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The Bourne Supremacy (2004)

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.


Mission: Impossible – Ghost Protocol (2011)

The Mission: Impossible movie franchise always seems to find a way to outdo itself.  Generally, I believe they’ve become progressively better films with each sequel, which is not the norm.  In the least, they always happen to trump the big action sequences of the previous film.  I absolutely LOVED the third film through and through.  I felt it was great!  Still, now that we’re at a fourth movie, have the filmmakers been able to keep up this strenuous challenge and succeed?  Well, I surely couldn’t make a full judgment until the very end of the film as there are a few reassuring tags there.  I do have some reservations about this film, but that’s not to say it wasn’t entirely enjoyable and entertaining.

A nuclear extremist known as Cobalt (Michael Nyqvist) seeks to obtain launch codes for Russian nuclear missiles.  He intends to ignite a nuclear war to eliminate the weak from humanity to force the next stage of human evolution.  An IMF operation, ran by Agent Jane Carter (Paula Patton), to intercept those codes goes awry when assassin Sabine Moreau (Léa Seydoux) promptly kills an IMF Agent and steals them for Cobalt.  In response to this, the IMF sends Agent Carter and Benji Dunn (Simon Pegg) to extract Agent Ethan Hunt (Tom Cruise) out of a Russian prison so that he can head up the mission to infiltrate the Moscow Kremlin, and locate files which identify Cobalt.  However, everything goes wrong when someone hijacks the team’s communications signal to alert security to their presence, and then, detonates a bomb destroying the Kremlin.  The IMF team is blamed for the bombing as an act of terrorism.  The U.S. President initiates “Ghost Protocol” which disavows the entire IMF, but the IMF Secretary (Tom Wilkinson) gives Hunt an unsanctioned mission to bring down Cobalt along with his team without the aid of back-up.  Incidentally added to Ethan’s team is William Brandt (Jeremy Renner), Mr. Secretary’s Chief Analyst who has some personal secrets he must struggle with, and exceptional skills which attract Ethan to question just who Brandt really is.  Ethan Hunt’s team must learn to work together beyond their personal vendettas and internal conflicts to avert nuclear disaster.

Really, my only major scrutiny with this movie is the untapped potential of Jeremy Renner and his character of Brandt.  Renner plays his role exceptionally well hitting all the beats, both obvious and subtle, and he definitely is leading role material.  He surely handles the action requirements with amazing precision and physical sharpness.  My problem is that Brandt seems like a very interesting character to explore that could’ve been used as a more critical element in the story.  More of the plot could have been hung on him in either an internal or external fashion.  I believe a lot of talk leading up to this film was that Renner would be put into a position where he could possibly take over as the lead if Tom Cruise chose to step down from the franchise.  While that was in the back of my mind, it was Renner and the character or Brandt himself that drive this feeling in me.  There appears to be so much more to develop out of Brandt, and make him a more prominent player in the story.  However, that’s not the agenda here.  We get some general mystery about him, and a few moments for Renner to shine.  Still, at the end of the movie, despite obtaining some absolution, he’s still just another member of the team.  It’s not a situation of the filmmakers leaving you wanting more because they don’t give you enough of him in the forefront to whet your appetite.  It’s unutilized potential of the right actor in the right role.  Renner is very capable and quite impressive with everything he presents in this film.  I just wish he was given a chance to standout more instead of exclusively being part of the supporting cast.  Maybe there’s a chance he’ll reappear in a future sequel, but the IMF team mostly changes with every movie.  Still, I have to hope for a better expectation.

That leads me to a small issue.  Ving Rhames’ Luther Stickell is not part of this team.  However, he does have a brief appearance in the film’s final scene which is a nice coda to the adventure, but his rapport with Cruise is rather missed.  It’s always been a highlight of franchise, but in a way, I understand why he was not part of the team.  Part of the story is about a team that’s untested with one another having to find cohesion when they have no back-up and no resources to smooth out their mission.  Putting Ethan and Luther back together would work against that idea and dynamic.  So, I am glad there’s a story driven purpose to his general absence.  Thankfully, Rhames’ single scene is quite funny, and it’s nice that they threw us that bone.

