Film Fridays – ‘The Bourne…etc’

Film Fridays is a project initiated by Sarah and I. See previous posts for a longer preamble!

We would be delighted if you would join us! We don’t necessarily want to talk about the nerdy technical details but more about why these films speak to us as individuals, why they have a place in out hearts, and any personal memories they evoke. 

‘The Bourne series’ (2002-2016)

I’m not going to bother with the trailer for the first movie as it really undersells the film So here is the trailer for The Bourne Supremacy (2004)

I chose this series because I have not been able to get Moby’s theme for them out of my head all week. So in order to spread this around a bit you can listen to this earworm too – this is my favourite version as it evolved over the course of the movie series:

I did not watch these on release, despite the great reviews. Around 2010, after the third and ‘final’ one was released I bought a box set of the DVDs when they were being offered cheaply. I watched the first one and realised I had been an idiot for missing them. Then, unbelievably, the second and third were even better. I persuaded my reluctant wife to watch the first one a few weeks later and she then could not wait to watch the sequels either.

Loosely based on novels by Robert Ludlum, they follow the story of Jason Bourne. A man who starts the first film rescued by a fishing boat from floating in the sea with gunshot wounds. He has no memory, just some odd skills and a Swiss bank account number (implanted under his skin) linked to a safety deposit box in Zurich with mysterious contents, including passports from a number of countries but all bearing his photograph…and a gun & money.

The Bourne Identity (2002)

The start of the franchise, obviously. As he retrieves the safety deposit box contents (leaving the gun behind) Jason (Matt Damon) is unaware that by doing so he has alerted his employers, an illegal operation (Treadstone) within the CIA, to the fact he is still alive and now a potential liability. A team of assassins, his former colleagues, are sent to kill him. A visit to the US consulate results in an attempt to detain him and he instinctively runs. Buying a lift from bystander Marie (Franka Potente) he travels with her to the Paris address on his driving license in the hope that it will trigger some memories. Here they encounter the first of the three assassins and further clues… Eventually it emerges from clues and flashes of returning memory that Bourne had been a Treadstone assassin sent to kill an African ruler on his luxury yacht in the Mediterranean but had balked at the last moment because his intended victim, Wombosi, had his kids with him. He was shot in the back by Wombosi whilst escaping the yacht. His failure, inside knowledge, and the emergence of the conscience that had been thought brainwashed away has made him a marked man.

This first movie differs in style from the others. It was directed by Doug Liman and its look was very much inspired by Euro thrillers like La Femme Nikita. This makes a really nice change from the usual spy-thriller approach. Matt Damon is superb as Bourne, despite his not being a natural choice for the role (initially offered to Brad Pitt). Damon underwent intensive training for this highly physical role and is really convincing, performing many of the stunts himself. Yet at the same time he portrays a character of depth who seems very lost a lot of the time. Franka Potente plays Marie with all the shock and confusion you would expect of an innocent bystander caught up in the situation. Of the other roles it is perhaps Clive Owen as The Professor who makes a great impression in his appearances.

The chase sequences are well handled and choreographed – a feature common to all the movies in the franchise.

The Bourne Supremacy (2004)

This starts with Bourne and Marie living a quiet life off grid in Goa, India. At the end of ‘Identity’ Bourne had warned the CIA not to come after him but an attempt on his life brings Bourne out of hiding again to turn the tables….

This is, by a slim margin, my favourite of the series. Directing duties were taken over by Paul Greengrass, with whom Damon forged a strong bond – and it shows. In fact – after filming was completed the two of them came up with a better ending together and persuaded to studio to spend a considerable amount of money on reshoots to film it.

Greengrass has a much more documentary style of shooting and this suits the subject matter well. Choreography is amazing in this film – the car chase in Moscow being possibly the best, and most realistically dangerous I have seen. The supporting players contribute so much to this film too – Brian Cox as a shady CIA Director, Joan Allen as Pamela Landy makes her first appearance in the franchise and is Bourne’s ally in exposing corruption within the agency. Another ally, reprising and expanding her role from ‘Identity’ is Nicky Parsons, played by Julia Stiles. The assassin Kirill is portrayed chillingly by Karl Urban, an actor I greatly admire for his chameleon ability to portray vastly different characters.

The very final scene, leading into the theme and credits, makes me smile every time.

The Bourne Ultimatum (2007)

Following on directly from ‘Supremacy’ this tracks Bourne as he returns to the USA in order to get answers about what had been done to him and his fellow Treadstone agents as part of a bigger operation ‘Blackbriar’, and to expose those responsible…

For me, this loses a little shine once it returns to the US. The familiar locations seem a bit of a cop out after the previous movies and I was not convinced by Albert Finney’s performance as the man who had brainwashed Bourne. That said, there is a lot to enjoy first – the rooftop chase in Tangier is a real standout sequence, as is the attempt by Bourne to prevent the killing of a journalist in London (played by the ever great Paddy Considine).

