the run again: (l-r) Damon and Stiles in The Bourne
by Paul Greengrass
Jason Bourne (Matt Damon) is alive and mobile—and how. In
the third installment of what can now be called the Bourne
movies, the amnesiac CIA renegade is on the loose in Morocco,
and London, and New York City, searching for his real identity
and “the source” of how he became a highly trained killer.
The CIA also is looking for the source, and the agency heavies
(David Strathairn and Joan Allen) want to get to it before
Bourne does. As Bourne learns from a journalist (Paddy Considine)
who has been tracking down his past, the source is a top-secret
op called Blackbriar.
Paul Greengrass, who took over from Doug Liman (The Bourne
Identity) to direct the sequel, The Bourne Supremacy,
continues the espionage saga created by novelist Robert Ludlum
(and co-adapted by Tony Gilroy) with a propulsive sense of
urgency. Bourne’s unpredictable trajectory and his skills
as an assassin generate dissension within the CIA that provokes
rash decisions resulting in the deaths of civilians. Greengrass,
a master of the docudrama (Bloody Sunday, United
93) creates a mood of extreme tension that combines the
cool-headed ruthlessness of Cold War spy novels with the paranoia
of techno thrillers. The trilogy’s neatest trick, Bourne calling
his pursuers from a cell phone while spying on them, is repeated
here in escalating variations. Most of the action is conveyed
with jittery or blurry cinematography: Bourne’s martial-arts
showdown with an agency hit man is shown from the perspective
of the combatants as a blur of pure-adrenaline kinetics.
The highly styled camera work eventually gets tiresome, but
it’s offset by the low-key line readings, for clandestine
immediacy, of the agency schemers. The counterpoint is Bourne’s
stringent emotional responses; early on, he has to break the
news to her brother (Daniel Brühl) that Marie (Franka Potente)
is dead, a sequence shown in vaporish flashbacks from The
Bourne Supremacy while Damon does some of the most
affecting acting of the film. Julia Stiles’ role as CIA agent
Nicky Parsons heats up as a potential collaborator—or betrayer.
Bourne’s unstoppable ingenuity may stretch credulity more
than in the first two installments, but leads to a bang-up
ending that both concludes the trilogy and leaves a loophole
for the next Bourne.
by Werner Herzog
The Vietnam War/prisoner-of- war rescue film was a popular
mini-genre in the 1980s and ’90s, from big-studio flicks like
Uncommon Valor to straight-to-video slice-and-dice
actioners with sub-Jean-Claude Van Dammes in the leading roles.
Most shared the same right-wing political fantasy: If it weren’t
for treasonous journalists, cowardly politicians and dirty
fucking hippies, the United States would not only have won
the Vietnam War, but hundreds of POWs wouldn’t have been left
behind to rot in bamboo prisons. (Expect this genre to be
reborn in an Iraqi setting in the ’10s.)
The first scenes in a Laotian prison camp in Werner Herzog’s
affecting Rescue Dawn explode the latter part of this
fantasy in sobering fashion. The POWs we see are dead men
walking—this true story is set in 1965, and the idea that
these physically wrecked men could survive decades in the
jungle, never mind make an escape, is absurd.
The film isn’t, however, an anti- Vietnam War screed: American
soldiers are portrayed sympathetically, as professionals doing
a job. Herzog’s dispassionate view is centered on the torturous
journey of one U.S. pilot, and the essential hell that is
war—and the horrors war makes people capable of inflicting.
Herzog first told the story of Dieter Dengler in a documentary
a few years ago. Dengler was a German kid who lived through
the destruction of World War II, then grew up to be a Navy
pilot who was shot down over Laos. Using his considerable
skills—and buoyed by an almost insane natural optimism—Dengler
escaped and made his way to freedom. You can’t blame the obsessive
old German for revisiting this harrowing story, given his
opportunity to work with equally obsessive young Brit actor
Christian Bale as Dieter.
The film begins with Dengler’s ill-fated first mission, as
part of a top-secret (i.e. illegal) bombing of Vietnamese
guerrillas over the border in Laos. Dengler crashes, and is
quickly taken prisoner. The horrors he faces are as simple
as they are vicious, but Dengler endures them and is deposited
in the aforementioned POW camp.
There he meets a motley assortment of anti-Communist Vietnamese
and Americans, including Duane (Steve Zahn, superb) and Gene
(Jeremy Davies). The dehumanizing conditions and deliberate
cruelty are as old as war itself, and as shocking as ever.
And, no surprise, director Herzog lets these dedicated method
actors get deep into the emotional and physical misery; Davies
is so emaciated it’s horrifying. It works, though, because
however deep into character the actors go—Bale wolfing down
a dinner of wriggling maggots, Davies muttering like a madman—Herzog’s
impassive, clinical gaze provides the proper distance.
This is an antiwar movie in the most intellectual, dispassionate
sense. The film raises a simple question: Why in hell was
the United States at war in Southeast Asia? And the fact that
Dieter has to be “rescued” a second time at the very end of
the picture—from a far different “enemy”—provides an answer
with a painfully contemporary resonance.