Universal // 2004 // 109 Minutes // Rated PG-13
Reviewed by Judge Mitchell Hattaway (Retired) // December 20th, 2004
They should have left him alone.
C'mon, like you weren't expecting a sequel. The Bourne Identity made some fat movie cash back in the summer of 2002, and the home video release was 2003's top rental, so it's no surprise we'd get an adaptation of the second novel in Robert Ludlum's trilogy. So, how'd things turn out this time? Pretty good, I'd say. Well, actually a little better than pretty good. While the first film was pretty good, The Bourne Supremacy is very good.
Two years have passed since the events of The Bourne Identity. Jason Bourne (Matt Damon, Rounders) and Marie (Franke Potente, Blow) have settled in Goa, India. Bourne gets careless, lets his guard slip, his cover is blown, and, after being implicated in the murder of a CIA operative and surviving a botched hit, he's drawn back into the black-ops world he had hoped to leave behind. Haunted by memories of a violent act he committed in his former life, Bourne travels to Naples, Berlin, and Moscow in an effort to discover who is behind the plot to kill him.
You can add The Bourne Supremacy to the short list of superior sequels. It's leaner and meaner than its predecessor; both the story and the storytelling are tighter. With no need for a lengthy setup, director Paul Greengrass (Bloody Sunday) and screenwriter Tony Gilroy (co-writer on the first film) plunge Bourne, and the audience, right into the thick of things. Within the first fifteen minutes, the two events that draw Bourne out of hiding have already been dealt with, and for the remainder of the film Greengrass employs this same breakneck pacing. My major beef with the first film was the handling of the resolution of Bourne's blown mission; sure, it was necessary to wrap it up, but it took the spotlight off Bourne's journey for more time than was necessary. There are no such problems here; from the film's slam-bang opening, to its brilliant closing moments, there's not a wasted shot or scene.
The mission flashing in and out of Bourne's nightmares serves as the catalyst for the film's story, which is comprised of three plotlines: Bourne's journey to find the people who want him dead; CIA Task Force Chief Pamela Landy (Joan Allen, The Ice Storm) and Ward Abbott's (Brian Cox, Manhunter) attempts to apprehend Bourne in Berlin (it was Landy's agent Bourne is suspected of killing); and the efforts of the people who want to frame/kill Bourne to cover their tracks. Landy's agent was on the verge of acquiring documents that would implicate two CIA bigwigs in the theft of agency funds. Someone high up in the ranks at Langley thought it would be easy to intercept these documents, frame Bourne for the murders of the Landy's agent and his contact, then kill Bourne, thereby closing the case. Wrong.
Nikki Parsons (Julia Stiles, Mona Lisa Smile) and Danny Zorn (Gabriel Mann, Abandon), who were underlings of now-deceased Treadstone head Conklin (played by Chris Cooper in the first film), are brought to Berlin to help track down Bourne. Nikki has been living in Amsterdam, and is none to happy about being brought in, but Zorn has remained at Langley, working as an assistant to Abbott, the man who closed the books on the Treadstone program at the end of The Bourne Identity. There are two Russian Secret Service agents involved in the plot to kill Bourne; the verbose one, Gretkov, is portrayed by Karel Roden (Hellboy), and Karl Urban (The Lord of the Rings: The Return of the King) appears as Kirill, who would rather shoot you than speak to you.
As was the case with the first film, The Bourne Supremacy injects a shot of realism into the spy thriller genre. There's the requisite number of action and fight scenes, but they're balanced, and the tension is heightened, by the human drama of the story. There's a palpable sense of danger to the proceedings, and there's a darkness to the film not usually found in this type of film. As Greengrass points out in the supplementary materials, Bourne isn't fighting a bad guy -- he's fighting a bad organization. Many spy thrillers make the espionage business look like a blast, but nothing here comes across as fun. There are no ray guns, flying cars, or eye-candy babes. (Sure, Franke Potente is extremely attractive, and Julia Stiles ain't half-bad either, but their roles actually have meaning and purpose.) I've never actually witnessed anything like the fights or chases staged here, but they feel real. Greengrass and cinematographer Oliver Wood (he also shot the first film) bring us as close to the action as they can; Greengrass spent many years directing documentaries, and that work pays off here. We're inside the cars during the chases, and fights feel like they're occurring right in front of our faces. On his way to Berlin, Bourne stops at the home of Jardan (Marton Csokas, Garage Days), the only other living Treadstone agent. There's a fight between the two, and you really get the impression that these are two trained killers going at it. You can see them thinking, reacting, and improvising, and the camerawork heightens this feeling. At times the two men move rapidly in and out of the frame, as if the camera can't anticipate or follow their moves. You know it's choreographed, but it doesn't feel choreographed. Earlier in the film, Bourne is being detained in Naples, and a CIA field agent pulls a gun on him. Bourne quickly disarms him, takes him down, and knocks out a guard. All of this happens within a few seconds, and it's staged and photographed in such a way as to convey the instinctive way in which Bourne acts. The moment the gun appears he stops thinking and starts acting. What he needs to do in order to survive instantly pops into his head, and he's just as amazed by his actions as we are.
