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Bourne Supremacy, The Print E-mail
Friday, 01 December 2006

Image “The Bourne Supremacy” looks great on high-def DVD, there’s no two ways about it. Even in an opening scene which is practically black on black, details are clear without sacrificing the mood the darkness is intended to bring. Scenes in India are sharp and detailed with green, as common in high definition, a standout color. This disc also includes plentiful extras, a beautifully-engineered sound track and an exciting story. It’s hard to resist, so don’t bother to try.

This sequel to “The Bourne Identity” pulls off the rarest of tricks for a sequel: it’s better than the original, and that was quite good itself. As directed by Paul Greengrass, “Supremacy” (the title’s meaning is never explained) is more realistically filmed than “Identity,” which had a sleeker, more machine-tooled look, which contrasted with the fragmentary handling of some of the action scenes. Here, the action scenes were shot with multiple cameras, often hand-held, and though the result seems MTV herky-jerky at first glance, you soon realize that the editing is precise and clear; we may see a lot of angles of a car chase or a fist fight, but they’re almost always the right angles. Greengrass does not lose his story or characters in the stylization of the action, an accomplishment so rare it needs to be emphasized. Granted, the story here is a little muddled and not as dynamic as that of the first movie. There, Matt Damon had lost his memory, and was on an intense search to (a) learn his past and (b) not get killed while doing so. He gradually learned he was Jason Bourne, a CIA-trained killer working for a black-ops setup called Treadstone. His superior doesn’t believe that Bourne lost his identity and sends other Treadstone agents to kill him—unsuccessfully. (One was Clive Owen.)

Here, Jason is found in India with Marie (Franka Potente), who helped him as they fell in love. Why wouldn’t they? Because of his amnesia, Marie was the only person Bourne knew. He still knows little about his past, but he realizes that he’s been found out, that a killer is after him. He makes his getaway without Marie, and heads to Naples. (As with the first movie, this goes all over the map for its authentic locations: India, Italy, Berlin, Moscow, etc. There’s a short documentary on the locations included in the extras.)

Bourne is not a killer any longer, but he has all his trained skills, including languages, fighting techniques and the ability to instantly assess a situation. He seems to concentrating on something but is fully alert to everything around him. Before “The Bourne Identity,” most people wouldn’t have thought handsome frat-boy Matt Damon to be suitable for this role, but Damon surprised us all: he was perfect casting for this taut, sensitive and driven man, and he is again here, too. There just has to be a third Bourne movie.

He learns that two Russians were killed in Berlin, and that the CIA is convinced he did it. Back at Langley, smart agent Pamela Landy (Joan Allen) gets permission to force Treadstone chief Ward Abbott (the returning Brian Cox) to give her access to the organization’s files. Both of them head to Berlin, sure that Bourne will turn up there.

And of course he does—but as usual with Bourne, his opponents constantly underestimate him. There’s a great scene in which Bourne has his rifle sights trained on Landy with her unaware of this. The scene ends with the line “She’s standing right next to you” which has a great, near-comic impact.

Greengrass directed the very fine documentary-style drama “Bloody Sunday” a few years ago. It’s unusual to find someone like him in charge of a big summer action movie, but “Identity” was also directed by an unlikely choice, “Swinger” director Doug Liman (an executive producer here), and that paid off. Greengrass exhibits firm but intelligent control over his material, with the dialogue scenes as fast-paced and intense as most of the action scenes.

However, the script by Tony Gilroy, from Robert Ludlam’s novel, is somewhat muddled. The murders in Berlin have something to do with Bourne’s first assignment, which he remembers only in fragmentary images. This was involved with shady dealings for large amounts of money between American opportunists and Russian gangsters—and secret service agents. We never quite get all of this clear, and at times, it’s confusing.

