Friday, July 23, 2004

Bourne Yet Again

I promised I would tell you about The Bourne Supremacy when the time was right, and now we have come to that time.

It was okay.

Director Paul Greengrass makes an attempt to capture the grainy, handheld, indie-film stylings of Doug Liman's original and mostly succeeds. Matt Damon is suitably intense. Fight and action scenes have loud, crisp, almost too-harsh sound effects that make you really feel the impacts, although if you think about it they're as unrealistic and disproportionate as any badly-dubbed kung-fu movie. I wasn't terribly concerned with the characters we left behind in the first movie, but rest assured, we see them again. Annoying, overrated Julia Stiles reprises her tiny role with screen time that's thankfully limited. Brian Cox, in sinister CIA-coverup-guy mode, and Joan Allen, in earnest CIA-strong-woman mode, are standouts. Overall, I enjoyed it all right but was not overwhelmed with enthusiasm.

Here's the thing about this movie. It takes the quick-cut trend of American action movies to an absurd extreme. Regardless of the gritty, cutting-edge style of The Bourne Identity, I seem to remember that one of its greatest pleasures was that when the car chase happened, we could always tell what was going on. It was a realistic, coherent car chase untainted by obviously fake effects; in short, everything the chase in Gone in 60 Seconds was not. In The Bourne Supremacy, the relentless editing does not let up for anything.

The car chase (and I hope I am not spoiling anything by revealing that there is one) has been edited to tatters. The brief glimpses we get of what is going on suggest that something impressive is happening, and surely stunt drivers spent many risky hours on it, but darned if I know what they did. This is the coolest car chase you'll never see. I am not exaggerating.

You know the scenes in movies like this where the main character (here, Bourne) has brief flashbacks to his past that he can't figure out, and to keep the audience from figuring it out, you just get quick, jarring glimpses of it that will make sense later? Imagine entire action sequences edited in this style and you will understand what I'm talking about. It's an interesting cinematic effect you get, almost as if you dreamed a car chase and can't quite remember it, as if the film is planting the seeds of a car chase that you will fill in with your imagination. In fact, the Los Angeles Times review praises the technique for effectively suggesting the subjective point of view of Bourne's own fractured psyche. In a way, that's cool, and I'll admit it does do that. What it does not do, however, is offer any of the thrills of an actual movie car chase, like the chase in Bourne Identity, in which one can view and appreciate the action and stunt-work on display.

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