In my view, there are psychological thrillers, and then, there is Manhunter. I have never seen another movie that gets so deep inside the psyches of its protagonist and antagonist as Manhunter does. Every element of filmmaking is used to envelop you into the psychological state of its characters, and done so with amazing depth and beauty. Adapted from the Thomas Harris novel Red Dragon by writer and director Michael Mann in 1986, this is the best film featuring Hannibal Lecter that I have seen. I never grasped what everyone was so enthusiastic about over The Silence of the Lambs, and that was my sentiment years before I ever watched Manhunter. I have never watched the Brett Ratner helmed re-adaptation Red Dragon, and so, you will not find any comparison between the two here. I have plenty to explore in Manhunter alone. This is my favorite film from Michael Mann, and I am going to tell you why.
F.B.I. Agent and criminal profiler Will Graham (William Petersen) is drawn out of retirement by friend and partner Jack Crawford (Dennis Farina) to track down and capture a serial killer known as “The Tooth Fairy.” He is named as such due to the peculiar bite marks taken off his slain victims. To reclaim the mindset needed to delve into the psyche of this new killer, who works on a lunar cycle, Graham must tap the mind of the psychopath he captured which led to his own retirement – Dr. Hannibal Lecktor (Brian Cox). Graham must come to see through the eyes of this enigmatic killer in order to anticipate his methods, motives, and actions. The psyches of both Graham and this killer, Francis Dollarhyde (Tom Noonan), are eventually put into severe conflict even putting Graham’s wife and son into danger, but most importantly, Graham’s own sanity. If Will Graham can enter into the mind of a psychopath, can he ever come back?
This is a beautifully layered psychological film. It’s fascinating to see the process Michael Mann has Will Graham go through to absorb himself into the psyche of this killer. It’s a slow descent where Graham is trepidatious stepping back into this mindset, but once he’s delved in deep enough, it starts to influence his emotions and manipulate his actions. He’s gradually connecting with the psyche of Francis Dollarhyde, slowly putting more and more pieces of the puzzle together in his mind, and by the end, there is an obsessive impulse to destroy Dollarhyde so that Graham can simply be free of him. When Graham was hunting Hannibal Lecktor, he integrated Dr. Lecktor’s psyche so deep into his own that he had to be institutionalized to in order to be brought back to good mental health. It was a dark, terrible place for his thoughts to be that he is afraid to allow himself to go back there. However, in order to capture this new serial killer, he has no choice but to tap Lecktor’s mind to recapture that mindset.
Still, the real Will Graham remains beneath, but remains slightly detached from himself. Graham has heartfelt moments with his wife and son at various points in the film that allow the humanity to show through the darkness. These are brief reprieves from the troubling case at hand, but go a long way to show that Graham has not lost himself in this killer as he did with Lecktor. All of these fascinating facets of Will Graham are brilliantly brought to detailed, nuanced life by William Petersen. He deeply engulfed himself in this role so much that after production had wrapped, he couldn’t shake Will Graham from his head. He had to shave off his beard and dye his hair blonde just to shed the character fully. That’s an unsettling example of method acting. Petersen puts so much emotional and psychological intensity into this performance that it is mesmerizing and captivating. You can constantly see the emotional and intellectual gears moving in his head. Petersen’s rich facial nuances and intense eyes also perfectly display Will Graham’s conflict and development throughout the film. He leads this film with a wide breadth of weight and deep, amazing talent. He forges a finely detailed and dimensional character.
This might be a procedural crime thriller, but I find the psychological development of the plot to be richly exciting and fascinating. The physical evidence is an important cog in the process, and the detail and urgent context in which these procedures are displayed make them compelling. Michael Mann keeps them unfolding at a tight pace with sharp dialogue that quickly pushes the narrative forward. Of course, the investigation truly comes together through the psychological methods of Will Graham. Without Graham’s constant prodding and deconstruction of the mind of this serial killer, the pieces would never come together. While Lecktor is someone that Graham fears, he respects Lecktor’s intellect. Where someone else might discount or take offense to Lecktor’s manipulative or sickly unsettling perceptions, Graham understands the valuable insight. He knows there’s something more intuitive underneath Lecktor’s words. Still, how Graham reacts after his first meeting with Lecktor here, you see how disturbed he is allowing Lecktor into his mind at all.
