Archive for The Bourne Identity

Bourne After Reading

Posted in FILM with tags , , , , , , , , , , , , on May 6, 2018 by dcairns

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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In It For the Money

Posted in FILM, literature, MUSIC, Politics with tags , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , on January 7, 2013 by dcairns

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Came back from Dublin with a rampaging Irish lurgi in my system and collapsed into bed with a fitful cough that made my head explode each time it went off. Comedies were out. I chose to watch the worst thing I could lay my hands on.

That meant the 1980s. That meant Michael Caine. Add Robert Ludlum and John Frankenheimer, during his years of alcoholic haze, and you should have a perfect storm of awfulness perfect for a state of feverish narcolepsy. But actually THE HOLCROFT COVENANT displays dim glimpses of another, better film, as if two movies were projected on overlapping scrims and the wrong scrim was to the fore.

Ludlum: “the man who ruined titles,” as a friend puts it. I have a mental image of his literature — fat volumes of inept prose — but have never read any of it so apart from the fat part I don’t know how accurate/fair that is. He does seem to have yielded very little of cinematic value, and I suspect this may be partly due to weak characterisation — the one real hit in movie terms was the Bourne series, in which the hero is a literal blank. For much of THE HOLCROFT COVENANT, Caine’s character is similarly ill-defined, though that may be partly due to his inability to suggest a New York architect called Noel Holcroft (doesn’t he play something similar in the even-more-awful BLAME IT ON RIO? And with a similar name, Hollis…) and in THE OSTERMAN WEEKEND, characterisation is largely replaced by casting.

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So much for the HOLCROFT part of the dreadful title. The COVENANT is a vast bank account of pilfered Nazi funds set up supposedly to redress the Third Reich’s crimes. We’re asked to believe that it was judged wise to keep this money hidden away for forty years (Why?), that the funds shouldn’t have simply been handed over when the Reich fell, and that Swiss banks administer Nazi funds for benevolent reasons. Obligatory Euro-thriller star Michael Lonsdale plays the Swiss banker, with Lilli Palmer adding class and Mario Adorf adding sweaty ebullience.

But why do I suggest that the film is anything more than sheer rot, with an offensively inane premise? Well, the screenplay is the work of three hands — John Hopkins, who did a lot of spy stuff including THUNDRBALL and Smiley’s People, Edward Anhalt, who did classy stuff like THE MAN IN THE GLASS BOOTH but also fun like THE SATAN BUG (which I watched the same day by sheer coincidence, mainly because I was convinced I had the titular bug) and George Axelrod, a reminder of Frankenheimer’s glory days via THE MANCHURIAN CANDIDATE.

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Axelrod tends to smuggle in humour, sometimes in so black a form it’s hard to receive it as such, and it’s his voice that predominates, or would if the film were in tune with its own best intentions. Lines about Adorf’s character having found the perfect way to conceal his Nazi parentage by becoming world famous seem to leeringly point out the absurdity of the whole story. The NORTH BY NORTHWEST device of a regular joe plunged into the mad world of espionage is entertainingly resuscitated, at least on paper.

Caine is actually very funny in his incredulity at the secret codes and meetings in public places, but his being so evidently himself (complete with blazer) wrecks all the humour the script tries to ring from him being an American fish out of water. Co-stars Victoria Tennant, Anthony Andrews and Bernard Hepton (“Mustn’t grumble”) are forced to try to be even more British than they already are in order to try to make him seem American. Or maybe it’s just that Axelrod has written them as stiff-upper-lip parodies.

(Caine’s career seemed to stagger through innumerable fatal misfires like this one, but like a zombie from RETURN OF THE LIVING DEAD, not even repeated bullets to the head could stop it.)

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Highlights of fatuity — a chase through a Berlin Carnival of Prostitution (because not only do sex workers have lots of disposable income to throw at street festivities, but the city council is keen to promote the red light district as a tourist attraction); a highly public assassination attempt on seventy-one-year-old Lilli Palmer that kills four innocent bystanders and one assassin while wiping out Palmer’s bookshop (“My shop!” she cries, oblivious to the loss of life) but misses its target; Caine constantly meeting representatives of governments and businesses away from their places of business, with no guarantee that he’s talking to the real deal (he almost never is); an eleventh-hour twist about a character’s identity which makes no difference to anything.

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The movie looks glossy and Frankenheimer seems, depressingly, committed — some of his Dutch tilts and one crash zoom on Adorf’s huge cave-in of a face are actually witty. Obviously the money ran out — the score is a pathetic synth dribble, and a series of voicemail messages early on seem to be recorded by the film’s supporting cast, doubling up as offscreen characters. One of them is Frankenheimer himself. Inspiration must have run out too — the climax reprises shots from THE MANCHURIAN CANDIDATE (much as RONIN and REINDEER GAMES would reprise the coda of THE TRAIN) and the story, finally unmasked as the great chain of piffle it is, seems beyond even Axelrod’s powers to parody.

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