They should have left him alone.
Running Time: 108 minutes
US Certificate: PG-13 UK Certificate: 12a
Country: Germany, United States
Just as Arnold Schwarzenegger found the part of a mindless cyborg best suited to his peculiar talents, so Matt Damon is perfectly cast playing Jason Bourne once again in the second film based (very loosely) on Robert Ludlum's trilogy of novels. It is easy to criticise Damon for being a colourless, characterless actor, but only because he makes it easy – and so who better to portray a man who has lost his identity? Amnesia was central to the plotting of the first film, 'The Bourne Identity', and sure enough, while it raced along at a cracking pace, its events proved instantly forgettable, so you can only sympathise with Bourne in this sequel as you and he together struggle to remember his past. Thankfully the screenplay (again by Tony Gilroy) provides enough backstory to remind you of what was significant in the original.
Bourne, a former assassin for a now disbanded group within the CIA known as Treadstone, now lives on the run with Marie (Franka Potente), but is drawn back into the operative's world of cross and double-cross after being attacked by a no-nonsense assassin (Karl Urban) and framed for the murder of two men who were under the surveillance of the CIA in Berlin. Playing cat-and-mouse with agents from both the pre- and post-Glasnost era, Bourne races to work out what connects him to a long-dead Russian reformist politician named Neski. As he crosses paths with sly old Treadstone colleague Ward Abbott (the always impeccable Brian Cox) and the younger Agent Pamela Landy (Joan Allen), Bourne must decide whether his nightmare past should be avenged or expiated.
As the co-writer of Peter Wright's 'Spycatcher', director Paul Greengrass ('Bloody Sunday') knows a thing or two about the treacherous world of espionage, and 'The Bourne Supremacy' has a satisfyingly labyrinthine plot involving stolen CIA money, Russian entrepreneurs, agency moles and the use of deathsquads for corrupt ends, along with some subtle commentary on the way that the intelligence community, not to mention Cold War novels like Ludlum's, had to be redefined if they were not to disappear entirely once the Iron Curtain fell. Tying it all together is Bourne, and when he's not staring into double mirrors, furiously washing blood from his hands, shouting 'who was I?' to anyone who will listen, and doing all that other stuff which cinematic amnesiacs seem to love so much, his journey from revenge to atonement takes us through some down-and-dirty set-pieces, including a punishing car chase through (and under) Moscow's streets that had viewers at the screening I attended cheering with the sort of glee that only major demolition can bring.
Some viewers may be uncomfortable with the self-serving act of confession with which 'The Bourne Supremacy' ends, reminiscent of a similar, and similarly uncomfortable, scene in 'Born on the Fourth of July', but of course America's secret services are currently having to face their own Vietnam, as their past incompetence, petty rivalries and lack of accountability have come back to haunt them. On balance 'The Bourne Supremacy' is an engaging thriller (if less engaging as a character drama), and, at least in comparison to its predecessor, it reigns supreme.
It's Got: Gritty (if not exactly realistic) action sequences; spy vs. spy paranoia; a nation-hopping plot that shifts rapidly from Goa to Berlin to Langley to Naples to London to Amsterdam to Berlin (again) to Moscow and, in a coda, to New York; the bold erasure of a major character in the first fifteen minutes; and finally, the revelation of Jason Bournes real name (its David Webb, if anybody cares).
It Needs: For a central character more interesting than killing machine Bourne to complement all the interesting stuff going on at the films periphery.
Alternatives:Born on the Fourth of July, The Bourne Identity, The Long Kiss Goodnight
With its emphasis on atoning for the sins of the past, this amnesiac spy thriller may as well have been called 'Bourne on the Fourth of July'