I absolutely love Brain Cox’s subtle and subversive performance as Dr. Hannibal Lecktor. Where Anthony Hopkins would later be a little more obvious and deliberately creepy, Cox slowly gets in under your skin. He could be generally unassuming, but he can gradually deconstruct your mind right before your eyes. He’s immensely intelligent and intimidating by way of his psychological prowess. Yes, he is a psychopath, and certainly a sociopath. However, the scene where Lecktor calls the office of Dr. Bloom shows how naturally charming and charismatic he is, and that is very unsettling. Brian Cox based his performance on a real life serial killer. Such people are usually able to blend seamlessly into society, many as charming and unassuming individuals, and to see Cox bring that quality to this fascinating role adds further intriguing layers to Lecktor. While the character only has three scenes, he remains involved in the plot, and maintains a strong presence through much of the runtime. Overall, I believe the magnificently talented Brian Cox put in a masterful performance that chillingly supports the intelligence of this film.
The performance of Tom Noonan as Francis Dollarhyde makes just as major of an impact as Petersen and Cox. His is a chilling portrayal of a fascinating and intimidating character. His generally soft spoken voice creates an unsettling presence. You know he is a frighteningly violent and lethal individual, and this restrained, subtle manner makes you fear for when that violent impulse is ultimately unleashed. Michael Mann chose to leave out aspects of the character from Thomas Harris’ novel such as the Red Dragon tattoo on his torso, of which scenes were filmed with it, and much of his back story. For Manhunter, this seems to truly work for the best. Instead, the first half of the film is used to build him up as an anonymous threat through Graham’s investigation and psychological profiling. When the film directly delves us into who Dollarhyde is, Noonan brings an incredible depth of emotion and internal pain to the role. Where Lecktor is a sociopath devoid of compassion, Dollarhyde has a wealth of emotional turmoil stemming from his distorted self-perception. Noonan’s performance reflects shame as Dollarhyde masks his face with his hands or sunglasses, and won’t allow the blind Reba to touch his face. He’s absorbed himself into this mangled self-identity that he resents those who he perceives as having the idealized life, such as the suburban nuclear family. This fuels his obsession as a serial killer. Tom Noonan brings such immense power to the emotional core of this sympathetic monster, and probably more than anyone else, makes this movie as powerful and effective as it is.
Chicago native actor Dennis Farina puts in a great and strong performance as Jack Crawford. It’s great to see how he showcases Crawford’s trust of Graham. He rarely questions any of what Graham says or believes, but when he does, it has a purpose. Crawford can’t fully understand the process that Will has to go through to do what he does, but he entirely respects it and understands the danger of him doing so. He essentially goes to Will Graham as a last resort. It’s also great seeing that Farina is able to keep up with Petersen’s intensity at times. Late in the film when time, as well as patience, has run short, both Crawford and Graham are jumping down each other’s throats. Crawford’s accepting defeat this time out, but Graham’s gone too far to accept that at all. Still, you see the loyalty and faith return in Farina’s performance as Graham begins to puts the final pieces together. I like the compassion and concern in his performance as Crawford tries to hold to his word of keeping Will as far away from danger as possible up until the last minute. He wants this case closed and this killer captured, but not at the expense of his friend’s safety and sanity.
Stephen Lang does an excellent job as the sleazy tabloid reporter Freddy Lounds. He’s a great antagonist for Graham since Lounds only cares about his headlines. He’s despicably charismatic, and a great character you’d love to hate. However, the terror Lang puts into his performance when confronted and abducted by Dollarhyde perfectly sells the imposing and unsettling presence of Dollarhyde. This once egotistical, arrogant grand standing man is reduced to a small man drowning in fear. That is both the culmination of the film’s build up to Francis Dollarhyde, and the impactful introduction of the character in the flesh. In my opinion, it couldn’t have been any more perfectly executed.
Kim Griest does a very solid job as Molly Graham, playing opposite William Petersen vey well. She puts in just the right amount of compassion and concern for Molly’s husband. She fears for his safety, and clearly wishes that Jack Crawford had never asked for Will’s help. It’s not a comfortable position for her to be in knowing what Lecktor had done to him previously. However, probably the least standout performance is Joan Allen as Reba, the blind woman who stimulates Dollarhyde’s affections. She does a decent job, but it feels like the character with the least substance and depth. She is given some strong scenes which intensify Dollarhyde’s character, such as with the sedated tiger, but there’s not much done with Reba to flesh her out like the richly dimensional characters around her. This is likely due to a factor of time, and that the film is focused on Dollarhyde in these instances.
