THE AISLE SEAT - by Mike McGranaghan


Matt Damon seemed an unlikely actor to star in a big summer action movie, but he was well matched with the material in 2002’s The Bourne Identity. It was a thinking viewer’s action picture – one that focused on character and plot, then layered on the thrills. Because it performed so well, and because author Robert Ludlum wrote several books about the main character, a sequel was bound to happen. Director Doug Liman has been replaced by Paul Greengrass (Bloody Sunday) but everybody else is back for The Bourne Supremacy, which is at least as good as the original.

This installment begins with amnesiac assassin Jason Bourne hiding in India with girlfriend Marie (Franke Potente). Meanwhile, a CIA operation intended to obtain sensitive information goes wrong, leading to the murder of two operatives. The agent in charge is Pamela Landy (Joan Allen). She wants to know who’s responsible. Unbeknownst to her, someone has planted evidence – including fingerprints – at the scene in order to implicate the innocent Bourne. Landy orders a full-fledged manhunt, which requires opening up files related to his past work on a top secret project. This does not sit well with Ward Abbott (Brian Cox), Landy’s boss, who supervised the operation.

I’m going to leave a few key plot details out here, for obvious reasons. Bourne discovers that he’s being framed and is totally surprised. The only way to lead Landy to the truth is to actively engage her in a cat-and-mouse chase through several countries (including Germany and Russia). There’s a great scene in which Bourne intentionally makes himself visible to a security camera, knowing that Landy is probably watching. By winding through the countries, he reveals important details to Landy that, if she puts them together properly, will lead to the conclusion that she’s after the wrong guy. He also experiences flashbacks to things that his amnesia obscured. This leads to a surprise revelation about his previous work for the CIA.

The Bourne Supremacy, like its predecessor, has a few elements that all really good spy thrillers have. The performances, for example, are first-rate. Matt Damon again shows a different side of his talent playing the intense Jason Bourne. Although they don’t share screen space, he has a good back-and-forth chemistry with the always splendid Joan Allen. Watching these two highly intelligent actors play characters who try to get a jump on each other is extraordinarily compelling.

The film also has some major action scenes that have to be experienced on a big screen. Perhaps the most amazing of them is a car chase through the streets of Russia. Greengrass stages the scene using handheld cameras, creating a sensation of immediacy; you feel like you’re actually in one of the cars. It’s very possible that this sequence will become one of the most well-known of its type in modern movies.

Those things are good, but here’s what really distinguishes The Bourne Supremacy: after the action stops, there’s a powerful scene in which Jason Bourne tries to make amends for something he did early in his career. It’s a phenomenal moment that elevates the picture beyond what we typically expect from a spy thriller. The heart of both these films is the central character. Whereas The Bourne Identity was about a man coming to terms with who he is, The Bourne Supremacy is about a man coming to terms with what he has done.

That small but crucial detail makes everything else that happens even more gripping than it already was. Like Spider-Man 2, this film works in a very specific genre and seems intent on finding the layers underneath. If Jason Bourne wants to return for a third outing, I’ll happily line up for it.

( 1/2 out of four)

The Bourne Supremacy is rated PG-13 for violence and intense action, and for brief language. The running time is 1 hour and 48 minutes.

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