Blockbuster Movie Month: "The Bourne Supremacy" Review

Photo Credit: Universal Pictures

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Rating: PG-13
Length: 108 minutes
Release Date: July 23, 2004
Directed by: Paul Greengrass
Genre: Action / Crime / Thriller

By the time the first "Bourne" film, "The Bourne Identity," was released in 2002, Matt Damon was already well on his way to a dominant spot on the Hollywood A-list. Damon had been making small appearances here and there on the big screen since 1988's "Mystic Pizza," but broke through to enormous success and acclaim as both a writer and actor with "Good Will Hunting" in 1997.

It was not as a writer that Damon became a living cinematic icon, but through his role as Jason Bourne in "The Bourne Identity." There is no shortage of action flicks out of Hollywood each summer, but "The Bourne Identity" had a unique set of assets that made it one of those rare blockbusters to connect with critics and audiences alike. Director Paul Greengrass imbued that first "Bourne" movie with a realism and intelligence missing from many other releases of its ilk. Of course, the strength of the original Robert Ludlum story and Damon's strikingly believable portrayal of all facets of Bourne's enigmatic character also went a long way.

Needless to say, expectations were high for 2004 follow-up, "The Bourne Supremacy." Due to the novel nature of "Identity," in order to live up to expectations, the sequel needed to be similarly original while also continuing in the tradition that made the first movie great. Luckily, "The Bourne Supremacy" manages to fill that tall order and then some, solidifying the well-earned reputation of both Matt Damon and the "Bourne" franchise.

Amnesia is far from new as a storytelling device. In fact, amnesia has long been considered a cliché of the soap-opera variety. This makes the effective use of amnesia in "The Bourne identity" all the more impressive, and "The Bourne Supremacy" continues this thread.

Director Paul Greengrass is remarkably adept at bringing a subjective, realistic feel of Jason Bourne's point of view to the screen, and this is especially apparent at the beginning of "The Bourne Supremacy." Bits and pieces of Bourne's former life are re-entering his conscious memory. This is another device that has been done before but rarely with as much gritty realism and compelling panache. Bourne's flashes of seeming recollection are perfectly ambiguous. Just the right amount of information is revealed for the viewer to feel Bourne's frustration and just the right amount of obscurity to create doubt as to whether the memories are real or not.

In addition to Bourne's ongoing internal struggle, "The Bourne Supremacy" delivers more than satisfactory plot and action. As is usual for action sequels, this second "Bourne" installment ups the onscreen excitement. As the story begins, Jason Bourne would like nothing more than to lead the rest of his life in a relatively uneventful way with his partner Marie, played by Franke Potente. In the months that have elapsed between the end of "The Bourne Identity" and the beginning of the sequel, things had remained thankfully uneventful for the title character. However, Bourne is increasingly troubled by partially remembered events of the past. He is also troubled in a more immediate and dangerous sense by forces of espionage that appear to be out to destroy him.

As well as the amnesia thread of the franchise, "The Bourne Supremacy" takes another familiar story device and makes it feel fresh and vital: the frame-up. The CIA is not an organization to run afoul of, but this is just what happens to Bourne when he is falsely accused of taking the life of a CIA agent. As Bourne is pursued, he once again falls into a web of intrigue that takes him throughout western Europe.

There is plenty for action fans, with a number of increasingly intense sequences. Even viewers who are ordinarily bored by standard action movies will have a hard time resisting the tense, innovative camera work from veteran cinematographer Oliver Wood, who does great work here.

A large part of what makes "The Bourne Supremacy" so successful is uniformly strong acting. Julia Stiles gets to expand on her role as "Bourne" series heroine Nicky Parsons, as well as show off an impressive acting range that audiences had only gotten glimpses of in many of Stiles' previous roles. Even after decades of movie and television acting, Brian Cox brings freshness to the role of CIA higher-up Ward Abbott. However, it is once again Matt Damon who carries both the heroic action and the engrossing human elements of the Bourne character and "The Bourne Supremacy."

The sequel often carries the heaviest burden of a franchise. "The Bourne Supremacy" is no different. As successful as "The Bourne Identity" was, this second "Bourne" movie had the potential to make or break the series. "The Bourne Supremacy" lived up to the promise, thanks to great work from Paul Greengrass, Matt Damon and the entire cast and crew.