Now, without a doubt, Danté Spinotti is one of the best cinematographers around, and he brought a great amount of beauty, intelligence, and grace to Manhunter. He creates some gorgeous, vibrant visuals that are awe inspiring. Also, scenes are composed and staged very smartly. It’s rarely just standard shots. Every shot seems to be handled with a purpose to symbolize a character’s mindset, relationship with someone else, or to establish mood and tone. In Graham and Lecktor’s first scene together, Mann and Spinotti compose it to where as Graham and Lecktor’s psyches begin to overlap and align, so do the shots of them. The scene begins with a regular composition with Graham on the left side of frame and Lecktor on the right, but eventually they are dead center in the frame looking dead-on towards the camera by the end. Both men reflect one another in this moment. The visuals of the film have numerous mirroring aspects, and evolving motifs which visualize the psychological states and connections of characters. There are a series of shots of Will Graham looking into mirrors, and each successive shot is more and more obscured until there is eventually no reflection seen to the audience. This shows Graham’s journey in finding and ultimately detaching from Dollarhyde’s psyche. Dollarhyde himself cannot even look at himself in a mirror due to his perception of how grossly disfigured he is. Graham can confront the monster within himself, but Dollarhyde cannot.
The use of steadicam is greatly on display here giving us a film of very fluid motion, reflecting the intensely focused mindsets of Graham and Dollarhyde. It’s very gorgeous cinematography. Yet, in the film’s climax, as Dollarhyde destabilizes, the film also becomes chaotic with jump cuts and a surreal frenetic style. This works amazingly well delving our protagonist and antagonist into an explosive conflict which will either destroy or free their respective psyches.
The use of color is also integral to the moods and emotions of the film. Blue tones reflect safety as the love scene between Will and Molly demonstrates. However, green punctuates a feeling of discovery as with Graham’s early wardrobe, or a subversive quality such as in the dark room scene with Reba and Dollarhyde. There are even splashes of green lighting in Dollarhyde’s home at times. In my own independent films, I have used color washes heavily to evoke certain moods and atmosphere, but it’s never been used with such deliberate purpose as in Manhunter.
In the process of writing this review, I ecstatically discovered the complete Manhunter soundtrack album on iTunes. I purchased it without a doubt, even though I already had a few of the songs from the film. No other film have I ever seen makes as impactful, integral use of its soundtrack as Manhunter. It’s all very atmospheric, ambient music from amazing, lesser known 1980s artists such as Shriekback, The Prime Movers, and Red 7. The Shriekback tracks are the most enveloping in the film’s deep haunting mood. “This Big Hush” punctuates the seductive and quietly powerful love scene between Reba and Francis. It’s the deepest insight into Francis’ soul that we get, and this song made the scene what it is. The score was composed by Michel Rubini and The Reds. It’s very synthesizer based which might seem typical of the 1980s, but it sets an overall ominous, mesmerizing, and dangerous tone that absorbs itself into every fiber of the film. Michael Mann employed Tangerine Dream to score Thief five years earlier which created a very sleek and beautiful soundscape of that noir crime thriller. Here, the atmospheric synth music is very much in the forefront creating a bold and intense experience. The soundtrack truly does follow in the style Mann had perfected on Miami Vice at the time using popular music along with striking visuals to tell an emotional and exciting story. However, I feel Manhunter takes it a to higher level due to the overall tone and deep psychological aspects of the story. The music takes the audience deep inside the emotions and psyches of the characters. I love the cue of “Graham’s Theme” which accompanies and accentuates Will Graham’s slow revelation of the final pieces of the puzzle. It is a brilliantly executed sequence. Furthermore, the film brilliantly uses Iron Butterfly’s psychedelic classic “In-A-Gadda-Da-Vida” to orchestrate the entire climax of the movie. It’s entirely edited and constructed around the various dramatic beats in that seventeen minute long jam. The organ section of the song creates a haunting Phantom of the Opera style mood until it and Will Graham crash back into full blown action. This is a score and soundtrack that simply blows my mind in how well executed and finely weaved into the fabric of the film.
This is undoubtedly one of Michael Mann’s absolute best films. It is very tightly crafted with a taut, suspenseful atmosphere. Manhunter is a deeply enveloping film utilizing all its aspects of sight and sound to create a thoroughly absorbing experience. The investigative aspects are given a rarely implemented psychological focus built upon some solid and sharp procedural elements. We are treated to a wealth of rich performances and fascinating characters. There’s a depth of detail to everything which comes out in those performances, and they are presented in very intriguing ways to keep an audience riveted with every moment.