Beyond all that is pristine cinematic action gold.  Like I said, each film finds a way to outdo the action set pieces of the last one.  It’s not just the size of the building they break into, but the tension and various story elements that surround those sequences which enhance them further.  Early in the film, Ethan has to scale the world’s tallest building in Dubai to break into a computer server room, and the electronic suction gloves start malfunctioning, forcing Ethan to slowly abandon the tech for human ability.  It doesn’t even end there as nothing goes along perfectly, and he has to keep improvising when the time comes for an escape.  Ghost Protocol piles on more and more elements to make the peril higher and the tension tighter.  Plus, what I like about this franchise is that action sequences don’t end where they would in other films.  Here, Ethan Hunt finds a way to keep it going.  An on foot chase sequence gets a sandstorm thrown into the mix, and then, it turns into a car chase in a sandstorm.  Mission: Impossible really lives up to its name by pushing the limits of what is possible by forcing its characters to do the extraordinary.

How the team works these operations is also very inventive.  The team has to do what I call a “double fake-out” when trying to intercept the nuclear launch codes between the assassin and the buyer.  They have to divide and conquer by impersonating both sides.  I won’t spoil anything, but I found it to be a very original idea that further re-enforces that this has never been a lazy franchise.  They don’t go the route of any other action film.  They get smart, and work out far more satisfying scenarios which increase the entertainment value and story quality.  There’s plenty of time for the action pay-off later as a cleverly woven plot is something I will always give great credit for.  The plot is well crafted and nicely paced making the action scenes work for the story twists, and allowing the characters’ personalities to drive the action.

I am indeed a Tom Cruise fan.  Risky Business, Top Gun, The Color of Money, Interview With The Vampire, & Collateral are all highlights that I thoroughly enjoy.  Why people are surprised when a Tom Cruise movie is actually good is beyond me.  He has gotten a lot flack for his personal life craziness, but as a professional, he brings it every time.  He is absolutely one of the best actors of his generation, and he has a very solid professional business sense.  He makes great films year after year, decade after decade.  They are blockbuster hits, and modern cinematic gems.  Plus, you can see he pushes himself to the max with these action scenes by performing many of his own stunts.  He indeed did the scaling of the Burj Khalifa Tower himself entirely.  With that precarious height, I thought it would’ve been a green screen effect like when Batman jumped off that Hong Kong skyscraper in The Dark Knight.  Not at all.  Plus, the man can RUN like I’ve never seen anyone do.  When he is running on screen, you believe he is running for dear life with unwavering determination.  Cruise is clearly in incredible shape, and he doesn’t allow himself to slack off in any aspect.  As Ethan Hunt, he keeps bringing more layers to the character, and maintains an emotional continuity that creates a linking thread between every film.  The screenwriters never forgot to touch upon what Ethan has been through and resolve that for Cruise and the fans.  While this entry doesn’t have the deep personal and emotional motivations for Ethan as the previous sequel, Cruise still leads the film with his usual diverse qualities handling all the dramatic, charming, physically intense, and humorous moments with perfect balance.

Now, I surely want to spotlight Josh Holloway’s amazing sequence at the film’s start.  I would definitely love to see a whole film with that amazing, action capable character.  That’s no knock on Ethan Hunt, but seeing what Josh Holloway he does as Agent Hanaway in such a brief appearance really set an amazing tone for the rest of the film.  It was a very exciting and dynamic way to introduce the character.

