Bourne to Run

Culture

Anyone looking for an escape from the issues of the day in the movie theaters may be out of luck. Shun Fahrenheit 9/11 or any of its coterie of left-leaning documentaries for the cheap laughs of Anchorman and you get an indictment of the lackadaisical news media. The special effects of Spider-Man 2 barely conceal its anxiety about the unholy collusion between science and corporate power. And as much as you might try to forget, the slapdash action of The Bourne Supremacy (and the upcoming The Manchurian Candidate remake) will remind you of those lines blacked out of the official history of the recent past.

Bourne, though, might be the most escapist of the lot. Which is odd, given that its predecessor, The Bourne Identity, drew more from the politically and existentially charged secret-agent tradition of The Third Man than from the fantasy fulfillments of James Bond. Not to mention that director Peter Greengrass's previous film, Bloody Sunday, outraged Tories with its depiction of British brutality in Northern Ireland, or that star Matt Damon is a pal of Howard Zinn.

Nonetheless, Bourne's prime directive is to escape. First from the bloated Robert Ludlum novel, to which it fortunately bears no resemblance. Then from any distracting topical relevance or entangling human relationships. After that, escaping from the agents of the secret and amoral organizations that rule the world is a snap. One moment, Jason Bourne (Damon) is pondering his fate in idyllic Goa, a man tormented by nightmares and comforted by a good woman (Franka Potente, returning as Marie). The next, he's in the first of many car chases, the prey of a sniper whose shot misses its target but triggers the terminator. Bourne goes into the familiar routine of ransacking the man's lodgings for caches of handguns, cash, and fake passports, and the chase, basically a matter of physics at this point, begins.

Too bad about the relationships, though. As in life, you don't realize how important they are till they're gone. In the first film, devoid of memory and identity but possessed of invincible killer instincts, Bourne was appealing in his emotional tabula rasa, his initially feral attachment to Potente's frazzled Marie. He even bonded with the killers out to get him. Not so this time. The closest he gets to a potentially sympathetic person is gazing through the lens of a sniper scope or exchanging clipped threats on a cell phone. It's creepy, perhaps, but wasteful of the talents of Joan Allen as Pamela Landy, a CIA chief who tries to out-macho the boys by pushing a risky operation in Berlin investigating a Russian oil oligarch involved with missing CIA money (how hot a political button is that?). An assassin murders two of the agents, and a fingerprint links the killer to the nefarious Jason Bourne, the missing and presumed dead super hitman for the now defunct, renegade "Treadstone" project. But Landy is no shrinking violet; she gathers together the sputtering, mostly male, agency crew and heads for Berlin to track down Bourne.

"Berlin, Germany," that is, as a subtitle makes clear for those who thought this might be taking place in New Hampshire. The film also takes place in "Naples, Italy," "Paris, France," "Amsterdam, Holland," and other locations here more reminiscent of an airport gift shop than of an atmospheric and savvy thriller. I would have expected more from Greengrass, whose pseudo-verite Bloody Sunday captured 1972 Belfast on the eve of the Troubles with almost unbearable authenticity. All that remains of the sensibility of that film is the director's penchant for hand-held close-ups and quick cutting, which is a shame because one of the greatest treats of this film (and the first) is watching the wit and precision with which Bourne demolishes his adversaries, the same kind of kinetic magic that graces silent comedies and kung fu movies. And since this is nominally a film about memory and identity, jagged flashbacks interrupt Bourne's programmed rampage.

To its credit, Supremacy passes on the glib vigilante scenario and aspires, fitfully, to something more ambitious and ambiguous, something involving conscience, responsibility, and humility. Had it remained true to that impulse, it might have achieved more than mere escapism. Unfortunately, as cynical old agency crony Ward Abbott (Brian Cox, one of the best things in the movie) might say, "You're walking in a deep puddle of shit, and you're wearing the wrong shoes."

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