Manhunter has been a curiosity on DVD. Four different cuts exist from both Anchor Bay and MGM. The original theatrical version was actually the last one to be released, and that was from MGM which they also put out on Blu Ray Disc. Anchor Bay released a two-disc set with both a video tape sourced director’s cut and a THX certified version billed as the theatrical cut, but contains some additional scenes and a few bits and pieces cutout. A “restored director’s cut” was later released by them which features a vast improvement in quality, but leaves out one scene from the first director’s cut between Will Graham and Dr. Chilton. It was likely cutout due to it not being shot very well. There’s no one version I wholly prefer over another since they all add in or leave out something I like from another cut, but as far as quality is concerned, the THX certified DVD from Anchor Bay has the best transfer. All other transfers have desaturated colors, are darker prints, and lack some sharpness. I did personally assemble what I called the “Definitive Cut” adding in almost all footage from various cuts of the film into one amalgamation for a complete experience. It’s just something for my own complete satisfaction of the film which I love so very much.
As I said, this is my favorite Michael Mann movie. Although, I do consider The Insider to be the best film he has ever made for very distinctly different but immensely admirable reasons. Manhunter really has been a major influence on me as a filmmaker. It was the main influence on my psychological noir thriller Dead of Night. I wanted to explore what would happen if a criminal profiler similar to Will Graham lost himself in his psychologically twisted work and went off the deep end by hunting down serial killers. There was a similarly themed episode of Miami Vice titled “Shadow in the Dark” that had Sonny Crockett delving into the disturbed mind of a crazed home invader that I also really love. However, nothing is as rich or as layered as Manhunter. Where The Silence of the Lambs seemed more focused on regular investigative work to lead to the capture of its serial killer, Manhunter is all about the psychological construction and deconstruction as the main cog in tracking down the killer. That is far more fascinating to me. Not to mention, Will Graham is a vastly more intriguing character to explore, in my eyes, than Clarice Starling. Graham is someone that’s been to some terrifyingly dark places, and has the capabilities to contend with Hannibal Lecter. He is the one who captured the cannibalistic doctor to begin with, even if it was at a troubling price. Simply everything in Manhunter appeals to my imagination, and I love that time has given the film the respect and praise it deserves. It wasn’t a successful release in 1986 for many reasons, and thus, is why The Silence of the Lambs was never handled as an actual sequel. I’m sure there are people who would be put off by the 1980s neon and pastel aesthetics of Manhunter today, but that’s no bother to me. I love it. I wouldn’t have it any other way. Michael Mann showcased a very powerful vision with this film, more so than any other film I’ve seen from him. While his last two films – Miami Vice and Public Enemies – have shown a sharp decline in overall quality, his general body of work maintains him as one of my favorite and most influential filmmakers of all time.
Admittedly, I am not a book reader. Whatever my issue, I find it difficult to sit down and read a full novel. So, while I have a good amount of say regarding this film, I have no frame of reference on the James Patterson novel it was based on. I like the Alex Cross character very much in what Morgan Freeman has given us, but with all of two films from more than a decade ago, it’s never been much of a film franchise. Both this and its follow-up Along Came A Spider (whose novel is actually a prequel to this) have similar problems, but Kiss the Girls is definitely the better of the two. Still, it doesn’t live up to the potential it could’ve had.
Washington, D.C. forensic psychologist Dr. Alex Cross (Morgan Freeman) travels to North Carolina to investigate the apparent kidnapping of his niece Naomi. The local police have the evidence, but not the investigative intuitiveness to put the pieces together. Meanwhile, the strong willed, yet compassionate surgeon Dr. Kate McTiernan (Ashley Judd) is abducted and later escapes from this collector and killer of exceptional woman who calls himself “Casanova.” Now, aided by the sole escapee, Cross begins an investigation that takes him from one coast to the other and back trying to identify and capture the disillusioned “great lover.”
