I'm now on my fourth or fifth viewing of director Doug Liman's "The Bourne Identity", and each time, I find myself gaining greater appreciation for this carefully constructed and well-acted thriller. A troubled production that went over budget and over schedule, the film was originally supposed to be released late in 2001, but was bumped up to Summer 2002. Reportedly, there were a few different endings filmed and additional debate between director Doug Liman and the studio. Maybe the studio was looking for slick action fare, but Liman and company got it right - this is the first big-budget action picture that almost has an art-house sensibility at times. While Tony Scott can make a picture like this suspenseful from being techno-driven and sleek, Liman goes the other route - the ground-level, often subtle feel of the picture suggests danger can be anywhere, which makes for a more tense experience. The film's drawn-out, quiet introductions to two major action sequences still thrill as if I'd viewed them for the first time.
The film stars Matt Damon (an unlikely action hero if there ever was one, but surprisingly very good) as Jason Bourne, a CIA assassin who, as the movie opens, is found floating in the middle of the ocean with two gunshot wounds. Picked up by a fishing boat, Bourne doesn't remember who he is or how he got there, but his reflexes and abilities suggest something fierce.
Eventually, Bourne realizes that someone - namely his boss, CIA officer Ted Conklin (Chris Cooper), who wants to, without giving away much detail, clean up a mess that Bourne was involved in. Bourne meets up with Marie (Franka Potente of "Run Lola Run") and offers her 20,000 dollars to drive him to what appears to be his Paris apartment. That's the set-up - and credited writers Tony Gilroy and William Blake Herron (based on the novel by Robert Ludlum) provide enough character detail to stay interested and enough solid action sequences - including a wonderfully filmed car chase - to keep suspense high.
In my original review, I discussed the one issue I have with the picture. While I don't feel quite as intensely about it now, it still bothers me. As incredibly good an actor as Chris Cooper is (see "Adaptation", in theaters now), the scenes at the CIA headquarters really never come together that well, as Cooper tries as best he can to liven up some lines that seem cliched at times. On the other hand, I very much enjoyed the dialogue between Damon's Bourne and Potente's Marie; they have great chemistry together and even a few very funny moments. Damon is an unlikely choice as Bourne, but the resulting performance from the actor is marvelous, involving the audience in learning about the character's mysterious past as the character is learning more facts. Potente is excellent, while Brian Cox and Julia Stiles lend solid support.
Director Liman has also served as the cinematographer on his other two productions, "Swingers" and "Go". His camera work was often terrific, launching the viewer into the middle of the sequence with a "you-are-there" feel and good handheld work. Understandably, Universal probably wasn't keen on a formerly independent director also doing the cinematography on a 60 million dollar feature. For "Bourne", cinematographer Oliver Wood ("u-571") (the film also offers additional photography by Don Burgess ("Cast Away") and Dan Mindel ("Spy Game", according to the Internet Movie Database) does equally fine work, often bringing that same "you-are-there" feel to this larger production. Rather than slick shots from a distance, "Bourne"'s street-level cinematography effectively captures the film's feeling that Bourne's persuers could come from behind any corner at any moment. When not returning to the government scenes, the film gains a remarkable amount of tension.
I'm sure that this film does not stay faithful to the book (reportedly, the film takes only some basic threads and goes from there, but I'm not sure, as I never read it and only recently have started in on a used copy of "Bourne Supremacy"), but I really found it very entertaining on its own. Liman's "Go" remains one of my favorite pictures from the past few years and the director has successfully brought the fast-paced, exciting feel of that film to this big-budget feature. One of last year's best and one of the finest thrillers in recent years.
"Who's giving him targets now?" "Scary version? He is."
"The Bourne Identity" became a surprise hit in the Summer of 2002, as it offered a thriller that boasted well-defined characters, a strong plot and an unexpectedly solid performance by Matt Damon, who I don't think anyone would have thought of as an action hero. Doug Liman, who had previously directed the slick smaller films "Swingers" and "Go", also was an unexpected success, shuttling the action along at a rapid pace and also, giving fine balance to the characters and thrills.
At the end of the film, Bourne had found love in Marie Kreutz (Franka Potente), who earlier had accepted Bourne's offer of $20,000 to drive him out of danger. As the second film opens, the two have settled down together and despite some surface assurances that the worst has ended, it isn't over. Another killer (Karl Urban) is tracking Bourne, and, around the same time, Bourne is framed for a crime involving the CIA that he didn't commit.
Despite Bourne's warnings to the CIA in the first picture that he'd come after them if they came after him, the CIA comes back in the picture, lead by Pamela Landy (Joan Allen) and Bourne's old boss, Ward Abbott (Brian Cox). Thinking that the CIA is responsible, Bourne strikes back, with the kind of swiftness and force that his warning in the first film carried. There is, however, an event early in the story regarding a character that is handled so abruptly that it took me out of the film for a little while.
Director Doug Liman did not come back for this time (after problems with the studio on the first film, he returns as a producer here only), although the screenplay has once again been adapted by Tony Gilroy from Robert Ludlum's novel. Director Paul Greengrass, whose tragic and powerful "Bloody Sunday" impressed me, takes over the helm this time around. Where Liman was swift and slick, Greengrass is relentless in his persuit of the action, trying to literally put the audience into the experience of the characters. Both approaches are perfectly fine, although Greengrass's efforts are going to work for some and be too dizzying for others. Personally, I thought it added to the urgency of most of the movie, but took away from a fight scene that seemed too shaky.
Also back from the original film are cinematographer Oliver Wood and composer James Powell, whose propulsive themes (one of my favorite scores of the year, it's somewhat similar to that of the first film) push the movie forward with great intensity. The film's action scenes snap and crackle - despite one that seemed a little too hand-held for it's own good, the action sequences (such as the major car chase) seem fast and chaotic, yet still well choreographed.
