The Bourne Supremacy and The Loneliness of Matt Damon
Woe be the cinema of Matt Damon, it is a one of loneliness and rejection. Time and time again the actor has gravitated to roles of outsiders unable or unwanting to cope with assimilation into society proper, and
is often burdened with the tragedy of having to kill or sacrifice what he holds dear simply to live another day of pensive alienation. The trend can be traced through a startling amount of his work: an anonymous youth in The Talented Mr. Ripley
, he sought to be noticed by stealing the identity of a wealthy American playboy; he played a dejected and down and out WWI veteran in The Legend of Bagger Vance
; and even comedic roles show a similar pattern, for example the less confident half of a Siamese twin in Stuck on You
and in a Kevin Smith comedy Damon fills the role of a rejected angel, banished from Heaven by God in Dogma
. The constantly reprised character type even went so far as to try to find a place in the wilderness in Gus Van Sant’s Gerry
. Playing a Gen-Xer arbitrarily trying to reconnect with nature Damon finds himself just barely able to survive, and once again having to sacrifice someone close to him, leaving the character not just alone but burdened with knowledge that he is not fit to exist anywhere on this earth.
And so it is only fitting that Damon has decided to attach his name Connery-style to the adaptations of Robert Ludlum’s Jason Bourne novels. Bourne was part of a CIA operation to groom the perfect assassins, but, as exposed in The Bourne Identity
Bourne’s first mission went awry and he suffered amnesia. With no known past Bourne is bewildered by his characterlessness. Pushed to the fringe of society by CIA assassins he knows neither the comfort of human acceptance nor awareness of his own identity, leaving the man alienated where it hurts the most-knowledge of self. In the previous film he fought off attempts to terminate his services and dropped off the map. The Bourne Supremacy
picks him up living in a tourist town in India with Marie
(Franka Potente), the girl he fell for in the first film obstensibly because she too had no place to call her own. But Bourne is played by Matt Damon, whom we have now concluded perpetually plays the cinematically homeless, so when the trouble starts the first thing that is taken away is his confidence in his life, his love, and his home. To erase traces of an old crime being investigated by the CIA a corrupt Russian businessman has an assassin (Karl Urban) frame Bourne for two killings and then kill Bourne himself, sending the clueless CIA off on a trail for a dead man and evidence that does not exist. Bourne may have settled down but he has not gone completely soft. His skills saves his own life at the cost of his love, leaving Bourne, and Matt Damon, with the only option of traveling the globe to find out who is trying to kill him and why.
Paul Greengrass replaces Doug Liman in the director’s chair of the Bourne sequel, but keeping the same composer and cinematographer the film retains an aesthetic consistency unknown to most continuing studio properties. Greengrass’ touches are still noticeable in The Bourne Supremacy
-handheld camerawork, overlapping editing, handsome framing, and echoes of Bloody Sunday
’s interest in logistical communication-but like Terence Young in the first Bond films the director’s main accomplishment is keeping the series consistent in mood and narrative. For the Bourne series this means keeping the roving tone, as if Bourne is a shark who must keep moving or else perish; keeping the grey-minimalistic aesthetic which drains the European locations of their life, charm, and friendliness in the eyes of Bourne; a
nd containing not action per se but short bursts of realistic, professional combat, followed some kind of elaborate chase sequence where Bourne is not so much escaping as he is being run out of town.
The differences then between the first film and the second are surprisingly small. Bourne is still escaping the clutches of CIA headhunters-Brian Cox returns as a cynical, fleshy vet full of evasive warnings and Joan Allen unexpectedly turns up as a green but eager department head unaware of the depth of Bourne’s talent-and at the same time is trying to figure out why his existence is being contested once again. Instead of determining his identity Bourne has gotten more specific, trying to hunt down the meaning in obscure, elliptical nightmares that plague him daily. But Bourne’s hunt for his oppressors, his pursuit for true and their chase of him seem merely an extension of Bourne’s own innate self-mystification, his confusion over his existence’s meaning and its purpose, neigh even its validity.
Such a reading is deep within the fairly superficial text, for the film is lean, but like The Bourne Identity
one gets the overwhelming feeling that Bourne’s search is one to keep him busy, to distract himself from the knowledge that he really has no understanding
of himself, that all he knows is that the world rejected him for some flaw in himself of which he is constantly unaware. The one person who would argue for him, perhaps provide a reason for existing through mutual compassion and partial understanding is Potente’s Marie, who blessed the first film with a sweetness and unlikely chemistry with Damon, but who is quickly taken away from Bourne, leaving Damon once again on his own to fend for his life in a world that inexplicably doesn’t want him. The Bourne Supremacy
may not be the ultimate of Damon’s alienation-Minghella and Van Sant’s films probably being the most stylized, interesting, and effective statements for the actor’s reprising character-but it is a continuing mainstream translation that fully revels in the actor’s career patterns.
As for the film, it acquits itself adequately, just like its prequel. Without Potente on board (or Clive Owen for that matter) and with Damon essentially reprising much of the same character arc as the first film-with the notable exception of more determination, less confusion-the highlights of the film end up being the incredibly efficient action sequences. Greengrass’s eye for action is mature and interesting. He takes the clear-minded, highly stylized supreme bitch fight between Vivica A. Fox and Uma Thurman in Kill Bill Volume 1
and restages a similar home-invasion between Bourne and an ex-assassin compadre. The director strips the scene of any stylization and turns in a brutal, confused,
claustrophobic sequence of close-quartered combat. He applies a similar visual rationale to a later car chase, using finely tuned, rhythmic editing to turn the chase into a veritable back and forth boxing match between cars. Disappointingly the film is still more thriller than action piece, making the assumption that Bourne’s continuing identity crisis has enough depth for the movie to ride on with a low fights-per-minute ratio. Again and again the film supports the notion that Bourne’s never-ending search for meaning in his life really just translates into Damon trying to keep active, trying to integrate his long-standing character type back into society through obtaining self-knowledge. The efforts aren’t particularly exciting, as Bourne and the film indulges in petty repressed memories instead of allowing Bourne the more fruitful track of determining his current character rather than a past entity. Tracking down an old assassination and then trying his darndest to tack moral meaning onto his past life as a killer still feels like arbitrary things to keep Bourne busy. While this is a simultaneous flaw in the movie’s entertainment value and Bourne’s earnest development as a continuing character, it is entirely in tune with the Damon oeuvre. But if the next Bourne film retains consistency in both style and plot mechanics as the previous two tedium will set in all the more quickly, and unless Damon decides to finally give his character a deeper, stronger attempt to either assimilate or comprehend his banishment we will be stuck with a series of thrillers getting shorter on the thrills and redundant in content.