The actors in the film’s central focus, Morgan Freeman and Ashley Judd, are both very good. Judd makes Kate a very empowering character from the start, and she is easily presented as someone you can care about and feel strength from throughout. She’s physically tough, is confident, determined, but also, shows that she has vulnerability and compassion. It’s great that the film introduces her prior to her abduction in order for the audience to see the woman as she is naturally. From there, we are emotionally connected with her through her trauma and recovery. She was a strong person before, and this experience merely solidifies those qualities within her. Judd has plenty of gravitas and vibrancy. She keeps Kate McTiernan a forefront character that continues to stand tall throughout the narrative. It easily demonstrates the strong core of Ashley Judd’s acting ability, and why she has become such a revered talent over these many years.
Freeman is masterful as Alex Cross. He’s always been a very intellectual actor allowing the audience to see the gears turning in his head, and establishing a very particular manner for his roles. He inhabits them all well, and makes them subtly distinct. In this role, he shows us one of the best investigative minds in fiction. Cross is able to see the lines of connection that others can’t because he’s so detail oriented in his work, the same as Freeman is with his acting. When he walks into the squad room with all the abduction victims on the board, it doesn’t take him long to put it all together to understand why they were picked, and what Casanova’s agenda is. Just how Freeman’s eyes operate in a scene say so much of what Alex Cross is thinking and deducing. Cross is also tempered. He is calm and calculating in his investigative process. While the local cops are all a little smarmy and egotistical, Cross maintains a cool perspective on everything bringing a serious psychology to the case. He rarely allows his emotions to dictate his behavior, but even if he doesn’t show it, they can influence it. There’s no denying his personal stakes in this investigation, and that alters how he handles everything. In an interrogation scene, he can’t help but become enraged as a sleazy suspect talks sexually ill of his niece, and that shows that Cross is just as human as anyone. While he can remain focused and professional, maintaining his cool in dangerous situations, he has his limits. Still, he is able to rebound, admit his errors, and ultimately tie things up. Alex Cross, as portrayed by Morgan Freeman, is truly a fascinating characters full of potential. However, despite the strength of the character and the actor, that is not enough to lift the film into exceptional territory.
The unfortunate side of things is that the story and how it unfolds lacks compelling development. The bi-coastal killer plotline with the Gentleman Caller essentially has no pertinent relevance to hunting down Casanova. It comes off as a divergence ultimately added just to throw in some gunfire and stakeout scenes. While it does connect with the main story, it’s ancillary. You could cut it out, and it wouldn’t make a real difference towards the capture of Casanova. It only amounts to a gunshot echoing through the woods that leads Cross to finding the lair, and in time, they likely would’ve found it, regardless. This subplot is there so the characters have somewhere to go and something to do until the final act with its weak twist ending.
This is a negative mark against both Alex Cross films. They both have these twist endings that come out of nowhere which have no organic flow from the story or characters. By how Kiss the Girls is presented, Casanova could’ve turned out to be anyone or no one. Casanova ends up being a character that’s been there in the film all along, but no one knew it. The problem is that there is zero evidence presented throughout the movie towards that end. You take Kevin Spacey in The Usual Suspects for an example here. When you watch that movie for the first time, you see his performance in one way. However, on repeat viewings you see an entirely different performance because of what you discover at the film’s ending. Spacey himself hasn’t changed, but your perception of the character has. You see a subtle thing here or there that does seem peculiar, and does add up to something more substantive and telling later on. Unfortunately, none of that is here in Kiss the Girls. You can’t re-watch this movie and pick up on something you didn’t notice before in the performance of the actor who turns out to be Casanova. It’s played straight in every scene as if the character is exactly who he appears to be, but then, the performance changes entirely once the twist ending begins. That is very shallow and generic work from script to direction and beyond. A movie with a twist ending like this needs those little clues you can pick up on throughout, but not be able to fully assemble them until our protagonist has. However, when you look back, you see how all the pieces of the puzzle come together seamlessly. None of that exists in this screenplay or film. The ultimate reveal of who Casanova is turns out to be unsatisfying because of this issue.
This is not to say that the actor in question handles this turn poorly. It’s quite an exceptional performance that has substance and an unsettling quality. He sells it well, and doesn’t need a mask or shadows to make him appear intimidating and chilling. It’s simply the execution and lack of pre-existing evidence to that effect which is the failure here. Not to mention, the film ends kind of flat. It’s more about structure than anything. Casanova is dispatched with, and the film ends. All of the character resolution happens before this to make way for the surprise twist after the audience has let their guard down.
