‘Bourne’ delivers cliche-free thrills

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‘Bourne’ delivers cliche-free thrills

Cursed with an aw-shucks, Kansas farm-boy face ― you almost expect to see straw in his hair ― Matt Damon is nobody’s idea of an international assassin, which has worked in his favor on the two occasions when he’s played one.
When, say, Arnold Schwarz-enegger or Vin Diesel picks up a gun, you’re not in doubt about the outcome. It’s only a question of how big the explosions are going to be. But when Matt “Good Will Hunting” Damon trains a rifle scope on somebody, it’s unfamiliar territory.
That was one of the things that made 2002’s “The Bourne Identity” a pleasure. A Hollywood blockbuster directed by an indie-movie guy (Doug Liman, of “Swingers” and “Go”), it threw a lot of spy-thriller conventions over the side, and approached the subject matter as though the people involved were making ― well, an indie movie, but not a pretentious one. The results were fresh and startling. In that film, when an assassin suddenly crashed in through a window, you reacted the way you would if an assassin were to suddenly crash through a window.
“The Bourne Supremacy,” the new sequel, is as good if not better. It was directed, again, by a guy with indie credentials ― Paul Greengrass, who made “Bloody Sunday,” the gut-punch of a film about the 1972 Northern Ireland massacre that had a recent run at Cine Cube in Gwanghwamun. If you happened to see that stark movie, you might recognize some things here, such as the use of hand-held cameras (and grayish, overcast light) to create an unglamorous, documentary-like style, and thereby a certain immediacy.
Another thing it has in common with “Bloody Sunday,” though more subtly, is an undertone of political pessimism. Damon’s character, Jason Bourne (an invention of the Cold War spy novelist Robert Ludlum), is an amnesiac government hitman who’s trying to piece his past together. Used by the CIA to assassinate inconvenient foreign politicians, Bourne underwent such ruthless training that he seems to become a machine when his fight-or-flight reflexes kick in. That’s how Damon chooses to play the character, at any rate; even jogging on a beach in India in an early scene, he moves like a robot, his face blank.
As in the first film, Bourne becomes an embarrassment that U.S. government middle-managers, having used him up, want to erase; and as in the first film, “Bourne Supremacy” is in part about its protagonist’s remorse for his horrific past and his attempts to reclaim his humanity.
Sort of. Actually, all it really is is a terrific spy thriller, but with some genuine emotional resonance. (It helps that there are some A-list supporting actors, notably Joan Allen and Brian Cox.)
The action is stripped-down and believable; when there’s a fight, it looks like dirty, unpleasant work, not some superhero’s chance to show off his moves, and when there’s a car chase, it’s dangerous and ugly. There aren’t any slow-motion sequences or arty cinematography designed to make violence look beautiful, nor does anyone, at any point, make a clever quip before sending someone to his death. The score, by someone named John Powell, is tense and exhilarating, and I say that as someone who never notices film scores. It’s hardly a movie for the ages, but it’s a good adrenaline workout that never insults the intelligence.

The Bourne Supremacy
Thriller / English
110 min.
Now playing

by David Moll
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