“THE BOURNE IDENTITY” (2002) Review

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“THE BOURNE IDENTITY” (2002) Review

Thirty-six years ago saw the release of “The Bourne Identity”, Robert Ludlum’s first novel about the amnesiac government agent called Jason Bourne. The novel became a best-seller and spawned two sequels written by Ludlum. Then in 1988, ABC aired a two-part miniseries adaptation of Ludlum’s novel, which starred Richard Chamberlain and Jacyln Smith. The miniseries turned out to be a big ratings hit. But it did not stop there. Over fourteen years later, Universal Pictures released its own adaptation of the novel, starring Matt Damon as the amnesiac Jason Bourne.

Directed by Doug Liman, the beginning of “THE BOURNE IDENTITY” more or less followed Ludlum’s novel. Italian fisherman (instead of French) rescue an unconscious man floating adrift with two gunshot wounds in his back. The boat’s medic finds a display of a safe deposit number surgically implanted under the unknown man’s skin. The man wakes up and discovers he is suffering from extreme memory loss. Over the next few days, the man finds he is fluent in several languages and has unusual skills. But he cannot remember anything about himself or why he was in the sea. When the ship docks, the doctor sends him off to Zurich with some money to investigate the mystery of the safe deposit box. In Zurich, the man discovers money, a pistol and passports with his photograph. One of the photographs identify him as an American named Jason Bourne with an address in Paris.

Here, “THE BOURNE IDENTITY” begins to veer from both Ludlum’s novel and the 1988 miniseries. Instead of alerting the forces of terrorist Carlos the Jackal, Bourne’s trip to the bank alerted the CIA black ops program Treadstone to his whereabouts. And instead of coercing French-Canadian Marie St. Jacques to drive him to safety and using her as a hostage, Damon’s Bourne offered money to a German-born Marie Kreutz to drive him to Paris. Before they can part, a Treadstone assassin attack Bourne at his Paris apartment. Due to the attack, Bourne is forced to kill the assassin and keep Marie by his side for her protection. And with her help, he sets out to discover his true identity and the truth that led to his wounded state in the middle of the Mediterranean Sea. At the same time, Treadstone – led by the cankerous Alexander Conklin and the anxious Deputy Director Ward Abbott – continues sending assassins to kill Bourne and prevent him from revealing the organization’s desire to kill a volatile exiled African dictator named Nykwana Wombosi.

I might as well put my cards on the table. “THE BOURNE IDENTITY” is a terrific movie. Director Doug Liman, along with screenwriters Tony Gilory and William Blake Herron, did a first-rate job of transferring . . . well, their vision of Ludlum’s novel. Although the movie is not as faithful to the novel as the miniseries, I believe it is just as good. Liman, Gilroy and Herron decided to reject a good deal of Ludlum’s novel in order to reflect the current political climate and to conform to Liman’s opinions regarding American foreign policy. In the movie, Bourne is a CIA assassin who works for a black ops group called Treadstone that carries out unofficial hits on those they consider threats to the American government. He lost his memory after a failed attempt on the exiled Nykwana Wombosi. The movie is more of a criticism or indictment (depending on how one would view it) on U.S. foreign policy than Ludlum’s novel . But the director and the two screenwriters made sure that they retained the novel’s central theme – a CIA agent who loses his memory on the heels of a failed mission. Does this mean I believe Liman, Gilroy and Herron’s changes are superior to Ludlum’s original story? Not really. Ludlum’s tale and the 1988 adaptation were reflections of the times they hit both the bookstores and television screens. By the time “THE BOURNE IDENTITY” was in production, the political scene had change. The real Carlos the Jackal had been in prison for about seven to eight years by the time the movie went into production. And in my opinion, Liman and the two screenwriters wisely reflected this change.