I feel like Alex Cross is an extraordinary character inserted into a mediocre film. The story structure is not tight enough to remain thoroughly satisfying, and the mystery of Casanova is not complex enough to really take advantage of Cross’ compelling intellect. There is more mystery about finding Casanova than actually exploring him. In another similar film like Manhunter, it’s all about putting every little piece of forensic and psychological evidence of the killer together to drive the protagonist of Will Graham towards confronting and stopping Francis Dollarhyde. Finding him is as important as discovering who he is from the inside out because they are symbiotic. It’s a chain reaction of one revelation begetting another. Within Alex Cross’ first moments on the case, he’s already figured out Casanova from the inside out, and it just becomes about finding and identifying him. However, this happens so early on in the storyline that actually finding Casanova requires the film to tangle up in a lot of unnecessary plot developments. It’s a great aspect of the character of Cross that he can do that, but it’s also a complication in the plot progression. Every new plot development is a red herring. It misdirects the characters towards something that ends up at a dead end, and only serves to pad out the run time. Also, the Gentleman Caller subplot almost immediately can be perceived as a bust to the audience because his behavior is such a stark opposite to what we experienced with Casanova earlier. Casanova is not a violent, impulsive person. He’s more subdued and even tempered. It’s not a good swerve in the plot, and results in no furthering of the plot or characters.
On the positive side, the cinematography of Aaron Schneider envelopes this film with excellent visual atmosphere. There is definitely some neo noir edge present with strong blacks, a little haze, and solid blue tones throughout. There’s enough light and shadow at play with a restrained color scheme to create a consistently tense visual style. It never gets too heavy, but it surely sets the tone of the world we’re delving into. Despite the shortcomings in the screenplay and story, Schneider’s work makes Kiss the Girls look especially good. The camera work itself might not be of particular note, but its subtle touches punctuate the right dramatic beats. One can take or leave the heavy use of Dutch angles in the final scene, but it’s probably more of sign of the times in the late 90s.
Adding upon that is the very good production design which gives life and personality to various environments. The police squad room looks authentic looking to have many years of use behind it. Casanova’s lair has its peculiar warmth in stark contrast to Dr. Rudolph’s cold, modern home. I like how Kate notes that it doesn’t feel like Casanova, and that design element alone fuel hers and Cross’ inquisitive minds. The environments reflect the characters that primarily inhabit them, and the cinematography captures them perfectly.
The supporting cast is good, some better than others, but none of them have much importance to the story being told. They serve their purposes and roles well, but in most cases, they are easily forgettable. Plus, I find it surprising that the always astounding Brian Cox is wasted in a minor role as Chief Hatfield. He puts in a strong performance, but why use such a powerful, diverse actor in what is essentially a nothing role? This film just seems to have a bad habit of wasting its potential.
I don’t have much exposure to director Gary Fleder’s other work. I recall seeing Runaway Jury several years ago, but it was more the performances from the heavyweight cast that made the impression more than anything. Here, it’s obvious he has a good handle on how to present the genre, and get some stellar performances out of his main actors. However, the loose storyline and pointless plot developments show that he’s not so much interested in presenting a tightly wrapped, riveting, or smart thriller as just going by the numbers. He tries to pass this off as a mystery when there’s only enough genuine storyline to fit into a 30-45 minute film. Everything else is pointless filler that amounts to nothing. Again, I do not know if these issues exist in James Patterson’s novel, but in this film, that’s what I perceive.
Kiss the Girls had the right base elements for a hell of a good thriller with an amazing lead character backed by an equally great actor. Ashley Judd anchors the film well giving Freeman someone to carry the weight with him. The film is boosted further with some nicely atmospheric noir cinematography. The premise is good but underdeveloped. There’s no real chase involved between Cross and Casanova. Nothing where one has to be more cunning than the other to stay ahead. That takes away the urgency, or at least, the relevant immediacy of the plot. You never get the feeling that there’s a connection between the hunter and the hunted, and the best films of this genre establish that in one way or another. Casanova never reacts to Cross as genuine threat, and Cross is too busy chasing down false leads to truly be in sync with his prey. Kiss the Girls is a decent thriller that is generally enjoyable, but lacks enough relevant plot developments to make it anything more than average. Again, Alex Cross feels like a potentially iconic character waiting for a film that is as intelligent and intriguing as he is. Whether we will eventually get that remains to be seen.
