Matt Damon is, as David Edelstein says, an ‘intensely focused‘ actor, and in my opinion, the best actor of his generation. Here in The Bourne Identity he can fake his way through German, can rust his through French, sex appeal, agile, kicks ass. Remember that with the afterthought that in the same year, he came out with another movie where all he does is just walk.
Despite that, the more I watch this, the more I realize how cheesy this is. Jason Bourne/John Michael Kane (Matt Damon), we know that you don’t know who you are. If you beat up five security guards in one minute we’re sure unconvinced that you’re in the shipping business with martial arts training. Why can’t the guy from Lost get a break? Why are you picking up that girl with the weird red hair (Franka Potente) when you could have easily just done this movie by yourself? Why does she say ‘scheisse’ all the time just to remind us that she IS German? Why did that guy jump off the window? Why is Julia Stiles barking that ‘I don’t know’ and ‘It’s impossible’ and not fired from the CIA yet?
Why is that other six-footer assassin (Clive Owen) being mopey when you shoot him instead of being either tough or gross? Why did you hesitate in doing that thing you were told to do whereas more – I assume – complex narratives would have the heroes doing the bad things and regretting the hell out of it?
‘Jason Bourne is the typical white subject position who can’t remember his own atrocities,’ as said by my Imperial film professor. From Connecticut. There are ideas about ethics and…first-world identity in this movie that apparently are better expanded within the next two films. I’m looking forward to them.
The Talented Mr Ripley is playing at the Toronto Underground Cinema today at 6:45, followed by Amadeus at 9:30. This part of their Seven Deadly Sins Film Festival. Today we get to the fourth sin, Envy.
Based on a novel by Patricia Highsmith – the same author who wrote “Strangers on a Train”- the centre of class-based resentment and guilt resides within our anti-hero, Tom Ripley (Matt Damon). He wears a Princeton blazer for a performance for rich folks on a rooftop facing Central Park. He is mistaken for a rich boy’s college friend, the rich boy being Dickie Greenleaf (Jude Law). Dickie’s parents then ask Tom to get Dickie home from the latter’s self-exile in Montebello, Italy.
Tom’s a quick study, as Freddie Miles (Philip Seymour Hoffman) would say. He is an all American boy who’s always wanted things he could never have. He can crack jokes that can amuse Dickie and his girlfriend Marge Sherwood (Gwyneth Paltrow). He tells Dickie that his talents include ‘telling lies, making forgeries.’ He tries to like the same things and live the same lifestyle as Dickie, a premise as dangerous as it sounds. Tom a classical fan, sees Dickie, a jazz fan. He wants to like the same things Dickie likes and to become Dickie. And he can charm women like Meredith Logue (Cate Blanchett) and convince her that he is Dickie.
Anthony Minghella is probably the closest our generation will get to a golden age Hitchcock. The movie doesn’t oscillate with valleys of Hitch’s thriller side nor the peaks of his surprisingly cheerful Grace Kelly side. We get both fear and harmless beauty at the same, evenly mixed concoction. Minghella here is trying to beautify and exoticize the Italian beach country as well as the diasporic upper class Americans living there. Minghella dresses the gang in New Look outfits and summer whites. There’s a lot for Tom and for the audience to covet, and the coveting is what helps the cloud of intrigue to come in.
Despite of the embarrassment of riches that the characters have, the actors playing them give unflashy performances. I’ve applauded Blachett’s interpretation of her character in a previous post. There’s also Damon, whom Courtney Young praised for standing up to the same levels as Jude Law. This movie was my introduction to Hoffman, who plays someone opposite his characters. Gwyneth Paltrow also amazes in her final scenes, although some critics like Amy Taubin don’t like her performance here.
I hate comparing one movie with another, but genre theory kind of makes it inevitable. A movie fits a certain canon and either adds to it or does nothing.
Take “Green Zone,” for instance. It’s Hollywood’s rendition of war realism with its share of above average acting and characters, especially with the Middle Eastern players. In other films they’re either raving, invisible, or emasculated. Here, they’re still yelling as loud as the American soldiers, but their anger’s is more intelligent and articulated. General Al-Rawi’s (Yigal Naor) scene with Officer Roy Miller (Matt Damon) especially powerful since it notes the miscommunication on both sides. The movie also introduces an Uncle Tom with a twist in Freddy, a man who ends up being Miller’s interpreter and has his own motivations. The movie also shows the cat and mouse game that’s perfect for urban areas like Baghdad.
The problem in this movie? The yelling. And the gunfire. And the explosion. And the loud score. We get it, invading a Middle Eastern city is loud and messy. But you gotta pace it. In a way, I understand what Iraqis went through just because of the use of sound in this movie. Roger Ebert was all for it and manages to make me feel old, thanks. It was like an hour of gunfire and loud vehicles before I got some rest out of this movie. John Powell should also calm down in the music department. I can already understand how tense the sites are in 2003 Baghdad through diagetic noise, we don’t need synthesized guitar to accentuate that. There’s also no need for the synthesized violins whenever somebody gets preachy. Another thing is the use of digital footage, making the night scenes grainy.
“The Hurt Locker,” on the other hand, is a better example of the Iraq war movie although the treatment of characters aren’t perfect. The Iraqis are always two arms length and aren’t the most verbose people. But then again the Americans aren’t either. The closest thing this movie ever gets to reciting three acts of Hamlet is Sgt. Sanborn (the snubbed Anthony Mackie).
Will James (Jeremy Renner) on the other hand, has this superhuman zen calmness while trying to diffuse a bomb. I guess I had to bring up “The Hurt Locker” because of the sound because it helps characterize James’ demeanor despite of the tense situation. It’s been a long time since I’ve seen it, but the closest comparison I can come up with is “Jaws.” There were like these long, deep notes playing in the background in the bomb scenes. Without these I’d assume that I wouldn’t hear a pin drop in these scenes, especially since there’s so much cerebral musculature involved in James’ job. He would probably want to concentrate on as few things as possible.
Both movies use puzzles and mazes as metaphors to describe the invasion in Iraq. For “Green Zone,” it’s finding a general in the streets of Baghdad. For “The Hurt Locker,” clipping the right wire in a bomb. Both are easy to execute, but like they said in Serious Film, those missions don’t solve anything.