November 30, 2007

Mini-review: "The Bourne Identity" and "The Bourne Supremacy"

(Now that winter is here in Chicago, I am doing a lot more reading and movie-watching, and a lot less bicycling and other exercise; among other things, it means a lot more genre projects I've taken on purely for pleasure, and other projects I don't feel like sitting down and writing a full review concerning. Hence this series of mini-reviews, none of which are longer than a couple of hundred words. To see the full combined list of all mini-reviews [books and movies], click here.)

The Bourne Identity The Bourne Supremacy

The Bourne Identity (movie; 2002)
Written by Tony Gilroy, from the original novel by Robert Ludlum
Directed by Doug Liman

The Bourne Supremacy (movie; 2004)
Written by Tony Gilroy, from the original novel by Robert Ludlum
Directed by Paul Greengrass

Even within the accepted government-issued "Good Eating Pyramid," there is still legitimate room in every diet for a small amount of rich sweets; and as a guy who consumes a large amount of heady, dark, intellectual artistic material every year, my version of an occasional rich treat is the rare smart action thriller that occasionally comes along. Take as an excellent example Doug Liman's 2002 sleeper hit The Bourne Identity, a much smarter adaptation than the original schlocky and sexist Robert Ludlum novel deserves, a movie that takes a reasonably large budget and does things you usually only see in super-large-budget movies, but this time infinitely more intelligent precisely because of the budget being so much smaller (thus more out of the radar of most studio executives, and hence in a position to take bigger chances).

The movie takes the original premise of the novel -- deadly secret agent with amnesia, awake in the middle of the ocean and with no idea what's going on -- but then trades in all the '70s dame-smacking of the book for a profoundly smarter love interest instead, German expat Franke Potente (Run Lola Run) as a couch-surfing slacker with her own shady past, and a thing for tough yet sensitive amnesiac secret-agent killers with bags full of cash and who just happen to look like Matt Freaking Damon. Add the smartest chase scene since The French Connection, an endless series of breathless set pieces, and a paranoiac script that taps straight into the black-ops conspiracy zeitgeist of our times, and you have yourself one slick thriller indeed; doubly astonishing when you consider that this was Liman's first-ever action film, and that his biggest success before this had been the snarky, dialogue-heavy romantic comedy Swingers.

Ah, but then the whole thing got handed over to that hackmeister Paul Greengrass, and the entire franchise went straight to hell; smart scripts, for example, suddenly gave way to endless repeats of, "You screwed up my life and now you're all going to pay! YOU SCREWED UP MY LIFE AND NOW YOU'RE ALL GOING TO PAY!!!" Cue shaky f--king vomit-inducing camera here! Seriously, what kind of witch-like spell has Greengrass thrown over so many of you otherwise intelligent human beings? Why do you all keep praising his work and nominating it for awards? The only thing Greengrass has proven in all the films he's now made is that he's in dire need of a tripod, not to mention a refresher course on convincing plot devices; it's the difference between the original Identity being such a transcendent experience and an instant classic, and the sequel Supremacy being just another piece-of-crap action movie, which like so many others goes out of its way to hire smart people, then completely wastes the talents they bring to the production. Ugh! "Soul of the Haunted American Archetype" my ass!

Out of 10:
The Bourne Identity: 9.6
The Bourne Supremacy: 5.6

Filed by Jason Pettus at 2:23 PM, November 30, 2007. Filed under: Movies | Reviews |