The Bourne Supremacy is one of the hardest hitting action films I have ever witnessed, and it has far more to offer than just action set pieces. There is no fat here like most action films have. All of its lean meat and muscle is reserved for its visceral action and dramatic emotional story. Supremacy was loosely based on the novel by Robert Ludlum, and whenever you’re basing a motion picture off of an international best-selling novel, chances are, you’re gonna have the potential for a very meaty story. This is definitely the truth here. This movie is very tight, very taut, deeply dramatic, and firmly rooted in reality. It takes everything that was built in The Bourne Identity and capitalizes on it.
It’s two years after the events of The Bourne Identity, and ex-CIA assassin Jason Bourne (Matt Damon) is still suffering from a broken mind. His memories are fractured, and is awakened in the middle of the night more frequently than not. Jason & Marie (Franka Potente) are now living in Goa, India, but meanwhile, Jason Bourne is about to be framed for two murders in Berlin, Germany. A CIA team, headed by Pamela Landy (Joan Allen), is attempting to purchase classified Russian documents, but a Russian assassin named Kirill (Karl Urban) killed both men and stole the documents. A planted fingerprint implicates Jason Bourne for all this. Then, Kirill shows up in Goa, India to kill Bourne himself in order to erase any evidence to the contrary in framing Bourne. Kirill believes he has completed his mission, but unknowingly, Bourne still lives. However, Bourne believes that it is the CIA who sent a man to kill him, and this sends Jason on a dead set mission to find and take out those who he told to leave him alone. The trail of planted evidence leads Pamela Landy to Operation: Treadstone, the elite team of assassins lead by the late Alex Conklin (Chris Cooper) of which Jason Bourne was the top operative. Landy brings Ward Abbott (Brian Cox), Conklin’s boss, into the mix as she attempts to unravel the mystery of Jason Bourne, and why he has come out of hiding. Now, Jason Bourne is coming down hard and fast on the CIA while the Agency is attempting to hunt down Bourne.
To their dismay, Bourne has been trained too damn good, and when Landy and the CIA believe they are completely on top of the situation, Bourne shows them that they are MILES behind him. Bourne is like a mechanism – once you set it into motion, it cannot be stopped. He lives up to his threat from the first film that there would be no measure to just how hard and how fast he would come down on these people if he even felt someone coming down on him. Everything builds to explosive, intense levels to where the wrong move could get anybody killed.
All the action sequences top any of those in the first film. Although, I have to say that director Paul Greengrass has far too much favoritism towards the notorious “shaky-cam” style of shooting. I’ve never seen any of Greengrass’ previous work, and so, I can’t make any comparisons in that vein. I don’t believe any blame is to be set on director of photography Oliver Wood as he handled the cinematography on The Bourne Identity in a very different fashion. I’ve also seen numerous films he has shot including Die Hard 2, The Adventures of Ford Fairlane, Bill & Ted’s Bogus Journey, Face/Off, and TV’s Miami Vice. So, I have to say that it was mainly Greengrass’ creative direction to use so much of this style of shooting and editing. In some action sequences, between the shaky-cam photography and the fast-paced editing, it can become very difficult to discern what is happening. You can literally get confused what is happening to whom. You don’t know if that was Jason Bourne who’s getting smashed into walls or the other ex-Treadstone assassin. Bad lighting is also to blame as some sequence take place in backlit locales making the actors bleed together. This is my only gripe with the film, and despite its abundance, this film is just too intense and powerful to knock it down because of that.
This film’s car chase sequence is, at least, twice the sequence of the first film’s. Mainly because it is the climactic action sequence of the film as Jason Bourne & Kirill turn the streets of Moscow into a demolition derby the likes of which you have never seen! The car crashes are violent and visceral, and anyone who has ever been in a car crash – like myself – will be able to seriously feel it. This car chase is beyond any I have ever seen put to film. What makes the action in the Bourne films so impactful is just how grounded in gritty reality they are unlike how extravagant and fantastical the James Bond franchise had once become. These films are very adult in manner and context.
Jason Bourne still struggles with the remnants of his past life, and must deal with who he once was. He must come to terms with the pain and death he has inflicted upon others in order to move on with his new life, and to absolve those he has pained of the lies that have damaged their lives. It is powerful and dramatic. It’s the bigger, needed step towards the further evolution of the character of Jason Bourne. He can never live in peace with himself until he is able to come to terms with the blood he has shed. There’s just so much to say about this film that it’s difficult to find the right words to do so. When you see it and are able to absorb it all, you will surely understand. It’s a dramatic and painful journey of discovery for Jason Bourne. Whether redemption will ever come is unknown, but I believe Bourne certainly takes the hardest first step towards that end by the film’s conclusion. However, the film ends on a sly, upbeat note, and that is a sign of very fine and consistent storytelling. I also like the consistency and continuity here from the first film with the reuse of the same passports and identification photos of Jason Bourne to the reuse of Moby’s very catchy tune “Extreme Ways” for the end credits.
