Archive for Tony Gilroy

“Maintain Visual Contact!”

Posted in FILM, literature with tags , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , on May 16, 2018 by dcairns

Some computer-jockey actually yells that in THE BOURNE ULTIMATUM. He’s having a laugh: director Paul Greengrass is going all-out this time to stop his enemies, the audience, from getting a fix on what the hell is going on in his violently unstable frame. He apparently went so far as to tell his camera operators that if they ever felt like violently reframing a shot, looking at something else, or just messing up the composition, they should do it. A producer opined to me that camera operators, as a breed, if empowered to do whatever they want, will tend to offer up a stable, eloquent and graceful composition, so I think there’s a sense that Greengrass is nudging them towards this chaotic approach pretty sharply.

What makes the idea dumb is that you can TELL the operator is edging around, not to get a better view, but to get a WORSE view, so unlike in THE IPCRESS FILE, we don’t get a feeling of covert surveillance, but one of filmmakers mucking about.He doesn’t go THIS far very often, thankfully. This reminds me of Peter Brook’s back-of-the-head shots in his KING LEAR, intended to fill in spaces whe”re the text is enough,” and any imagery would be too much. A pathetic idea, I always thought, an abdication of the filmmaker’s job, which is to find the right image the way a writer chooses le mot juste. Brook’s choice, like Greengrass’s here, has one main effect, which is to make the viewer wonder what’s gone wrong.

Having said that, I enjoyed this film more than its predecessors. It has a number of completely joyless, garbled fights and chases, but towards the end also delivers the best punch-up and the best car chase in the original trilogy (which has since sprouted two more films). The sequence of Bourne leaping from window to window in Tangiers, crossing streets a storey or more above ground level, is slightly absurd but very dynamic, with the abrupt changes of angle and movement forcing the eye to work hard but not quite defeating our ability to make sense of what we’re seeing.

Was Robert Ludlum obsessed with The Guardian newspaper? John Frankenheimer and George Axelrod’s gloriously ludicrous film of Ludlum’s THE HOLCROFT COVENANT has Anthony Andrews as a journalist who writes “brilliant but mysterious articles on international finance for the Guardian.” Here we have Paddy Considine as a hapless hack who gets in over his head and becomes for Bourne the equivalent of the Act 1 Girl in a Roger Moore Bond film, fated to be unceremoniously offed to create a bit of jeopardy and establish the baddie’s credentials.There’s also David Strathairn, Scott Glenn (moving sideways from NASA and the FBI to the CIA), Daniel Bruhl, Albert Finney, and the return of Julia Styles and Joan Allen. Edgar Ramirez, so striking in CARLOS, is almost invisible here as a thug, as the talented Karl Urban was in the previous film.Regular series scribe Tony Gilroy is credited with “screen story,” making me wonder what the source novel contributed, and various other hands (Scott Z. Burns, George Nolfi, an uncredited-as-usual Tom Stoppard) make this the film with the best dialogue and plot twists too. There’s also a furious amount of retconning — the second film already changed Bourne from a man who refused to be an assassin, to one who actually completed several missions, and now we find out he volunteered to be brainwashed in the first place. The flashbacks, shot with a deliberately malfunctioning camera, make the brainwashing look like waterboarding, adding “contemporary relevance,” which is commendable I guess, but left me unconvinced that drowning someone is good training to set them up for a career in homicide. Plus we learn that Julia Styles was Bourne’s lover before he chose to be brainwashed by Daddy Warbucks (Finney’s mishmash accent contains stray bits of John Huston) — so this is basically THE ETERNAL SUNSHINE OF THE SPOTLESS MIND with added punching.

 

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The Ludlummox

Posted in FILM, literature with tags , , , , , , , , , on May 11, 2018 by dcairns

And so to the ludicrously-named THE BOURNE SUPREMACY. Parlour game: invent a Robert Ludlum property that’s stupid-sounding enough to not be convincing — THE DOBERMANN INCONGRUITY, THE PIPKIN UNCERTAINTY, THE NIFFELNEGGER IMPONDERABLE all sound like they might pass. THE GREENGRASS TREMOR?

Brit Paul Greengrass, fresh from the success of the emotional and effective BLOODY SUNDAY, slides into a director’s chair still warm from Doug Liman’s buttocks. Tony Gilroy takes solo screenplay credit for the one time in the trilogy. I don’t like his ROGUE ONE or DEVIL’S ADVOCATE scripts, but is the acclaimed MICHAEL CLAYTON actually good?

Immediately the team pulls a no-no, killing of Lola Run, leading lady from the previous film. I think the argument against this kind of thing — ALIEN³ is probably the most notorious example — is that when a movie ends happily, the audience is being told that the characters are going to be OK, and when you bump off a major one in the sequel, you make a liar out of the first film and betray your fanbase, the very people invested in your story. Here, I might allow the filmmakers some latitude because (a) I wasn’t very invested in the character or relationship and (2) the death scene is the emotional high point of the film, despite being staged underwater. Casting directors take note: Matt Damon may be our best underwater actor. Partner him with Sally Hawkins immediately.

Now Matt Damon is out for revenge, except that’s not what Lola Run would have wanted, so he’s out to find out the truth and stop himself being killed, which is pretty much same as last time. Karl Urban is his main physical opponent and Brian Cox, returning from film 1, is the bad guy at the CIA. There are two kinds of British bad guy: the kind with a British accent that marks them as untrustworthy, and the kind with an unconvincing American accent that marks them as SUPER untrustworthy. In the third film, Albert Finney pops up and is, obviously, the most untrustworthy man in the galaxy.  Brian Cox hides, pissing off his co-star.

We’re also joined by Joan Allen — effortlessly the best thing in the film — and Julia Styles, who looks like she’s being groomed as the next leading lady for Bourne, only he’s not quite ready for that kind of commitment. So the cast includes Pat Nixon, Judge Dredd, Hannibal Lektor, Lola Run and Damien from THE OMEN’s mom. Bourne is going to have to do some serious head-kicking here.

And he does, but I couldn’t bring myself to care. The fights are all insanely over-cut, not as incoherent as Christopher Nolan at his worst, but messy and no fun to watch. The car chases are even worse, and the music is kinda horrible, so they’re pretty enervating rather than exciting. (John Powell’s score for the third film is a considerable improvement on his work here.) The reason I’d call the editing bad is not just what it does in the fights, but the way it chops a basic action into pieces, using three shots for a man parking his car where one would do. Breaking Sidney Pollock’s Law: Let the boring crap be boring crap. Fact: if you chapter hop rapidly through this film you see cars, trams, airports. You’d think it was a documentary about public transport in Europe. I feel like the DVD was bad quality, with an unpleasant digital look, so maybe I can’t fairly judge DOP Oliver Wood’s work, but my impression is that this whole series is mostly ugly-looking. Even the green-tinged fluorescent lighting, which can be BEAUTIFULLY ugly in some movies, is just yucky here.

The dialogue is better than the previous film — we should probably give Gilroy credit for reducing the corniness. And everything with Joan Allen has a certain credibility. The retconning begins, also — the previous film might have left you with the impression that govt. assassin Bourne crapped out on his first mission, but in fact he’s been a highly proficient murderer for some time, though admittedly he was brainwashed so we shouldn’t blame him too much (although I note that when Indiana Jones drank the Black Death of Kali, he was still able to assert his will and humanity. Maybe the CIA has invented something more powerful than the Black Death of Kali, though I for one find that very hard to believe.Good last scene (Joan Allen features prominently). Moby plays us out. I don’t really know why I watched the third film, but I did. To be continued…

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.