Tuesday, May 17, 2011

You're a malfunctioning $30 million weapon. You're a total goddamn catastrophe, and by God, if it kills me, you're going to tell me how this happened.

No 365 - The Bourne Identity
Director - Doug Liman

The concept of an unreliable protagonist, one with amnesia, is nothing new. It runs the risk of feeling a bit like a lazy plot development in order to hide things from the viewer. However, when done well it allows the film to explore themes of identity, of self and of ethics. Which sounds pretty deep for a bash people up action film.
When we meet Bourne he is left for dead and has no memory of who or what he is. And so the film sets a wonderful little mystery as Bourne tries to figure out his name and his identity through a series of clues and chases.

Throughout this we have a dodgy secret agency run by Brian Cox's Ward Abbott but mainly managed by Chris Cooper's Conklin. They believe that Bourne knows everything and is trying to punish them for their past misdeeds (past misdeeds which remain hidden from us and from Bourne). They believe Bourne must be killed.
We also have Bourne's former quarry, Adewale Akinnouye-Agbaje (or Mr Eko as he will remain to me) out to get vengeance on the failed assassination attempt. It all sets up a messy series of chases, fight scenes and shootouts.

The film embraces this sense of being constantly followed and creates a really paranoid atmosphere. The camera hangs around for fairly long takes, or sticks close to Bourne. Meaning we don't always get to see the whole picture and are forever looking for the hitmen which are just out of shot. Saying that.... the hitmen out to get Bourne are barely subtle.
It is alluded that Bourne is the best of the best and as we watch him effortlessly take down whole teams of lesser foes armed with nothing but a biro, it does certainly feel that way. And yet, Bourne's assassins just leap around blazing machine guns and smashing through windows. Hardly subtle.
No wonder Bourne permanently eludes them.

There is one exception to the rule... The Professor - an agent, much like Bourne, played by Clive Owen. Their fight is played in long grass with a gentle questioning camera which searches the landscape for anything unusual, anything moving. The whole scene is incredibly tense, but mainly because we're waiting for something to happen, for one of these two deadly assassins to slip up. It's a great bit of cinema.
Its also good that Clive Owen has something to actually do. For most of the film he is just seen standing around, silent. Much the same fate belies Julia Stiles, who here gets to show off her full range of standing around AND sitting at a computer. But doesn't really get to do all that much. I'm not sure if they knew that there'd be sequels by then, or that Stile's character Nicky would have more to do.... if not then its a bit of a shit role for Stiles.

There are some great themes being played here, but the one at the heart of the film seems to be the (quite paranoid) idea that there are massive American agencies which can access everything and which can seriously fuck you up. In fact, the most chilling part of the whole film is how Cox's Abbott manages to dismiss the entire project (including the serious repercussions) to his management. He dismisses it as a training experiment deemed to costly for use and everyone nods and lets it go.

Forgetting the dozens (or potentially hundreds) of corpses which are left, and forgetting one seriously pissed off super-assassin

Fade out to Moby....