Also, after a death in Berlin, the movie seems to have reached a climax, but along with Bourne, it moves on to Moscow and essentially starts all over again. It kicks into high gear in an astonishing car chase through the streets of Moscow, onto the freeways and into auto tunnels. This is extremely exciting and involving, beautifully staged, imaginatively shot, and absolutely clear every second of its length. This is the best car chase in a hell of a long time, and it will be hard for anyone to top.

Earlier, there’s a brutal, lively fight between Bourne and another Treadstone agent in Berlin. It’s again in very brief clips, and is almost without any color other than black and white. It’s two agents who’ve been trained to defeat any opponent, pitted against one another. It’s breathtaking.

Chris Cooper appears only in a few fleeting flashbacks, but his position is well filled by Joan Allen, who gradually begins to suspect that her operation is being steered by someone who wants Bourne dead. A CIA psychiatrist tells her that Treadstone agents were wound so tightly they often exhibited mental and physical signs of great stress. None of the others were amnesiacs, like Bourne, but it’s within possibility.

The story has interesting twists: we’re not sure at first why Bourne goes to Russia, but the treacherous American agent is, and informs his Russian contacts (which leads to the car chase). However, Bourne is not after them at all; he’s there on a mission of conscience, of justice, and is merely defending himself—spectacularly.

Technically, the film is outstanding, with crisp sound providing information from unexpected corners; the crash of metal in the car chases is as vivid and sharp as if it were happening in front of you. Most of the film is handled this way, emulating the style of a documentary. But Greengrass is totally in control; these aren’t found scenes shot by cameramen getting what they can—the action scenes are as carefully planned as the dialogue scenes. And the dialogue scenes are as tense and involving as the action scenes. It stumbles a little here and there, mostly in terms of clarity, but it’s a hell of a lot of fun. And Matt Damon now looks like he’s here for the long haul; he used to seem like a dilettante, someone making movies because it amused him. His complex, controlled performances in both the Bourne movies are everything the films required, and more. This is one of the best action films in a long time.

It’s been given quality treatment in this HD DVD release. There’s an understated, informative commentary track by Paul Greengrass. And there’s another track, too; the DVD trumpets that this is something altogether new, but it’s just a commentary track with sound clips from many people involved in the film—none of whom are identified, though Damon’s voice is recognizable, as is that of producer Frank Marshall. But it’s an unnecessary duplication of material in Greengrass’s solo track and the supplemental material.

Big-scale movies like this one probably now travel everywhere with well-staffed video teams, as almost every aspect of the film is detailed, though some clips are used more than once, mostly to annoying effect. “Keeping It Real” explains why Greengrass was chosen as director, and inadvertently suggests that the director for the planned third Bourne movie will be a choice who’s just as eccentric.

“Things Go Boom” is about the explosions detonated in the Munich sequences. “On the Move with Jason Bourne” takes us to the many locations the film traveled to. “Bourne to Be Wild” is about the fight sequences, primarily the tough, edge battle between Bourne and the last (?) other remaining Treadstone agent. Damon did most of his action scenes himself. The car chase in Moscow is detailed, with another short on the ingenious “Go-Mobile,” a camera platform which can be added to the front of any car, allowing crane shots, closeups, adding new variety to car sequences. Several stunt personnel and stunt coordinators appear to good effect in this sequence.

“Anatomy of a Scene” is a more standard, less interesting sequence from a TV series. “Anatomy of a Scene” involves the shooting of a complex, even witty sequence in which Bourne goes off, under, and back onto a bridge in eluding pursuers. Damon did the cable-assisted bridge leap himself, and seems like a good-natured, adaptable personality. “Scoring with John Powell” covers the composer. “The Bourne Mastermind” is about the late Robert Ludlum (d. 2001), who wrote the Bourne novels. The agent for the material, Jeffrey Weiner, appears; unexpectedly, so does genial actor James Karen, a friend of Ludlam’s, who doesn’t appear in either of the films. That’s their loss. Finally, “The Bourne Diagnosis” explains why this sequel is different from the first film.

The movie in theaters was very good, and this HD DVD is an excellent way to view it at home.

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