Bourne After Reading

Jason Bourne isn’t really like near-namesake James Bond because he’s a rogue agent, which Daniel Craig only ever pretends to be (but he pretends it A LOT) — Bourne is in the category of amnesiac bad-ass, like Schwartzenegger and his replacement in TOTAL RECALL (whoever played the part in the remake has fallen into my own memory well and I can’t be bothered retrieving him) or Wolverine. Arnie can certainly personate an ambitiously sculpted hard man, and Hugh Jactor certainly looks the part with his adamantium skeleton and Alvin Stardust hair, but Matt Damon is the only one who projects a trace of suitable angst at his brainwashed condition. He has the perfect face for it — the face of an angry toddler lost in thought. He seems perpetually about to push a playschool friend into a puddle.

So, I decided to watch THE BOURNE IDENTITY at last — I gave up after five minutes on a plane once, preferring high anxiety to motion sickness — since the discs were all available for 25p in Leith. But what rotten discs — they don’t reflect the cinematic experience at all, since the subtitles for the foreign-speak bleed out of the widescreen masking. That wouldn’t be allowed in the cinema, the people in the front row would get subtitle all over their shoes.

Joining angry little man in the cast are Franka Potente — very good and natural, even when acting from under a terrible wig — Chris Cooper, Brian Cox, Clive Owen, Julia Styles.Aaaaah — this is the most painful thing ever to happen in a spy film. Worse than the comedy relief sheriff in the Roger Moores.

I once saw Chris Cooper talk about this film, which he did NOT enjoy much. They were rewriting it on the hoof, so he never knew what he was playing. In the finished product, he’s a pretty plain baddie, but it evidently took multiple drafts to achieve that one dimension. Tony Gilroy, one of two credited scribes, wrote the following two entries so I guess he won the fight, perhaps by jabbing a biro into competitor W. Blake Herron’s hand, as Bourne does to an opponent here.

In Doug Liman’s opening film in the series, before he was replaced by Paul Greengrass, Bourne is hunted by his own side and has to square off against three deadly enemies.First is THE DEFENESTRATOR, who attacks Bourne through a frosted glass door, not by shooting him with his assault rifle, which would be too easy, but by crashing through the door and bashing into him at close range so that Bourne can get the rifle off him. This guy must really like crashing through glass. The good news is, he’s in the right film. If he turned up in THE INTERN or DOUBT or PATERSON, he might get to be distracting. Having been bested by Bourne, who stabs a biro into his hand but does not push him into a puddle, he calmly jumps through a closed window, walks into the balcony railing, flops over it, and falls several storeys into the street.Bourne’s second enemy is CRINGEING CLIVE OWEN MAN, who wears glasses and uses a rifle. When he’s fatally wounded, there are no windows handy, so he just starts delivering exposition, almost as if he hadn’t been brainwashed at all, except that all his exposition is about how he was brainwashed.

Fiona walked in right at the end of the film. I started guiltily. Then she started laughing scornfully at Chris Cooper’s dialogue — “You’re a U.S. government property! You’re a malfunctioning thirty million dollar weapon! You’re a total goddamn catastrophe!” — and I realised what a welcome addition she would have been to the whole experience. She was just in time, though, for the final boss of this movie —BANISTER MAN is despatched in a variety of ways, mostly by having his head shoved through one of those fragile movie banisters. Not The Unfeasibly Low Banister of Jeremy Irons, which proves such a hazard in DAMAGE (you MUST see it! it is to laugh!), just a breakaway one. Then, indignity of indignities, Bourne uses him as a kind of cushion, smashing him altogether through the banister, off into the void of the stairwell, Bourne clinging to the guys back and RIDING HIM DOWN, shooting another bad guy as he passes, then landing several storeys down — the impact doesn’t kill Bourne as it did The Defenestrator because he’s got Banister Man to use as a human crash mat. Chris Cooper is furious at himself for hiring such a heavily padded assassin. Basically a space hopper crammed into jeans and a jacket. All this action is terribly cutty. It’s not totally confusing, but it’s not very satisfying. Virtually all the other stuff is shot with a roving steadicam, which is also not very satisfying. Nothing seems thought through. To suggest anything of real importance, all Liman can do is cut even faster, which does work when Bourne’s spidey-sense warns him that The Defenestrator is coming. It gets a bit avant-garde there — I’m sort of hoping for more eccentric choices in the follow-ups. One shot of a car speeding through the night goes wonky at the end. That’s the kind of thing I like to see in my stupid action films.

Moby sings us out. THE BOURNE IDENTITY is not a good film, but now I have to watch at least one Greengrass episode to judge whether he’s a better filmmaker than Doug Liman. Both those guys started out seeming sort of promising.

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7 Responses to “Bourne After Reading”

  1. chris schneider Says:

    “Both those guys started out seeming sort of promising.” Didn’t we all? You make Damon sound like Slim Pickens in his last shot in STRANGELOVE. I’ve yet to see a BOURNE film, so I’ll take your word for it.

  2. Patrick Says:

    ” THE BOURNE IDENTITY is not a good film, but now I have to watch at least one Greengrass episode to judge whether he’s a better filmmaker than Doug Liman. Both those guys started out seeming sort of promising.”

    My vote goes to Liman. Greengras has such a hyperactive editing style (and that’s putting it mildly) I find it difficult to even watch certain scenes where he really chops thing up. I’ve like most of Liman’s stuff, although “American Made” not so much.

  3. Patrick Says:

    That would be Greengrass of course.

  4. Greengrass’ latest “Norway” (now in post) is about mass murderer Anders Behring Breivik. A great showcase for his hyperactive editing style, no doubt

  5. Greengrass divides his time between these thrillers and real-life tragedies, and I’m beginning to wonder if that style is really doing justice to the human stories, and what the purpose of it all is. I understood the urgency of Bloody Sunday, but United 93 seemed pointless to me. I already feel all the sympathy in the world for those people and I know what happened. Likewise with Norway.

    Liman has made some entertaining films but I feel he’s actually less adept at the hyperkinetic thing than Greengrass. I’ll try to unpick why in upcoming posts.

  6. I wonder how the Greengrass version of the Anders Breivik story will compare to the U: July 22nd one that just came out.

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