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Bourne Supremacy, The

Reviewed By David Cornelius
Posted 12/06/04 20:03:06

"A real treat for those wanting smart, grown-up action."
5 stars (Awesome)

It’s been a year of sequels that are managing to outshine their predecessors, and of them all, “The Bourne Supremacy” is - surprise! - the best of them all. The film is everything we liked about “The Bourne Identity,” only with a more steamlined, involving plot and, dare I say it, better action sequences. This is a complex, grown up thriller that’s rich in its gritty detail and nearly flawless in its stuntwork. And if you thought the car chase last time around was nifty, step back: the one in “Supremacy” is one of the best I’ve ever seen.

Both films were scripted by Tony Gilroy and adapted from the popular thriller novels by Robert Ludlum; the difference is all in the new director, Paul Greengrass. Greengrass is a guy who loves the shaky handheld camerawork, and while that’s usually a sign of a filmmaker who’s run out of better options or who’s looking for cheap instant style, that’s not what happens here. Somehow the director takes this visual gimmick and uses it for the film’s advantage, heightening tension and creating a sense of lived in realism. Greengrass lets the audience feel like a fly on the proverbial wall - or passenger seat, as we’re right along side Matt Damon as cars smash into him. The result is a movie that comes off as darker, more secretive (an excellent feel for a spy thriller), and remarkably believable. (The director used the handheld style for similar realism in “Bloody Sunday.”)

The script also tosses us oodles of realism, or, at least, manages to sell the espionage stuff as real enough. As with David Mamet’s “Spartan,” “Supremacy” finds its characters talking like real people would, not dumbing down their dialogue with clunky exposition for the sake of the audience. The world here is one of agents and company men who speak their own code and play out their own politics, and it’s up to the viewer to follow along, not the characters to stop and explain. I always love it when a film trusts its audience to be intelligent - because it’s something that happens so rarely in Hollywood movies.

So we have here is a thriller soaking in realism (hey! we even see rearview mirrors in cars!), so it should be no surprise that so many of the events come as complete, um, surprises. (You get the idea.) People die here suddenly and unexpectedly, their deaths never timed to be convenient to the plot but dropped in almost at random because, hey, that’s how these things would actually turn out.

All of this works wonders for a guy like me who enjoys a solid spy caper. Better still, the filmmakers aren’t merely concerned with keeping things realistic; they’re also building an exciting plotline filled with detailed characters. This is the sort of rich spy drama/character study that fans have been hoping the next Bond picture will be.

Watch the scenes that leave our hero, Jason Bourne (Matt Damon, reprising his role from the original), brimming with anxiety over his still-cloudy mind. Other filmmakers would have made Bourne a Bondian superhero of sorts, but here he’s a man of many problems, including self-doubt - not your average lead role. He even gets to chill out for a rather tender final scene that has him revealing his demons in a moment that’s rather heartbreaking. Damon plays this character wonderfully, unafraid to go for emotion over action, willing to be more than just a blank movie hero.

But don’t worry, stunt fanatics, he’s still a kick-ass assassin able to outwit anyone who dare cross his path, which in this case is a whole slew of CIA personnel as well as the Russian mob. The plot, which I’d rather not reveal, gives Bourne plenty of opportunities to globetrot, shooting, running, and wrecking cars all along the way. This is an action movie fan’s dream, with a man of action as our hero and sequences that give us endless visceral jolts.

Brian Cox and Julia Stiles return from the first movie, and there’s a new hitman in the form of Karl Urban, and while all are cool in their parts (even Stiles, who’s given much more to do this time out), the biggest asset in the supporting cast is Joan Allen. With the deep precision we’ve come to expect from this wonderful performer, Allen plays the CIA deputy director who’s on Bourne’s trail (trying not to give away plot here), and with all of her tough, quiet obsessiveness, she becomes something of a Lt. Gerard; we don’t want her to catch Bourne but don’t want her to lose, either. The script solves this dilemma by giving her another adversary as well, which lets us cheer for people in all directions.

Let’s hope Allen gets to return for the sequel, which I’m hoping there will be, considering there’s more to go in Ludlum’s book series. This is a movie series that now demands another entry, if only to see more action sequences like those found here, if only to see Damon return once more what could very well be his best role to date, if only to get more intelligent, mature, intricately plotted and cleverly written spy drama. If only Hollywood would make more movies as smart and as thrilling as this one.

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