I was rather impressed by the way the story unfolds. Nothing is revealed to the audience too soon; we learn as Bourne learns. He's a compelling character (and Damon is very compelling in the role), so we want him to find the information and people he's looking for. Characters in films are rarely this smart or proactive; Bourne never seems to stumble upon a situation or information, but instead makes things happen. (I'm dying to try the trick with the toaster and the magazine, but it probably wouldn't be a good idea.) No one ever stops and spells it all out for him; he draws information out of people, and then uses that information to move closer to his goal. There's a brilliant example of this near the end of the film; watch as Bourne calmly, yet assuredly, determines and brings about Abbott's final actions.
Matt Damon's work here is on par with his performance in the first film. Without the humanity and intelligence Damon brings to the character of Jason Bourne, these films wouldn't work. Brian Cox turns in another excellent performance (for many of us, he'll always be the true Hannibal Lecter); when it comes to roles like Ward Abbott, if Brian Cox didn't exist, it would necessary to invent him. Julia Stiles has a slightly larger role here than she did in the first film, which is good, and, given the fact that we learn exactly what her position in Treadstone involved, it appears she'll play an even larger role in future installments. Joan Allen nicely balances the steely and human sides of her character, and I'm hoping we'll see more of her character. On paper, Karl Urban's character could come across as a machine; he says very little, preferring instead to act, and Urban conveys the presence the character requires. As for Franke Potente -- what more needs to be said? Bourne can't be blamed for running halfway across the world with Marie.
The disc's transfer captures the look of the film quite well. The Bourne Supremacy has a gritty, documentary-style visual quality, and that comes through here. There's some visible grain, but it's not obtrusive, and in many instances actually works in the film's favor. The colors in the exterior scenes in India are bright and deeply saturated, but once the film's tone becomes grimmer, the color palette becomes muted and desaturated. There are many dark scenes in the film, and black levels and shadow detail are excellent. The sound isn't booming or explosive, but this is still a very good mix. Dialogue is always clear and intelligible, and John Powell's score is very well-integrated. The surrounds and bass really kick in during the fights and chases; the climactic chase through the streets of Moscow is pretty sweet. Extras include a few wisely-deleted scenes, a boatload of featurettes chronicling many aspects of the film's creation, and a commentary by director Paul Greengrass. The commentary is a bit low-key, but Greengrass is an intelligent, engaging fellow, and he imparts some interesting knowledge about every facet of his involvement with the film. It's nice to hear a director who cares so much about story, particularly in a genre film. Overall, it's a nice package.
Despite the vast number of featurettes offered for our viewing pleasure, the information they provide is a bit spotty. Personally, I prefer a straight documentary over a bunch of brief featurettes. To add insult to injury, the disc doesn't even offer a "Play All" option for the featurettes. A DTS track would have been nice, but I'm always hoping for a DTS track.
The Bourne Supremacy is a very good film, very much worthy of purchase. There's one more book -- The Bourne Ultimatum -- left in Ludlum's trilogy; I'm hoping we'll see the film in 2006. I'm also hoping Paul Greengrass is brought back to direct, but he's apparently signed on for some comic book thing. Oh, well.
You guessed it -- not guilty!
Review content copyright © 2004 Mitchell Hattaway; Site layout and review format copyright © 1998 - 2013 HipClick Designs LLC
Scales of Justice
* Golden Gavel 2004 Nominee
* 2.35:1 Anamorphic
* Dolby Digital 5.1 Surround (English)
* Dolby Digital 5.1 Surround (French)
* Dolby Digital 5.1 Surround (Spanish)
Running Time: 109 Minutes
Release Year: 2004
MPAA Rating: Rated PG-13
* Commentary with Director Paul Greengrass
* Deleted Scenes
* "Matching Identities: Casting" Featurette
* "Keeping It Real" Featurette
* "Blowing Things Up" Featurette
* "On The Move With Jason Bourne" Featurette
* "Bourne To Be Wild: Fight Training" Featurette
* "Crash Cam: Racing Through The Streets Of Moscow" Featurette
* "The Go-Mobile Revs Up The Action" Featurette
* "Anatomy Of A Scene: The Explosive Bridge Chase Scene" Featurette
* "Scoring With John Powell" Featurette
* Official Site
* The Bourne Identity Review
* The Bourne Identity: Explosive Extended Edition Review