Once in the US there is a great scene where Bourne steals files from the office of the man directing his pursuit, whilst taunting him on the phone:

And again, the very last scene is guaranteed to raise a smile.

The Bourne Legacy (2012)

Paul Greengrass had decided not to direct any more Bourne movies, which meant that Matt Damon also left the franchise. However, the studio was keen to continue in some way so decided to base a film on one of Bourne’s fellow agents – Aaron Cross, played by Jeremy Renner.

Set around the same time as the end of ‘Ultimatum’ it postulates that the panicked CIA directors being indicted for the events of the first few movies have ordered a ‘cleanup’ of all the loose ends – including the surviving agents. Aaron Cross is one such agent.

This movie is not as good as the previous 3 (Damon and Greengrass being sorely missed) but it is actually not a bad film in its own right, with numerous links to the main series and a similarity of style. And Renner is really rather good in the lead role.

Jason Bourne (2016)

Set 12 years after Bourne’s disappearance at the end of ‘ultimatum’. Jason Bourne is surviving off grid as a bare knuckle fighter. His previous CIA ally, Nicky Parsons , is now working for an activist group and whilst hacking CIA systems, finds documents relating to Bourne’s recruitment to Blackbriar and his father’s involvement. She travels to Athens to find Bourne, but unfortunately her accessing the files has alerted the corrupt elements still in the CIA, who follow her to track down Bourne..

This belated return has a lot going for it, the presence of Greengrass and Damon especially. But I found the plot a bit confusing and few of the action sequences stick in the memory despite being perfectly well done. The early death of a popular character is also a wrench. However – the now traditional final scene is again, a zinger.

In summary – a great series of films. Quality dipping only slightly in the later movies, which are still very enjoyable.

15 Comments

  1. This “trilogy” reminds me of Mission Impossible, the run of movies with the same actors, kind of like what makes series and Netflix so popular these days. Perhaps series have replaced this blockbusters since they’ve upped the budgets and big name actors.

    I had fun watching these in the cinema because they remind you of what it’s like to watch a good action film. They’re BIG and over-the-top, but not in a bad way, it’s like we all agree to go along for the ride.

    Liked by 2 people

    1. The other thing Lani, is that there is far more censorial freedom on TV and streaming these days. Especially in the US where any nudity immediately gets a theatrical movie certified R, whereas they allow no end of violence. And you are very right – big names and budgets have made a huge difference. At one time actors were either a TV actor or a movie actor and nobody did both. Actors often started off in TV but then got into movies but would never do TV a gain – Eastwood is a good example, Clooney a more recent one.
      Nowadays big budget TV/Streaming really does get big name actors.
      The Bourne movies, like any good action movie are a thrill ride just as you say❤

      Liked by 1 person

      1. Yes, it’s been interesting to watch the evolution and to hear actors talk about this transition too.

        The smarter ones were able to see the opportunity (rather than a slight) for their careers and now everyone sees the benefit of being seen more often and falling in love with the characters, getting to know them, etc.

        Good examples. Tom Cruise is still holding out though. He wants to be a die-hard movie star, old school, until he dies. I mean, I’d be really surprised if he ever went to TV. I can’t even think of him doing a surprise appearance on a show…

        Liked by 1 person

  2. I’m kind of ashamed to admit that I’ve only watched the first one, just a bit of the second, not the third but the fourth with Jeremy Renner (who I think is a great actor too). Your post makes me want to remedy that lapse!! 😀
    I never knew that Brad Pitt was offered the role first – not that he isn’t good but I definitely prefer Matt Damon and am really glad he got the role after all. It’s been a long time since I watched the first one and now that you’ve said it remember that it felt very different from your normal American action movie, the reference to Nikita is very accurate! And I think this European feeling about it is much due to the fabulous Franka Potente (yay! German actress!). 😄💕

    Liked by 1 person

    1. I am glad I might have persuaded you to give them another go Sarah. I can’t imagine anyone but Matt Damon in the role either – but I do recall being a bit surprised when he was cast because it was not the kind of role I would have expected to suit him.
      And yes – Franka Potente is excellent and does give it that European vibe! The only other thing I have seen her in is a Brit/German horror movie called ‘Creep’. She is great in that too but the film has some pretty horrible scenes and I keep meaning to get rid of it.
      As well as being more European in style these movies are more gritty and less over the top than Bond, which despite being British are also very Hollywood. I am sure it is no coincidence that the fight sequences etc in the Craig era Bonds are edited in a way that very much resembles the Bourne movies. ❤

      Liked by 1 person

  3. I love the first three movies!! They get replayed on TV here every few years and we just settle in to watch them, again and again. I haven’t seen the last two film in the franchise? Series? I was put off by a fairly scathing review of the Renner film, but I should probably give it a go.

    Liked by 2 people

    1. Glad you are also a fan Su! The last two are decent movies in their own right – just not in the same league. The Renner one was treated very harshly I thought – it really is not bad at all.

      Like

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Google photo

You are commenting using your Google account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s