The second instalment starts with rapid inconceivable flash backs and various sounds; inter-textually from the mind of Jason Bourne, but outer-textually from new director Paul Greengrass. Original director Doug Liman got shafted because he was, as he himself confessed ‘difficult to work with’. But even though the studios had had bad experiences by giving an independent director a chance to shoot an action movie, they were not hesitant to hand over the reins to another small time director whose only work of note was a TV film about the troubles in Northern Ireland called Bloody Sunday.
Paul Greengrass proved to be a revelation. His kinetic style of filmmaking lent itself to the franchise and offered a different way of filming an action movie. Indeed most people prefer his version of Jason Bourne rather than Liman’s. But Greengrass did not change the franchise; (in the way Christopher Nolan did to Tim Burton’s version of Batman) in many ways it is the same as the first. The only notable difference is the faster pacing of the plot (something bad action movies often do), the quick cutting and the use of handheld camera. In this respect Liman was a classical whilst Greengrass was a New Wave filmmaker.
Supremacy picks up two years after the events of Identity. Jason and Marie are living in Goa, India as sort of rooted backpackers. However the classical happy ending of Identity is uprooted by the tragedy that befalls Supremacy at the beginning of the film. Bourne is tortured by headaches and nightmares of a mission that he can only perceive as a jigsaw. The agency has all but given up trying to capture and terminate him. He is still trying to cure his amnesia by keeping notes and researching who he was before, but other than this he is contented in living a bohemian lifestyle with Marie.
But something must be done plot-wise to bring Bourne out of his housecat mode. In Identity Marie was the student gypsy that impulsively helps out a young American on the run but finds herself involved in international espionage. In that film she was the vessel through which we watched the movie; in this film however, she becomes the cause.
Tainting a movie with tragedy gives a solemn aura to Bourne. The killing of Marie is the catalyst for Bourne to come out of his retirement and portray him as a travelling Ronin. It perhaps is also necessary for the patriarchy of an action movie to kill the hero’s other half in order to prevent the female from becoming an out of sorts sidekick or a screaming damsel in distress that is going to slow the hero down. But ultimately it serves as a purpose to make him the loner hero that he actually is.
Marie’s murder also triggers the death-in-water imagery that is prevalent throughout the trilogy. In Identity Bourne is found in the stormy Mediterranean waters with two bullets in his back but is saved by fishermen. In Supremacy an assassin tries to kill Bourne but hits Marie instead whilst both are escaping in a range rover, which veers off of a bridge into a river. It is important to note that in each case where the intended victim was Bourne the killer always perceives Bourne to be dead. To hark on about this scene further, I cannot help observing how similar it is to the death of Vesper Lynd in the 2006 Bond film Casino Royale. Both involve the death underwater of the hero’s beloved, and the both farewell’s end in a kiss; Vesper kisses the hand of Bond as she inevitably drowns, whilst Bourne kisses Marie on the lips when he finally accepts that she is dead as she floats away like an underwater ghost.
Bourne thus changes from semi contentment to a semi mode of revenge. His objective is “to put an end to it all” through one way or the other. Therefore he shows more purpose, having already gained some information about himself from Alexander Conklin and the professor in the previous movie. Whereas in Identity he was utterly clueless going into battle and being pursued by unknown forces, he begins hunting his supposed aggressors. Besides the action and stunts that the films are known for it is the cunning and guile of Bourne that significantly come into play here.
He comes upon the radar of the CIA in Naples and is detained on their behest as they believe that he has killed two of their men in Berlin. Yet though they believe him to have made his “first mistake”, by using his own passport to come through Naples, Nicolette Parsons the psychologist and logistical administrator to the Treadstone project that trained Bourne knows better:
“It’s not a mistake, they don’t make mistakes. They don’t do random there is always an objective, always a target”
As orders normally came from the agency Pam argues “who is giving him the objectives now?”
Nicolette provides the answer “the scary version? He is.” which is perhaps the most solid of truths.
