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Review of Bourne Supremacy, The Second Instalment in The Bourne Series

When I visit a movie store, my eyes fall first on Oscar-winning drama films, then under-appreciated World movies, funny flicks, Meryl Streep films... and lastly on action and espionage movies, political and courtroom dramas. This generally happens because (i) generic action films have nothing but macho men blowing stuff up and cops chasing them and (ii) I find it tiresome to focus on plots that have external factual details such as following some case proceedings or listening to characters talking about covert mission plans. My hands would pick Singin in The Rain instead of And Justice for All... , or Revolutionary Road instead of Die Hard, though I love a great narrative loaded with action and imaginative sequences such as Kill Bill. I've also watched Angelina Jolie's Salt quite a few times, even though it's plot was paper thin; the reason for that may be the sexy butt-kicking Jolie and pure fist-pumping action.

So it wasn't me who bought the Bourne trilogy but my father, though he hasn't watched a single part. I liked Bourne One because it had a good balance between plot and action plus a romantic angle that's oh-so-common in such films. I unwrapped Bourne Supremacy almost five years since I purchased the CDs (Bourne Ultimatum is still packed in plastic) knowing I'll get a decent product because of talented Matt Damon's presence. Plus I wanted to see the previous movies before watching Bourne Legacy that's just arrived in theaters. And the second installment did provide me good entertainment with competent performances but I was slightly disappointing by the storyline and the frenetic fast cuts that robbed the 'edge of the seat' moments.

Matt Damon reprised the role of Jason Bourne in 2004 in Bourne Supremacy along with Franka Potente who played Marie, his love interest from Bourne Identity. Bourne and Marie settle in Goa, India, miles away from his troubles, spending their days in Goan markets and beaches. Bourne has unanswered questions that he keeps recording in his diary. Troubles do find a way to him when an operation led by CIA Deputy Director Pamela Landy to buy evidence exposing a mole within the agency goes awry and Bourne's fingerprints are planted by Russian agent Kirill, thus implicating Bourne of murders and theft of $20 million. Kirill is then sent by Russian oil oligarch Gretkov to Goa to kill Bourne, thus ending the case there and then. Bourne escapes but loses his fiancé, and vows to find out what's going on and get his vengeance.

The writing is similar to any conventional thriller, where the traitor is an unexpected figure (although we do figure it out way before the person comes out), the situations are predictable and the dialogs are typical of most spy films. The characters seem to be doing everything right but they don't do enough. Bourne is a brand so we'll keep talking about him but who's going to speak about how Machiavellian the traitor was (not mentioning the name) or how bad-ass Kirill was. Gretkov receives shoddy treatment as he doesn't have much role in towards the end. And there could have been more telephonic interactions/negotiations between Bourne and Pamela Landy (remember Hannibal Lector and Clarice Starling's spine-chilling interactions in Silence of the Lambs). It seems Bourne Supremacy was written keeping in mind the success and straightforward approach of Bourne Identity, and so the writers didn't attempt at making the dialogs richer and juicier to avoid any risks. But it is taking these risks that lead to better results.

The cinematographer took some risks by fast cutting his action sequences and they did work but only at times, and that's because he went for overkill. The car chase sequence in Russia could've been so much impactful had the camera not jumped like every quarter a second. The result was that I had no idea who was ramming or shooting whom. Also in the starting sequence at the Berlin office where the camera moves constantly between so many characters it's difficult to get what's happening but more importantly you give up and just wait for the next segment to start normally. Even the car chase with Bourne and Marie was ruined by the jumpy camera. The scenes with Bourne and Irena Neski, daughter of late politician Neski, where the camera does not cut between frames that much, although the shaky camera is still present, and Bourne and Landy, where their faces are seen in profile on the left and right of the frame, are more memorable because we as the audience pay attention.

Bourne Supremacy ultimately works because it has all the basic formal elements to keep the viewers engaged. I don't know whether this was intended as a metaphor, but I found two places where Bourne notices blood on his hands, and he tries to wash it off in one scene. But, against his wish, blood shall always remain on his hands and he'll never get the peace that he wants. Hence come Bourne Ultimatum and Bourne Legacy (and more). I'm glad they forwent the idea of restricting much of the film to an Indian jail (they had planned this in an alternate script) since that would've been duller. But the scope of the film (the four locales - Russia, Germany, India and Italy) called for a stronger script with more well-rounded characters (in those terms, Mission Impossible 4 succeeded to a better extent).

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