No disrespect is meant toward the late Robert Ludlum, but he was only a slightly above average writer. He could plot with the best of them – in fact, it was his greatest skill as a novelist. However, his characters rarely rose above stock and always remained two-dimensional.
But give him major kudos for giving us Jason Bourne – because without Ludlum we would never have gotten three spectacular Jason Bourne movies starring Matt Damon: “The Bourne Identity” (2002), “The Bourne Supremacy” (2004), and this year’s “The Bourne Ultimatum.”
The movies are loosely based on Ludlum’s overwritten novels, but he did come up with the premise and the character.
Of the three movies, “The Bourne Supremacy” remains the best (although “Ultimatum” was excellent – falling far shy with the disappointing ending).
Oddly enough, Matt Damon, as uber-spy Jason Bourne, is wildly miscast. He’s too young, too short, too husky, and too all-American for the role of a ruthless, sophisticated government agent. Yet, amazingly, he pulls it off – in fact, he more than pulls it off.
Damon seethes on screen. His tightly contained rage bubbles to the surface with perfectly timed nuance. He plays Bourne as methodical – a man who can compartmentalize his pain, panic, and emotion – and focus on completing the task at hand – at any cost.
It’s the moments after the brutal action – after he uses his bare hands to beat and strangle to death a rogue agent, for example, when he catches a glimpse of himself in the mirror that we can see the human being within. Matt Damon can act.
In the “Supremacy,” director Paul Greenhouse gives us a compelling, reasoned thriller and a cast of A-list supporting actors that know how to chew their way through a scene. Greenhouse never forgets that characters are what sell an action movie. You have to care about the people to make the action work.
Greenhouse is able to develop his characters without slowing down the action. When Bourne and his girlfriend, Maria (played by Franka Potente), are discovered hiding in
Bourne is convinced their cover has been blown – but Maria isn’t. She’s gotten comfortable playing house with Bourne and doesn’t want it to end.
“We’re blown,” he tells her.
You can see her disbelief in her expression. She can’t believe it. She’s been living with his nightmares, his paranoia for more than two years. He glances at her, sweating and frenzied: “This is real,” he says.
They argue and when Maria tells him he has a choice – that he doesn’t have to run anymore – Bourne is almost ready to believe her when she is shot in the head by the hitman’s long-range rifle.
That last exchange says more about their relationship (about the trust and love between them) than any drawn-out and unnecessary dialog scene. It’s a testament to Greenhouse’s skill as a director and the abilities of Damon and Potente as actors.
Joan Allen as the honest, driven CIA assistant director Pamela Landy and Brian Cox as the company louse Ward Abbott light up the screen. Their verbal jousts and one-upmanship give the movie an authentic feel. It’s this insider politicking among the agents that build the tension to frenzy.
If you haven’t seen any the Bourne movies – you should. They are better than any of the Bond movies (with the possible exception of “Casino Royale”) and never fall into the comic book silliness of Tom Cruise’s Mission Impossible films.
There have been three Bourne movies – and one can only hope there will be a fourth.
Read our Ode to "Fight Club" here