“THE BOURNE IDENTITY” also reflected some first rate action sequences, thanks to Liman’s direction, Oliver Wood’s photography and especially Saar Klein’s editing. My favorite sequences include Bourne’s escape from the U.S. Embassy in Zurich, a car chase sequence through the streets of Paris, Bourne’s final encounter with Conklin and two of the latter’s flunkies inside Treadstone’s Parisian safe house and especially the fight sequence between Bourne and another Treadstone assassin named Castel. I also enjoyed John Powell’s atmospheric score for the film, which I believe more or less served as the basis for his work on the second and third BOURNE movies. And speaking of music, one could hardly discuss any BOURNE film withou mentioning Moby’s 2002 hit song, “Extreme Ways”. The lyrics to Moby’s song, supported by a very entertaining score, literally captured the nuance of the franchise’s main characters . . . especially Bourne. Is it any wonder that it has become the franchise’s theme song? Also, I have to commend Liman’s insistence upon filming“THE BOURNE IDENTITY” in Paris, especially since executives at Universal Studios wanted him to use Montreal or Prague as substitutes for the City of Lights. Mind you, both Montreal and Prague are beautiful cities. But even I would have guessed they were not really Paris in the film.

I read somewhere that Liman had considered a wide range of actors like Russell Crowe and Sylvester Stallone for the role of David Webb aka Jason Bourne. Mind you, I think Crowe could have pulled it off. But I am not so sure about Stallone. Then again, he could have done so a decade earlier. However, Liman eventually settled for Matt Damon and the rest, as they say, is history. Damon not only gave a superb performance as the introverted and haunted Bourne, he also handled some of the action scenes very well, considering this was his first time in such a physically demanding role. He also had superb chemistry with his leading lady, Franka Potente. The latter was excellent as the free-spirited Marie Kreutz, who finds herself drawn to the mysterious Bourne . . . almost against her will. Other first-rate performances include Chris Cooper as the intense and hot-tempered Alexander Conklin; Brian Cox, who performance as the cautious Ward Abbott almost strikes me as insidious; and Adewale Akinnuoye-Agbaje, whose performance as the arrogant and verbose Nykwana Wombosi pretty much lit up the screen. The movie also featured first-rate performances from two cast members who said very little. Julia Stiles did an excellent job in conveying both the professionalism and wariness of Treadstone logistics technician Nicky Parsons with very little dialogue. Clive Owen had even less to say as Treadstone assassin “The Professor” and yet, he perfectly projected an intense and intimidating presence as a government killer.

“THE BOURNE IDENTITY” is probably my second favorite movie in the franchise. Yet, it is not perfect. One of the problems I had featured the death of Treadstone assassin Castel, who jumped out of the window and killed himself, following his fight with Bourne inside the latter’s Parisian apartment. Marie asked Bourne why he did it. And honestly, I wondered why he did it myself. But Gilroy and Herron’s screenplay failed to explain Castel’s suicide. And to this day, I am still wondering why the guy jumped. Ward Abbott made the decision to shut down Treadstone, following its failure to kill Bourne. But instead of having everyone connected to Treadstone killed – something that Edward Norton’s character in “THE BOURNE LEGACY” attempted to do – Abbott only had one person bumped off. And I could not help but wondering if his efforts were half-assed. I also had a problem with the CIA’s reaction to Nykwana Wombosi’s death. Following Bourne’s failed attempt to kill him, the CIA Director had a fit over the unauthorized attempted hit on the former dictator. But when “The Professor” finally killed Wombossi, no one made a fuss or worried over the possibility that the dictator’s death might attract more attention from the media. I thought this was rather sloppy on Gilroy and Herron’s part. Finally, the movie’s second half was in danger of losing my attention, due to Liman’s slow pacing. If it were not for the sequence featuring Bourne and Marie’s visit to her friend (or step brother) Eaumon’s French farmhouse, I would have fallen asleep and missed Bourne’s final confrontation with Conklin.

What else is there to say about “THE BOURNE IDENTITY”? Like I said, it is my second favorite of the four movies in theBOURNE franchise. In its own way, it is just as good (but not better) than the 1988 miniseries that starred Richard Chamberlain. Not only did the movie featured a first-rate, if flawed screenplay by Tony Gilroy and William Blake Herron; it also featured fine direction by Doug Liman, along with a superb cast led by Matt Damon who proved to be an excellent Jason Bourne.

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“SILVER LININGS PLAYBOOK” (2012) Review

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“SILVER LININGS PLAYBOOK” (2012) Review

When I learned that “SILVER LININGS PLAYBOOK” had earned a good number of nominations and acclaim during the Fall/Winter of 2012-2013, I found myself scratching my head in confusion. I had never heard of the film. I spent a good deal of that movie season paying more attention to the likes of “ARGO” and “LINCOLN”. So when the movie earned a good number of Academy Award nominations, my first reaction turned out to be . . . “What was the big deal?” 

