The Bourne Files

STUDIO: Universal
MSRP: $22.98
RUNNING TIME: Two movies’ worth of minutes.
Feature Commentaries
A slew of featurettes
• Interviews with Robert Ludlum
Sneak Peek at Bourne Ultimatum

The Pitch

“It’s a
series of movies like James Bond might have been, had they been written by

The Humans

Damon, Brian Cox, Franka Potente, Chris Cooper, Julia Stiles, Joan Allen, and a
young Clive Owen.

The Nutshell

special black-ops agent Jason Bourne botches an assassination mission, he ends
up floating in the Mediterranean with no memory, some weird scars, and a
fancy-dan laser pointer grafted under the skin of his hip. With these clues as
a starting point, Bourne begins a search for his identity. But things go bad
when the first thing that returns to this most dangerous man is his conscience.

"No way is my hand that big."

The Lowdown

The Bourne Identity: Jeremy mentioned in his review
of The
Bourne Ultimatum
that these films have something of an old-fashioned
quality about them. (I’m paraphrasing to suit my own needs.) If you’ve been
reading my Late to the Party columns,
you might guess that I’m not exactly qualified to comment on what qualifies a
film as “old-fashioned.” But I can say that the Bourne films are what I
wish new-fangled adventures would be like.

In terms
of story, there are two elements that sold Identity to me: the character of
Bourne, and the film’s tacit morality. Both contain and communicate an
unpopular view toward violence, at least as far as the action movie stereotype
is concerned, which is that murder is, if not ethically unsound, then at least unnecessary.
Far from being a paean to pacifists, though, Identity harnesses that tension
between its mode and its story to drive the plot beneath the surface, and to
create a character infinitely more sympathetic than many other action heroes.

Father Karras’ hearse.

I was
fascinated, back in the day, by Matt Damon’s decision to come on as Jason
Bourne. It seemed like a good, career-advancing decision, but without the
opportunity for the flashy theatrics that otherwise attract young actors to action
franchises. It makes sense, in retrospect; I admire Damon quite a bit, and I
think he is a terrific actor — just perfect for
Hollywood’s most conflicted gunman. Still, Bourne
is an interesting choice for an actor; the character gets neither the
well-wrought dramatics of more serious fare, nor the ridiculous action
set-pieces of lighter. He treads somewhere in the middle, stoic by

often wondered what it is about the intrigue of spy movies that makes it so
compelling. My pet theory is that characters engaging in these political games
have the opportunity to show off how round they are, by making unexpected
shifts in their motives or goals, but never seeming to break realism. Spy
thrillers give plenty of opportunities for characters to prove how well-rounded
they are, and I can’t help but get all abstract and giddy about that.

The Bourne Identity starts with a well-trodden plot
device, and turns it into an action movie more reflective than its peers, or maybe
a drama with far more explosions than come standard.

"Why, Brian! You were thoughtful enough to mix nutmeg into my deadly nightshade?"

The Bourne Supremacy: In my mind, Supremacy holds one of
the most successful maturations of a character between sequels. (Except for,
y’know, Han Solo between Empire and Jedi.) Without the
amnesia as primary hook, Bourne’s motivations have to come from somewhere else.
What better place than from a spring of outrage? The murder of dear Franka
early in the first act serves as a catalyst, a concrete event that starts the
ball rolling, action-wise. At the same time, Bourne assumes a dignified fury
over what he had been made into, and how the
CIA won’t let him abandon it.

It’s this
tortured conscience, assumed at the end of Identity, which absolutely elevates Supremacy
for me. I’m skipping to the end a bit, but by the time the series of
devastating revelations have been sprung on Bourne, it’s not hard to feel
sympathy for the guy. Even more, the story lets you admire him for the path he
is choosing now, regardless of the path he walked before his amnesia. Paul
Greengrass’ direction toward the end of this beast — from the near-perfect car
chase on — is beautifully mercurial. After the chase scene, Bourne is beaten
bloody, on both sides of his skin. Following it up with his heartfelt, mostly
one-sided apology to surviving daughter of a pair of his executed targets ought
to be enough to make anyone feel spent.

I can’t! I don’t know calculus!

But for
all the moral weight (which, I think, edges clear of the territory of
melodrama) the intrigue and action were only improved over Identity. I wasn’t taken
with Brian Cox’s slimeball, because his morality and intentions were already
well-established. Joan Allen as Pamela Landy, though, makes for a brilliant
foil to Bourne, with her motivations running counter but not directly opposite
to his. Bourne’s memory leak makes a repeat appearance, but in a diminished
role and only to the end of exposing his ethical code, rather than driving plot

I’m quite
taken with these movies. I like that I can watch them with just about anyone,
regardless of age or cinematic preference, since there’s so much to appreciate,
and they’re so easy to get caught up in. First among all those reasons is the
character of Jason Bourne, who doesn’t deviate far from sympathetic literary
stereotypes, but is plenty off the median for thrillers. His moral dilemmas are
palpable, and his methods of resolving them light up both the analytical and
the visceral parts of the brain.

Yes, Jason
Bourne: the only action hero males can admire heterosexually.

Forget the barrel; I’ve got penis envy of the scope.

The Package

Each of
the first two discs are crammed with bonus features, recycled from previous

On The
Bourne Identity
you get: an alternate opening and ending (which don’t
alter the story); a profile of writer Robert Ludlum, on whose books the Bourne
movies are based; an interview with screenwriter Tony Gilroy (which is a great
view for any aspiring screenwriters, actually); a character analysis of Jason
and Franka’s character Marie regarding their relationships across these first
two movies; a featurette attempting to explain Bourne’s psychological
condition; a featurette on real-life covert ops; a featurette on the soundtrack
and sound effects; a featurette covering fight choreography and filming; a
handful of deleted scenes; a music video by Moby; and, last but certainly not
least, a feature commentary with director Doug Liman, who, though he left the
franchise, has quite a lot of good to say about it.

On The
Bourne Supremacy
you get much of the same, but with significantly more
descriptive titles on the menu: a set of deleted scenes; a featurette on the
casting process; a featurette on realism — why and how to maintain it in an
actioner (my second favorite feature in the whole set, actually); a wonderfully
self-explanatory featurette called “Blowing Things Up”; a featurette on
location scouting and filming on location; coverage of the training the actors
underwent for the fight choreography; some great techy stuff about the cameras
used to film the bonecrunching car crashes; more crash anatomy with some
behind-the-scenes information on how the car chase was filmed with actors in
the actual vehicles; a quick dissetion of the bridge chase sequence; a
featurette on the score; and (my favorite feature) a marvelously erudite
commentary with director Paul Greengrass.

The set
also includes a third disc, just for bonuses and featuring a sneak-peek at The
Bourne Ultimatum
if you haven’t already gone out this weekend and
watched it. This disc contains that sneak preview, plus three short interview
segment compilations with Robert Ludlum. Nothing too awfully staggering,

This is a
nice little set, with very creative packaging that emulates a top secret file
folder, but it’s going to be replaced a few months down the road by a box set
of the whole trilogy. You can bet on it. Which makes this seem something a bit
more like a marketing tactic than a necessary release for the Bourne-again fan.

8.5 out of 10