist taking the fight to his former employers (though not in as direct a way as the film's trailers may have led viewers to believe).

In that respect, Supremacy is a more engaging film than the first. What it lacks, however, is a human element -- something The Bourne Identity possessed thanks to Franka Potente's character Marie, who through bad timing was drawn into Bourne's spy vs. spy world and ultimately became his lover. Sadly, Marie's not around very long in this one, serving more as a trigger mechanism that jump starts Bourne's counterstrike against those who just won't allow him to stay retired.

Damon doesn't get a chance to do much emoting (even an end scene in which he confesses his sins lacks a human touch), but he does get to show off Bourne's quick-cut sharp martial arts moves and deft evasive skills (in car and on foot) quite nicely. The former assassin busts these moves in response to a trio of opponents: Pamela Landy (Joan Allen), an ambitious CIA middle manager who mistakenly thinks Bourne has resurfaced (and killed two of her agents) and is determined to capture him; Ward Abbott (again played by Brian Cox), head of the shadowy, now-defunct CIA killing team, who wants Bourne dead at any costs; and Bourne's mano-a-mano foe, a Russian agent played with grim professionalism by Karl Urban.

The Bourne Supremacy works best when it's running on pure adrenaline through far-flung locales, as when Bourne evades police in Berlin, or proves just how durable Russian taxis are during a thrilling car chase. But the film falters when it comes to the quieter moments (Bourne brooding on the horrible deeds he's committed; Abbott and Landy battling over Bourne's fate). Without a normal, grounded character like Marie representing the audience's POV, we're stuck with lethal, highly trained killers and power-hungry bureaucrats and, since we already know The Bourne Ultimatum will be coming to a theater near us in about two years' time, there's little suspense as to whether Bourne survives. Worse, our anti-hero doesn't exactly take the fight to his former superiors, so much as he gathers information regarding what the hell they want with him -- a gatherer of facts and figures who just happens to know 274 esoteric ways to kill a person. It's all precise and sharp but not even remotely warm or likeable.

Paul Greengrass takes over the director's chair from Doug Liman (now an Executive Producer), and brings the same herky-jerky, tripod-be-damned camera style he employed in Bloody Sunday. Greengrass's approach might be disconcerting for some viewers, or even nauseating -- especially during the you-are-there bumper-cars derby in a Moscow tunnel. But it does add a welcome, visceral kick to the story, an over-the-shoulder peepshow into a very dangerous world. The Bourne Supremacy is a slight improvement on Identity, but that's splitting hairs. Both are sturdy action flicks that do their job with cool (and at times ice-cold), calculated efficiency -- something a man like Jason Bourne would no doubt admire.

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