In comparison with M:I-3, I can only say that this film lacks a strong antagonist.  Philip Seymour Hoffman was such a blockbuster villain as Owen Davian in the previous installment, and would be a hard act to follow.  This time through, the villain of Hendricks is not given much presence in the story.  It’s more focused on the nuclear threat, and the IMF team trying to absolve themselves of their alleged crimes.  That’s not a bad thing at all, and maybe it’s better to change up that dynamic on occasion.  Still, on the villainous front, Léa Seydoux is quite exceptional as the assassin Sabine Moreau.  She has a dangerous presence, and backs that up well in her fight scenes.  Plus, she has a very cool sexiness to her.  Clearly, she’s physically attractive, but as Moreau, she creates en engaging quality with her coldly confident attitude.  She is a top level professional, and has many subtle things going on that create a fully dimensional character with a definite personality and skill set.

And speaking of good women of action, Paula Patton eventually proves to be very solid.  Her character of Jane Carter starts off as a slightly shaky agent due to the awry events at the film’s start.  However, as the film progresses, she comes more into her own, and reasserts control of her wits and confidence.  First, she shows how action capable she is, but later, is able to mix that field savvy with a very strong sexiness.  I’m not saying that such a character requires a sexy edge, but as a man, I happen to notice these things quite prominently.  Simply put, it is a compliment for Ms. Patton and the character she portrays here.

I also want to give very pleasing praise to Anil Kapoor in his suave and charismatic, yet playfully entertaining role as Indian multimedia mogul Brij Nath.  He works opposite Paula in the scene where her assertive sexiness takes form, and the two play off one another so well.  As Nath, Kapoor really takes a relatively minor character, and makes him really standout.  Such an actor was necessary to keep the audience hooked into this part of the story, and it was done with exceptional success.  Nath was a highly enjoyable character that added some extra flavor of fun late in the film.

Of course, speaking of fun performances, right from start, Simon Pegg brings his rich comedic ability to the movie reprising his role of Benjamin Dunn.  At one point, I was afraid they would exploit it too much, but it eventually settles down into a situation-relevant personality trait which never hijacks the film’s tone.

Generally, I have nothing bad to say about the cinematography, but I also don’t have anything exceptional to say about it.  I always remember some shots from the previous films of large dramatic scope.  Something that allows you to take in the magnitude of a location or beat before a dramatic action sequence.  The locations are very well represented from Moscow to Mumbai with some very nice aerial shots.  Everything is well shot, and the action sequences are very competently staged, shot, and edited together.  There’s just nothing that sticks out with the visuals this time out, but that’s merely a point made in context with the franchise as a whole.  In and of itself, there is nothing at all to criticize about the work of Director of Photography Robert Elswit.  I’ve seen many action movies shot without any artistic integrity or visual competence to say that Mission: Impossible – Ghost Protocol is surely one of the far better shot films of the genre.

The visual effects are excellent.  I was never once taken out of the film.  Every last effect is seamless and realistic with its surroundings.  They entirely serve the story by reflecting the tone and intensity of the moment.  The music does the same.  The classic Mission: Impossible theme is punched in every so often at the right moment, but overall, it services the moment by enhancing it but not overwhelming it.

Frankly, I believe Brad Bird should be highly commended on his live action directorial debut.  I’m sure he had very supportive assistance from Tom Cruise and J.J. Abrams, but at the end of it all, Bird is the one responsible for the final product that we see before us.  Everything he was given was executed greatly, and I don’t feel there’s any fat in this motion picture.  It’s very lean and well paced with smartly conceived and shot action sequences.  This surely doesn’t disappoint as it delivers on the promise and expectations of the franchise.  However, if their intention was to position Jeremy Renner to potentially take the reins of the franchise, I don’t think they succeeded.  The screenplay simply doesn’t give him the opening to rise to an equal level as Cruise’s Ethan Hunt.  Again, absolutely none of this is a failing of Renner himself.  He has every quality needed to take on that role as franchise lead, but the story treated him as too much of a supporting character than one to step forward into the forefront.  Regardless, I do highly recommend Mission: Impossible – Ghost Protocol.  The franchise continues to please by improving upon itself and setting higher standards for each new outing.