Written and directed by David O. Russell, “SILVER LININGS PLAYBOOK” was based upon Matthew Quick’s 2008 novel, “The Silver Linings Playbook”. Since I never read the novel, let alone heard of it, I would not be able to compare the movie to the novel. The movie is about a bipolar man named Patrick “Pat” Solitano Jr., who moves in with his parents in Philadelphia after being released from a psychiatric hospital. Pat is determined to get his life back on track, stop his dependence on medication and reconcile with his estranged wife Nikki, who had obtained a restraining order against him after he had violently attacked the man with whom she was having an affair. While attending a dinner party held by his friends, Ronnie and Veronica, Pat meets Veronica’s sister – a young widow suffering from sex addiction and depression over the death of her police officer husband. Pat and Tiffany begin an odd friendship over their shared neuroses. Learning that both Tiffany and Veronica know Nikki, Pat asks the former to deliver a letter he had written to Nikki. In return, Tiffany asks him to be her partner in a dance contest. 

Matters seem to go well for Pat until his father Pat Sr. asks him to attend a Philadelphia Eagles football game as a “good luck charm”. The latter had bet all of his money on the game. His father’s request leads Pat to skip practice with Tiffany. However, he is dragged into a fight with racist thugs who were attacking his Indian-born psychiatrist and brother. When the Eagles lose the game, Pat Sr. becomes furious. Tiffany who is also angry, arrives at the Solitano home and berates Pat for missing the dance practice. She also points out that the Eagles win a game whenever she and Pat spend time together. Convinced that Pat being with Tiffany is actually good luck, Pat Sr. makes a parlay with his gambling friend that if the Eagles win their game against the Dallas Cowboys, and if Pat and Tiffany score at least a 5 out of 10 in their dance competition; he will win back double the money he lost on the first bet.

Although “SILVER LININGS PLAYBOOK” received a good deal of acclaim, there have been some critics who have dismissed the film as a mediocre, yet slightly entertaining romantic comedy. And some have pointed out the unlikeliness of a comedic romance between two characters with serious neuroses. Before I actually viewed the film, I believed I would end up in the latter camp. But when I finally saw the film . . . my skepticism disappeared. What can I say? I found myself drawn to both the characters and the story. A good number of years have passed since I last enjoyed a romantic comedy. It seemed to be a genre that Hollywood rarely seems willing to explore, unless situated in the middle of an action-adventure story, or in a television sitcom. I noticed that “SILVER LININGS PLAYBOOK” has been described as a comedy-drama. When one considers a movie featuring main characters with mental disorders, I could see why any moviegoer would expect a good deal of drama injected into this story. I am not saying that the movie’s narrative skirted over its dramatic issues. It made Pat’s emotional problems clear, especially his unwillingness to get over his wife Nikki, his parents’ wary regard for him, his tendency to run away from his feelings for Tiffany, and the latter’s own romantic frustrations with him. And yet, the style of David O. Russell’s directions, along with the cast’s performances made the film seem more like a straight comedy, instead of a comedy-drama. Did this bother me? Not at all.

“SILVER LININGS PLAYBOOK” featured some genuinely great moments. I do not think I will ever forget that amateurish, yet odd dance number performed by leads Bradley Cooper and Jennifer Lawrence. Nor do I think I can forget those scenes featuring their characters’ odd encounters, while jogging. But my favorite scenes include the first attempt by Pat’s friend Danny McDaniels to leave the Baltimore psychiatric hospital, Pat’s wild and loud quarrel with his equally loud father during the early hours of the morning, Pat’s funny sessions with his analyst Dr. Cliff Patel, and Pat Sr. making that final bet with his friend Randy. But if I had to pick my favorite scene, it would be Pat and Tiffany’s first meeting at the dinner party hosted by Pat’s friend Ronnie and Tiffany’s sister Veronica. From the moment the two leads lock eyes upon each other, until he escorted her home, it was a blast to watch. The scene features one of my favorite “boy-meets-girl” moments in any Hollywood film.

