Thursday 9 August 2012

From the archive: "The Bourne Supremacy"

Watching The Bourne Supremacy, you're reminded that its protagonist - Matt Damon's amnesiac footsoldier Jason Bourne - is meant as a realist retort to that other JB: we might think of him as 007 after all those Martinis had taken effect, leaving him unable to recall the night - or the life - before. If Doug Liman's original, 2002's The Bourne Identity, was this franchise's equivalent of the Connery Bonds - as pop as you like - then Supremacy is something akin to On Her Majesty's Secret Service, in which the lead character's personal tragedy and subsequent descent into brutal violence comes to mesh with the political sensibilities of the moment. It's no accident that one of the chief non-CIA villains here is an oil baron.

Assuming the director's seat is Brit Paul Greengrass, whose 1987 film Resurrected similarly featured a trained killer (there, an actual soldier) struggling to handle the stress of returning to normal life. Greengrass shoots in more or less the same close-up, hand-held manner of his best-known work, 2001's Bloody Sunday; he stages his fist fights and car chases with great skill, and avoids overt flashiness by filtering everything through muted shades of blue. The problem with this latest entry resides within the character of Bourne himself, who remains a cypher, a blank for spy-thriller geeks to project themselves onto. 

Bond can be broken down into recognisable character traits, but after two films, we're still no closer to knowing who Jason Bourne really is. Damon plays him for what he's become - a machine, designed by its superiors to kill, but unable to fathom that task - yet the fact remains that this character is even less fun to be around than the dinosaur in the tux. A slightly perfunctory coda - in which Bourne tracks down the daughter of one of his victims (played by Oksana Akinshina, Lukas Moodysson's Lilja herself) to a grotty post-Soviet tower block and attempts to apologise for his actions - doesn't entirely count in his favour.

Supremacy's absence of heart - signalled by the early slaying of someone close to Bourne, previously described as "the only character approaching a human being" - means the film sometimes feels as mechanical as factory-line espionage fiction destined for beach or poolside consumption is meant to be; try as it might, it never quite shakes off the sense of something with a certain amount of sand in its binding. Still, it's a good-looking, fast-moving picture, with decent location work and a superior ensemble of actors on hand to pull the levers and man the fort. The producers' decision to employ young, clued-up directors for both Bourne films so far gives this franchise a much more branché air than its contemporaries: in the Berlin scenes, anti-War flyers are posted to walls and marching students line the streets, evidence of a discontent far wider than Bourne's one-man battles with the Agency.

(August 2004)

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