John Powell delivers another fantastic score here that tops everything he did in The Bourne Identity. That’s just about the decree with everything here (except for the aforementioned shaky-cam / editing gripes). Matt Damon really delivers like you’ve never seen. Until you see Damon in the role of Jason Bourne, you might have grossly underestimated his worth, ability, and quality as an actor. Until this point, I had only seen Damon in mostly comedic roles in films like Ocean’s Eleven and Dogma before watching The Bourne Identity shortly before the release of this sequel. In this film, however, Damon demonstrates just how powerful of a dramatic actor he can be. You can see emotion in his face, in his eyes, and in his body language. Simply put, his performance is deeply human, and will hit you deep within. As Bourne’s true nemesis, Karl Urban was very impressive. After seeing him in the latter two Lord of the Rings films and The Chronicles of Riddick, it was refreshing to see him in a more gritty, grounded film instead of a setting of fantasy. The character of Kirill does not have much dialogue, but Urban has a strong, intense presence that just leaves you hungering for more. The native New Zealander does nearly all of his dialogue in Russian, and even through a foreign language and subtitles, you still get a grim tone from him that is very potent. Both Bourne & Kirill are like ciphers when they’re in their element, but when the action gets intense, Bourne becomes more focused while Kirill becomes even more enraged. Regardless, they are both determined to burn the other into the ground.
I also have to say that I cannot get enough of Brian Cox. I have loved his wide range of roles in Manhunter, The Ring, Super Troopers, X-Men 2, The Bourne Identity, and now, The Bourne Supremacy. He’s a great actor with an abundance of natural charisma and always, at least, a hint of humor. Words just cannot explain how enthralled I am with him. He is tough to keep up with, and if you’re going to be sharing a scene with him, you’d best be on the very top of your game. Considering how great and engaging of an actor he is, I find it surprising that he’s said to not view any of his own work. Whatever the case, Brian Cox is absolute pure gold in my honest opinion.
Playing opposite Cox is Joan Allen, and she is strong and stern here. As Pamela Landy, she doesn’t allow Abbott (Brian Cox) to shovel any bull her way. She cuts through all the crap, and gets to the truth and the core of the matter. She takes firm control of this entire situation and handles it with confidence. Where others in her situation have faltered and fell, she holds strong. Even when things start to go awry, she still holds onto a degree of solidarity. You can write a character that way, but it takes a strong female talent to bring that sort of role up to its utmost potential. Joan Allen is that talent. Everyone else, up and down the line, puts in everything they’ve got here, and I could not find even one moment of weak acting. A very admirable job to everyone including those involved with the casting of the film.
The only dent in the chiseled armor of this film is the shaky-cam, fast editing style. I believe the same level of kinetic energy could have been sustained in these action sequences using more stable photography. If that’s how it had been shot, then I would have no problems with the editing, but when you can’t discern what’s happening in these shots, cutting quickly from one to another does not help you to comprehend the visual storytelling any better. Of course, with just how slam-bang amazing this movie is, I just can’t allow that to be much of a hindrance to my critique of it. Dramatically, on levels of storytelling and acting, I don’t see how anything can be topped here, but I highly encourage future filmmakers of the franchise to give it every effort.
If you loved or even just liked The Bourne Identity, I believe The Bourne Supremacy will easily exceed all of your expectations. In the context of the currently existing three films – Identity, Supremacy, & Ultimatum – this entry is the best! It entirely launches itself far above the potential of Doug Limon’s first film, which was an excellent film in its own right. While The Bourne Ultimatum was not a real down slope, Supremacy was such a massive step forward that the third film couldn’t achieve the same. Plus, Supremacy seemed more dogged and relentless in all its aspects to create a far more hard hitting film that never let up. Also, the ending of The Bourne Supremacy with Bourne and Landy had a lot of its meaning and character building strength diluted when it was revisited in The Bourne Ultimatum. To say it simply, this is one of the best action thrillers of the last decade, and it helped launch the genre into a grittier direction that was timely and very welcome.