The performances are also good. Joan Allen is an excellent actress, but still an inspired, unexpected choice as the CIA operative after Bourne. She provides a stern, convincing performance that I liked a lot. Damon is once again an excellent, quiet spy - the performance isn't showy and Damon's performance says a lot with or without dialogue. The supporting performances are solid, as well.
Overall, I think "Supremacy" doesn't quite match the heights of "Identity", but it's a solid sequel that is smart, exciting and nearly always involving.
Both films (as well as "Bourne Ultimatum", which will also be available) are being released on flipper discs that contain the Blu-Ray on one side of the disc and the DVD on the other.
VIDEO: "Bourne Supremacy" and "Bourne Identity" are both presented by Universal Home Entertainment in 2.35:1 (1080p/AVC) and the results are outstanding in both cases. Each film looks marvelously smooth and clean, with sharpness and detail that are consistently first-rate on both films.
A few minor specks are seen on the print for both films, but the elements used in each instance are otherwise delightfully clean and clear. A couple of light instances of edge enhancement are also seen on "Supremacy", but these were brief and hardly a distraction. Colors appeared cool and sleek, looking accurately presented throughout the proceedings. Overall, the presentations for both pictures looked quite pleasing and were certainly an improvement upon the prior DVD versions.
SOUND: Both films are presented in DTS-HD 5.1. I saw "Identity" in two different theaters - one an older movie palace that hardly contains much of a sound system, the other a bargain theater that had rigged together a fair surround system only recently. Neither really provided an indication of how strong this sound mix is. Although not an official EX soundtrack, those with the ability will find that rear surround use does add to the experience on occasion. For example, the opening scenes with Bourne on the ship has the rear speaker offering the creaking of the ship and other subtle effects.In general, it adds nicely to the ambience and general envelopment of the soundtrack.
Surround use in general throughout the picture is marvelous, as the surrounds maintain an almost constant presence throughout, with a mixture of intense sound effects, ambience and lastly, reinforcement of John Powell's score, which is a perfect accompaniment to the tone of the picture.
I found the audio quality to be unexpectedly punchy and fierce, with loud, dynamic presentation of the sound effects. The score recieves the same treatment, sounding remarkably bassy and rich, powering many of the more intense sequences. Audio quality throughout is first-rate, with excellent clarity and natural dialogue. Bass is also full and deep without being overpowering.
As for "Supremacy", despite being a fairly dialogue-driven film at times, there's elements that really push this soundtrack rather hard. Powell's score is often thunderous, and fully engulfs the viewer. The score really hits hard, sounding full and rich. It also gives a real tension, energy and atmosphere to the film. Surrounds aren't always on, but they do offer some effective sound effects in the action sequences and solid ambience in other sequences. The DTS-HD soundtracks of both titles exceeded expectations and improved upon the Dolby Digital 5.1 presentations of prior DVD releases of the films, offering the score with impressive fullness and clarity. Bass was more than satisfying, remaining deep and bold.
EXTRAS: For "Identity", There are a series of brief featurettes included here: one on author Robert Ludlum, an interview with screenwriter Tony Gilroy, a featurette on the relationship between the Matt Damon and Franka Potente characters, a brief look at amnesia, a tour through what CIA operatives are taught, a piece about the film's sound design and a featurette about the Embassy fight sequence.
Aside from the above features, we also get four deleted scenes, the Moby "Extreme Ways" music video, and a commentary from director Doug Liman. This is a commentary from director Doug Liman, who has contributed excellent commentaries to his films "Swingers" (on the recent Collector's Edition) and "Go", where he was accompanied by editor Stephen Mirrione. Here, he's on his own, but still manages to provide a fantastic full-length track that remains consistently informative. Liman goes through details about several catagories, sharing insightful comments on casting, trying to adapt the book, technical comments, location shooting and production stories (such as positive stories about working with a foreign crew). Throughout, we also get an overall perspective on how Liman crafted the tone and feel of the movie, as well as how he worked in his political ideals into the modernization of the story.
As for "Supremacy", Director Paul Greengrass goes solo for an audio commentary on the film. The commentary has some slow moments and Greengrass spends some time narrating the story, but when he does get going, he does do a fine job explaining some of his choices on the look and feel of the film. We also learn more about the production and hear some enjoyable behind-the-scenes tidbits.
Next is about 7 minutes of deleted scenes. Offered without any optional commentary, these scenes offer some fairly interesting moments, but weren't really necessary in the film. "Matching Identities" is a 5-minute look at the casting of the film. "Keeping It Real" is a 5-minute look at the "realistic" feel and visual style of the film. "Blowing Things Up" is a 4-minute look at an explosion sequence and the production behind the scene. "On The Move" is a nearly 5-minute look at the locations.
"Bourne To Be Wild" (geez, who named the featurettes on the disc?) is a nearly 5-minute look at the fight training required for the film. “Crash Cam: Racing Through the Streets of Moscow” and “The Go-Mobile Revs Up the Action” are short pieces that look at some of the driving and stunt work in the film. “Anatomy of a Scene: The Explosive Bridge Chase Scene” looks at the moment where Bourne jumps in front of trains to escape. Finally, there's a look at the work of composer John Powell. The movie had a great trailer but it's not included here, unfortunately.
Both titles also offer the BD-Live feature "Bourne Card Strategy Challenge" and "U-Control" picture-in-picture features ("Picture-in-Picture", "Treadstone Files" and "Bourne Orientation".)
Final Thoughts: All three "Bourne" films remain top-notch action/thrillers with a great performance from Matt Damon. Those who already own the prior Blu-Ray releases of the films do not need to pick up these new editions, but fans who haven't yet bought the films on Blu-Ray should take a look.