Thrill of the chase 

A review of The Bourne Supremacy

click to enlarge Matt Damon as Jason Bourne with Franka Potente as - Maria.
  • Matt Damon as Jason Bourne with Franka Potente as Maria.

*The Bourne Supremacy (PG-13)
Universal Pictures

We are reunited with our reluctant hero, former CIA agent Jason Bourne (Matt Damon), on the powdery beaches of Goa, India. Since the terrific action thriller The Bourne Identity, where amnesiac Bourne escaped the pursuit of the CIA with Maria (Franka Potente), his spunky French companion, Jason has apparently enjoyed some comfort, but is still tormented by flashes of memory that give him vague hints of who he once was leaving him wanting more.

Director Paul Greengrass shows us his stuff early on in the sequel to The Bourne Identity, lingering on Matt Damon's confused, boyish face then serving up a chase scene, through crowded Indian streets, that jiggles and disorients the viewer. Bourne is being pursued again, this time by a shady Russian agent who's part of a conspiracy that frames Bourne for the assassination of two Berlin agents, poised to uncover a mole and a massive plot that drained $200 million of CIA seed money to a Moscow oil drilling operation.

In charge of the Berlin investigation and hot on Jason's tail is Agent Pamela Landry, played by Joan Allen. Heartless and unflappable, Landry is formidable, and Allen takes a galvanizing turn in this largely unsympathetic role, her face matured with age, with her leonine profile and her enormous eyes finally fitting their frame.

Overseeing Landry is senior agent Ward Abbott, played by a jowly, exhausted-looking Brian Cox. He's belligerent and reluctant, surreptitiously throwing wrenches into the investigation, but clearly bent on intercepting Bourne for his own purposes.

This is the bare, slim frame of The Bourne Supremacy, a sequel not quite as personally involving as its predecessor, but equally as thrilling and easily one of the best films of the summer.

First there are the location shots: We are shuttled from bucolic Goa to bustling Berlin, to Naples, to Zurich, to Amsterdam, and the camera places the viewer in the center of the action in every set piece. It's quite a tour.

Then there's the acting: Damon says little but tells volumes with his face. As Bourne, he operates on part robotic training and instinct, part physical prowess, and part yearning to make sense of the chase that has become his life, leaving dead bodies in its wake. He's afraid of nothing but the secrets that lurk in his psyche. Allen and Cox are mature, world-weary and driven, both actors lending gravity to what could otherwise be a mere shoot'em-up whodunit, an excuse for expensive car chases. Even Julia Stiles, the ingnue who rarely acts beyond raising her chin and positioning herself for the camera, extends her range in a brief but compelling appearance.

But the true star of The Bourne Supremacy is director Greengrass. In a riveting indoor fight scene between Bourne and another agent, the hand-held camera is placed between and below the actors in the midst of jet-speed martial arts action. The effect leaves the viewer dizzy, unable to see which punch has landed but hearing each one's impact. The timing is impeccable again and again, as Bourne crafts his escape and flight.

Greengrass uses glass and other reflective surfaces to heighten tension, emphasizing what we can't see, what's on the other side, tempting our gaze. And his car chase scenes, particularly the final one through the streets of Moscow, are bone-rattlingly fast and scary. One could argue that Bourne loses sympathy for the trail of motor disasters he and the director leave behind, but at least Greengrass doesn't resort to the typical Hollywood fireball effect or to trails of cars leaping off bridges to sure death.

-- Kathryn Eastburn

Carmike 10, Chapel Hills 15, Cinemark 16, Tinseltown

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