At least four members of the cast for “SILVER LININGS PLAYBOOK” earned Academy Award nominations. But the rest of the cast also gave excellent or really exceptional performances. The movie featured some really solid performances from Shea Whigham (Jake Solitano), Julia Stiles (Veronica Maxwell), Anupam Kher (Dr. Cliff Patel) and Dash Mihok (Officer Keogh). Chris Tucker went against his usual splashy style for a very funny, yet subtle performance as Pat’s fellow hospital inmate, Danny McDaniels, who keeps making attempts to escape and who immediately noticed the chemistry between Pat and Tiffany. I do not recall ever seeing John Ortiz in a comedic role before, but I must admit that he was rather funny as Ronnie, Pat’s high strung friend, who is beginning to question his relationship with Veronica Maxwell. 

And the four cast members who ended up receiving Academy Award nominations, truly deserved them, as far as I am concerned. Jackie Weaver earned a much deserved Best Supporting Actress nomination as Pat’s sane mother Dolores, who seemed to be caught between a rock and a hard place between a bipolar son and a temperamental and slightly obsessive husband. Robert De Niro gave one of his best performances in his later career as Pat Solitano Sr., a temperamental and slightly obsessive man, who is wary of his younger son; yet even more obsessed over the Philadelphia Eagles. He deservedly earned his first Academy Award nomination in 21 years. Bradley Cooper, who worked with De Niro for the second time, earned an equally deserved Academy Award nomination as the movie’s main character, Pat Solitano Jr. – a man struggling with both a bipolar condition and a failed marriage. What I liked about Cooper’s performance is that he effectively portrayed a very volatile personality without crossing the line into hamminess. Jennifer Lawerence earned her second Academy Award nomination as Tiffany Maxwell, the troubled young widow, who seemed hellbent upon being the new woman in Pat’s life. Lawrence eventually won her Oscar – for Best Actress. Before I saw this film, I found myself wondering if she deserved it. After seeing her performance in this movie, I think I would have made it a tie between her and Jessica Chastain. Lawrence was a revelation as the strong-willed, yet emotional Tiffany.

It is a pity that I never saw this movie when it was in the theaters during the fall of 2012. I really wish I had. I think it is one of the best comedies I have seen in years. David O. Russell did justice to the story as the film’s screenwriter and director. And it boasted some superb performances from the likes of Bradley Cooper and Jennifer Lawrence. If I had seen “SILVER LININGS PLAYBOOK” when it first arrived in the theaters, it would have my list of favorite movies of 2012.

 

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“THE BOURNE ULTIMATUM” (2007) Review

“THE BOURNE ULTIMATUM” (2007) Review

“THE BOURNE ULTIMATUM” marked the adaptation of author Robert Ludlum’s last novel about the amnesiac CIA agent/assassin Jason Bourne (Matt Damon). Considering that the first two movies – “THE BOURNE IDENTITY” (2002) and “THE BOURNE SUPREMACY” (2004) – barely resembled the novels from which they were adapted. one can honestly say the same about “ULTIMATUM”. Most diehard fans of the novels would obviously be upset over these loose adaptations. But since I am not a big fan, it did not really bother me. But this last movie did continue the saga that began in the first movie. And in a surprising way.

Before I saw the movie, I had heard rumors that production on it began at least six months after the events of “SUPREMACY”. The rumor turned out to be slightly false. The majority of the movie was set six weeks after the 2004 film.  The first scene, which began in Moscow, occurred after Bourne had killed Marie Kreutz’s murderer Krill during a high speed chase and apologized to Irena Neski for murdering her parents. Then the story jumped another six weeks. But screenwriters Tony Gilroy and Scott Z. Burns managed to plant a surprise within three-quarters into the film that has strong connections to“SUPREMACY”‘s final scene in New York City.

As for the rest of the movie, it turned out to be high-octane action thriller and mystery. Upon his arrival in Paris by train, Bourne reads an article that revealed his past – including his relationship with Marie – and his connections to Treadstone. The article also exposured a new CIA assassination program called “Blackbriar”. Realizing that the reporter Simon Ross (Paddy Considine) of THE GUARDIAN might have a source within the C.I.A., Bourne heads for London and attempts to help the reporter evade capture and possible death at the hands of a Blackbriar assassin named Paz (Edgar Ramirez). Bourne fails to save Ross and he spends the rest of the film tracking down the journalist’s source – a CIA section chief named Neal Daniels (Colin Stinton). He also has to deal with a paronoid C.I.A. Deputy Director official named Noah Vosen (David Strathairn), who wants Daniels dead for treason. Vosen also wants Bourne dead, because of the latter’s suppresssed knowledge of the Treadstone program and the Blackbriar programs. Along the way, Bourne acquires the help of former Treadstone handler, Nicky Parsons (Julia Stiles) and C.I.A. Deputy Director, Pamela Landy (Joan Allen), who finds herself working with Vosen to track him down.