The Bourne films are a series of deliberate repetitions; there is a big car chase in each film, there is always at least one hand to hand combat with a fellow Treadstone black ops, and a suit is always his main nemesis who is operating within the agency without full authority. Therefore in Identity Alexander Conklin (played by Chris Cooper) was the man in the agency that passionately wants him dead. In Supremacy this role befell to Ward Abbot (played by Brian Cox), who had ordered the murder of Conklin in the last film. Bourne is Abbot’s dirty little secret, and so he is will do anything to not get exposed amongst his employees. We also have to remember that Bourne is a defunct robot that found a heart and a brain therefore must be terminated because he is faulty.
What is also important about Supremacy is the introduction of Pam Landy played by Joan Allen. In the latter film the CIA was regarded primarily as amoral. Landy, is different. She offers an objective role within the organisation who initially wants to capture Bourne because two of her men got killed in Berlin and she believes Bourne to be responsible, but towards the end becomes an ally to Bourne and who informs him of his real name; David Webb and that he was born in Missouri. In truth the burgeoning relationship between Bourne and Pam Landy is one of the most touching points of the movie and offers a sort of substitute chemistry after the death of Marie.
Hand to hand combat matt Damon versus Marton Csokas.
This is perhaps the best one on one in the whole Bourne series. Bourne has sneaked into Jarda’s home in Berlin. Jarda knows but does not show us that he knows Bourne is there. He calmly and discreetly alerts the organisation through his security system then he walks over to the fridge. Bourne has his gun pointed at his back, but as Jarda turns around to face Bourne after closing the fridge, he points a gun back at him. “I’ve emptied it” Bourne informs him. “It did feel a little light” he retorts back. Round one to Bourne I believe. A few minutes after though Jarda’s hands are tied, he attempts to fight Bourne and it takes some exceptional fighting skills and improvisation to defeat him. Below is an extract from Jeff Imada’s account of the fight taken from Little White Lies magazine:
“Another thing was being able to introduce household objects that could be used as a weapon. In The Bourne Supremacy Matt uses a magazine as a weapon. I would go around the set after it had been dressed and get an idea of what would be lying around and how it could be used as a weapon. I came up with the idea of using a rolled up magazine and had to convince a few people that would actually be a functional weapon. I had to demonstrate it by rolling it up and hitting it on the table to show how hard the impact would be. And also Matt and Marton [Csokas] verified that the magazine would actually hurt because they’d be hitting each other in the arm before takes and would actually get bruises from it.”
The last car chase in Bourne was amazing giving a little homage to The Italian Job. This car chase upped the ante considerably. It is actually the second car chase of the film both involving Kirill in pursuit who had failed to kill him in Goa. Instead of the distinguishable aesthetics of a mini, the mode of transportation this time for Bourne’s escape is a yellow taxi. Kirill has a Mercedes jeep. Bourne’s car takes some battering and having already been shot in the shoulder his methods of escaping seem both drastic and desperate. Driving down the wrong side of the road of a motorway, whilst partaking in a gun battle with Kirill, editors Christopher Rouse and Rick Pearson have the scenes cut with quick edits; never letting the spectator rest the gaze on one image for too long. Whilst cinematographer Oliver Wood uses hand held cameras to show the anxiousness of the situation.
Apart from being a badass and having a Zen like persona the main attraction to the character of Bourne is his brain. I am not talking about his ability to speak a multitude of languages but his knack of getting one over the CIA. We have already talked about the scene in Naples where he deliberately got caught so he could infiltrate a conversation between the organisation to get information on Treadstone. My two favourites occur between himself and Pam Landy. The first is where he rings in the office to speak to Pam, knowing that they would try to trace his call. He asks to come in but to bring Nicky Parsons alone. Not knowing that he is actually watching the building Pam argues what if she can’t find Nicky, Bourne’s clever response is easy “she is standing right next to you”
The last is when Bourne’s relationship with Pam has eased. He phones her again where she offers him an unofficial apology and a thank you for exposing Ward Abbot. She asks him to come in where he falls silent. Searching for an answer he responds “get some rest Pam you look tired”. Snap, he was watching her again! And this is the perfect way to end a perfect movie
Next: The Bourne Ultimatum