Movies – Bourne Ultimatum

So I’m on an investigation. I’m tracking the progress of the ‘Bourne’ trilogy from “Wow, Nice!” to “Impressive but Troubling” to “WTF!”. And I decided to check the credits – can’t tell the players without a scorecard.

The first was directed by Doug Liman. These days he’s mostly an executive producer, which may be just as well. Jon Favreau handed him a screw-up-proof script for ‘Swingers’. ‘Go’ featured another gimme script from John August, who went on to become Tim Burton’s screenwriter for ‘Big Fish’ (splendid!), ‘Charlie and The Chocolate Factory’ and ‘Corpse Bride’. ‘Mr. and Mrs. Smith’ did boffo box office on the dazzling star power of Brangelina, but as a film, (ummm, hang on a second…), or a well-told story… (oh, jeez, pardon me…) or a charming, well-acted… (guh… guhhh…. HAAARRRRGGGGGHHHH!!!)… And did you know they shot a ‘Mr. and Mrs. Smith’ TV series pilot? Milk it ’til it moos, Doug!

Needless to say, I haven’t bothered with ‘Jumpers”. And Doug’s new projects? Well, there’s the ‘Knight Rider’ movie. That’s fucking genius. ‘Jumpers 2’…no, really. But, wait… here’s my favorite; he wants Russell Crowe and Nicole Kidman to play Joe Wilson and Valerie Plame. It’s the package, people! That sucker will have a huge opening weekend! I can see his telegram to Angelina after her ‘Mighty Heart’ Mariane Pearl impersonation – “Nailed it, babe!” Here’s a caveat, Doug – the irreproachably classy Ms. Plame is actually capable of blinking without splitting her forehead open. But, then, people in Hollywood thought Nicole could still pull off Diane Arbus and Marisa Coulter, too, so you’re not alone in your delusion. But having said that, I must begrudgingly admit that Russell Crowe is probably your guy for Wilson. Even a broken clock… (Update – the final cast was Naomi Watts and Sean Penn – haven’t seen it, and it did little business, but I’m at least relieved that they went with Watts, a superb actress who genuinely deserves the work.)

So, continuing with my, perhaps, flawed scenario, I’m going to say Liman shot all sorts of coverage on just about every scene in that first film, and left it to editor Saar Klein to make the innovative sense that it did. It’s also instructive to learn that when Klein isn’t picking up gigs for dilletantes like Liman, he’s Terence Malick’s house editor. And did I mention he edited ‘Almost Famous’ for Cameron Crowe as well? For me, ’nuff said.

So, don’t get me wrong – ‘Bourne Identity’ is a very good film. I just suspect Liman had less to do with it than seems apparent.

On the second film, ‘Bourne Supremacy’, Paul Greengrass was the director. I haven’t seen ‘Bloody Sunday’ or ‘United 93’, but I’ll take everyone else’s word that his semi-documentarian Steadicam style is urgently impressive. But I started to feel like the action was too active, too rushed – the car chases were pretty blurry, the hand-to-hand combat shot too close. I felt the same way with ‘Batman Begins’ – I can barely keep up with what’s actually happening here. I can, but I wouldn’t push this. C’mon, people, there’s fifty years of martial arts movies to learn from – Tarantino, the Wachowskis, and Saar Klein can’t be the only people who get this, can they?

For ‘Bloody Sunday’ and his earlier film ‘The Theory Of Flight’, Greengrass’ cinematographer was Ivan Strasburg (and those of us who love Spalding Gray’s ‘Swimming to Cambodia’ know exactly who he is) and his editor was Clare Douglas. ‘Bloody Sunday’ – Strasburg, Clare Douglas, Richard Pearson, and Christopher Rouse. ‘United 93’ – editors Clare Douglas, Richard Pearson, and Christopher Rouse. Here, on ‘Bourne’, Greengrass inherits journeyman cinematographer Oliver Wood. ‘Bourne Supremacy’s’ editors? Richard Pearson and Christopher Rouse. Clare’s absence seems conspicuous. Pearson’s all over the map – ‘Muppets From Space’, ‘Men In Black II’, ‘Blades of Glory’ and the upcoming ‘Get Smart’ and ‘Quantum of Solace’ (the new James Bond). Rouse did ‘The Italian Job’ (the newest remake with Charlize and Marky) and John Woo’s ‘Paycheck’ (uuffff…) before settling in with Greengrass exclusively.

Which brings us to The Bourne Ultimatum, which veers perilously close to ‘Mr. and Mrs. Smith’ territory of nonsensical clusterfuck. Incessant rapid cuts are probably the norm for these movies, but here, you notice, and it’s overtly annoying. They’re also working in that Spielberg – Janucz Kaminski crap of overexposing particular scenes in the mistaken belief that white-streaks-of-glare equals Clarity or Larger Forces or something. It doesn’t. It just looks too bright, like a mistake. As for editing, it’s just Rouse. Pearson, the veteran, is gone, and his absence, as well, is conspicuous. The car chases are all kinetics with no connection. Who are the guys who aren’t in police cars? Who knows? Who cares? It’s ‘Blues Brothers’ on crystal meth. It’s especially annoying to understand, while it’s happening, why the Nicki foot chase (if you see it, you’ll know what I’m referring to) could have been great, but settles for one good idea and pisses away anything else that might have made it truly compelling.

Matt Damon has created a terrific character across these three films – the man is a fucking actor, make no mistake. And writer Tony Gilroy pulls a rabbit out of a hat with a very compelling Nicki Parsons plot thread (executed nicely by Julia Stiles). But Joan Allen’s Pamela Landy, so effective in ‘Supremacy’, seems merely functional here, and David Strathairn, Scott Glenn and Albert Finney are reduced to almost insulting caricatures of evil black-ops bureaucrats.

If the producers had a brain in their goddamn heads, they’d be working on the Nicki Parsons movie even as we speak, and giving Matt Damon some well-deserved time off. No such luck – Greengrass is on for Bourne IV for 2010.