#22: The Bourne Supremacy – Top 25 Films of the Decade

The Bourne Supremacy (2004)

Starring: Matt Damon, Franka Potente, Brian Cox, Julia Stiles, Karl Urban, Gabriel Mann, Joan Allen, Marton Csokas

Directed By: Paul Greengrass

Why it made the list: When I first saw Paul Greengrass’ sequel to 2002’s The Bourne Identity, I was a little ambivalent to it. Having grown accustomed to the slicker sheen of Doug Liman’s original opening entry of the series, I was a little turned off by Greengrass’ style of blockbuster verité. Subsequent viewings showed me the shaky-cam visuals that I perceived as a bug, were actually a feature. Greengrass’ pseudo-realism gives The Bourne Supremacy an intensity that set the tone for action movies for the rest of the decade (you can thank it for the Daniel Craig Bond movies). The viewer is thrust into this world, with very little remove, where each impact is felt and even the exaggerated feels plausible.

This gritty style doesn’t make the film any less exciting, following the template set by the first film of daring escapes, creative fight scenes, and explosive car chases. Matt Damon is excellent as Jason Bourne, giving the role the intelligence needed for the spycraft involved, while still convincingly looking like someone that could kick some ass (too often movies have to choose one or the other). There were a lot of franchises launched this past decade; together, Damon, Greengrass, and screenwriter Tony Gilroy made one of the few to be worth the trouble.

Spoiler Specifics: More than Greengrass’ visual style, I think what put me off the film on my first viewing was the decision to kill Marie in the first reel. I enjoyed the character in the first film and her chemistry with Jason Bourne, so I didn’t appreciate that way the film seemed to callously toss her aside, robbing us of much of Bourne’s personality in the process (as he spends the rest of the film with no one but antagonists to talk with). Again, subsequent viewings reveal this to be a feature: Jason Bourne works as a lone wolf. Not having to drag around a love interest keeps him nimble, while not having a companion to talk to forces Damon and Greengrass to find subtle ways to put the audience in his head without using dialogue. The confused, more naive Jason Bourne from The Bourne Identity is gone, replaced by one of the top all-around badasses in movie history.

Significant scene: Pursuit is the key to the Bourne series. Jason Bourne is being chased about 75% of the time through the three films, giving the series constant momentum. The onus is then on the filmmakers to keep coming up with unique sequences to prevent things feeling rote or repetitive. The Bourne Supremacy features a fantastic car bumper chase in the streets of Moscow, but my favourite is the foot chase in Berlin. What stands out in the sequence (and in the series in general), is the little cerebral touches in the middle of the chaos. Having barely eluded officials in the hotel, Bourne is still in danger out in the streets. But instead of running around frantically, he calmly takes the time to study train schedules, quickly improvising a plan for escape (lucky for him, he’s in Berlin, where train schedules are fairly trusty). We think he’s looking to catch the first train out of Dodge; but it turns out his ultimate plan is just a little more tricky… and awesome.

25. Up (2009)
24. The Hurt Locker (2009)
23. Lost in Translation (2003)

5 thoughts on “#22: The Bourne Supremacy – Top 25 Films of the Decade

  1. I’ve definitely come around to Greengrass’ use of the shaky cam, particularly in how it gives not inherently dynamic scenes are great deal of dynamism. Guy walking… two guys choking each other on the floor… etc…

    That said shaky cam annoys the hell out of me for the simple reason most directors have not the slightest clue on how to use, Exhibit A,see Quantum of Solace. Though Quantum of Solace is as much an argument for not handing over an action franchise to a guy who doesn’t have a clue on how to do action.

    • Greengrass is probably the best with handhelds, at least since Spielberg popularized it with Private Ryan. You’re right that some directors use it as a crutch, to cover their inability to shoot action/have the budget to properly choreograph it. They key is whether the direction makes you feel a part of the action, or apart from the action.

  2. Pingback: Top 25 Films of the Decade – The Full List « Critically Speaking

  3. Pingback: #12: Children of Men – Top 25 Films of the Decade « Critically Speaking

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