There were three sequences that I found well-written and very exciting:

*Bourne’s attempts to keep Ross alive in London.

*Bourne and Nicky’s adventures in Tangiers, while dealing with Blackbriar assasin Desh (Joey Ansah).

*Bourne’s memories of his true self’s [David Webb] decision to become a Treadstone assassin.

I found a good deal of Tony Gilroy, Scott Z. Burns and George Nolfi’s screenplay rather excellent. And I have to take my hat off to the writers for creating an exciting script. But . . . I have to point out a few flaws. One – what happened to C.I.A. Director Marshall (Tomas Arana) from the previous film? According to the 2007 movie, C.I.A. Director Ezra Kramer (Scott Glenn) had approved of the new Blackbriar program. But the Blackbriar program was first introduced by Ward Abbott (Brian Cox) in the first film. Only Marshall could have approved to jump start the program, not Kramer. Two, Nicky Parsons had claimed that she and Bourne had shared a past . . . in Paris. I found this claim rather startling, considering that the previous movies had never hinted of any romance between the two. The only past that Nicky and Bourne could have shared was one between handler and assassin in Paris, along with his interrogation of her in Berlin.  The action in the movie’s first 45 minutes occurred a little too fast for my tastes and with very little breaks. I think Greengrass and Gilroy seemed bent upon speeding up the movie’s pacing just a little too unnecessarily. And three, the final scene featured fugitive Nicky Parsons learning about the exposure of the Blackbriar and Treadstone assassin programs on the news . . . and the arrests of Vosen, Kramer and psychologist Dr. Albert Hirsch (Albert Finney). Frankly, I found this conclusion unrealistic. Yes, one can consider it a crowd pleaser, but there is no way on earth the C.I.A. would allow its dirty secrets (at least recent ones) to be aired on any national news program. And I doubt that Landy would have sent Vosen’s secret files to the media – not if she wants to maintain her career at the agency. Chances are the C.I.A. would have suppressed news of the black-ops programs and killed Vosen, Hirsch and Kramer discreetly.

As for the acting – well it was top notch as usual. In what turned out to be his last “BOURNE” film (so far), Damon made the Jason Bourne [David Webb] role as his own. Julia Stiles continued to prove, as she had done in “SUPREMACY” that she and Damon have great screen chemistry . . . despite the discomfort and awkwardness between the two characters. This awkwardness came about Bourne’s revelation of his distaste of his role as an assassin and a scene in which Nicky changed her appearance, dredging up memories of Marie doing the same in the first film. Joan Allen’s portrayal of Pamela Landy was marvelous as usual. In fact, I believe that her performance in this movie was a minor improvement over the second film. Edgar Ramirez gave an intriguing performance as Blackbriar assassin Paz. Paddy Considine was effectively paranoid as the doomed reporter Simon Ross. And both David Strathairn and Albert Finney proved to be remarkably creepy and unpleasant. Although I believe that Strathairn was as good as Brian Cox, I found him to be an improvement over the slightly over-the-top Chris Cooper (as Alexander Conklin).  Somewhat.  He had his moments of being overly dramatic.

Paul Greengrass’ direction seemed top notch. But I have one major complaint. I had barely tolerated Greengrass’ handheld photography in “SUPREMACY”. In “ULTIMATUM”, my toleration nearly went down with the Titanic. I almost had a headache dealing with the shaky camera work. My other complaint deals with this movie’s rendition of Moby’s song, “Extreme Ways”. Quite frankly, I hated it. I hated Moby’s new updated version of it and wish that the producers had stuck with the old one.

Despite some of these changes, the hand held photography and what I believe were flaws in the script, “ULTIMATUM” proved to be just as exciting as the first two movies. And together, Damon, Greengrass, Kilroy, along with Doug Liman and Universal Pictures created a first-rate movie trilogy and franchise.