The Bourne Identity

Matt Damon and Franka Potente in The Bourne Identity

 

A movie for every day of the year – a good one

 

 

15 January

 

 

The Pentagon dedicated, 1943

On this day in 1943 in Arlington Virginia the Pentagon was dedicated.

At the time it was the largest building in the world. The home of the US Department of Defense, it was originally intended to be built on an irregularly pentagonal piece of land at Arlington Farms.

When it was learnt that this location would obstruct the view of Washington DC from Arlington Cemetery, where soldiers fallen in conflicts since the Civil War have been buried, the location was switched to the site of the defunct Washington Hoover Airport.

The design stayed pentagonal but was regularised. For similar reasons of not wishing to overshadow the buildings of the nation’s capital, the building was kept low. In keeping with the pentagon theme the building is five storeys high (there are another two below ground), has 17.5 miles (28.2km) of corridors and twice the number of toilet facilities you’d expect in a building of this size – one set for whites, one for blacks, though this particular piece of segregation was never enforced, thanks to intervention to President Roosevelt, who ordered that the Whites Only signs be taken down.

Similarly ominous is the 5 acre central plaza, nicknamed “ground zero” by staff during the Cold War, because this, they reckoned, was where the Soviet warheads would strike first.

Built during wartime, at a time when the US was abandoning its policy of isolationism, the Pentagon can be seen as the bricks and mortar expression of the country’s move towards a much more active, interventionist foreign policy.

 

 

 

The Bourne Identity (2002, dir: Doug Liman)

The breakthrough action movie of the new millennium, The Bourne Identity had actually been made once before, when it starred Richard Chamberlain as the amnesiac spy trying to work out where, who and what he is, while Jaclyn Smith – then still uppermost in the mind as one of Charlie’s Angels – plays the woman he kidnaps and forces to help him (Franka Potente taking the role in this version).

At around three hours long, thanks to its mini-series status, the original is a touch flabby and this reworking of Robert Ludlum’s original novel cuts out much of the fat to leave a lean chase thriller whose interest comes from watching a man of ingenuity trying to work out just what the hell is going on.

This time around Matt Damon plays Bourne and is well cast as the clean slate whose muscle-memory is tell-taling that there’s more to this guy than just some almost-corpse who’s been dumped at sea.

Who are the bad guys? The ones who threw him overboard? Or maybe the spy’s masters back at the Pentagon, in some shadowy project within a project, who are possibly just as unscrupulous. It’s also neverquite established just where on the evil/virtue scale Jason Bourne lies either. That, too, is part of his quest.

The film works best in its early scenes, when after washing up on a beach, Bourne is taken in by low-level police for questioning, while back in Arlington his masters are attempting to scramble all manner of dark forces when they realise they have a live one.

Director Doug Liman’s camera is working towards the shakycam/fast-cut style that became associated with the Bourne franchise and was copied by almost every other action movie. It’s inspired by the frenetic feel of 1998’s Run Lola Run (which had starred Franka Potente), and Paul Greengrass would supercharge it in the two follow-ups. (The Bourne Legacy, an attempt to continue without Damon and Greengrass isn’t worthy to touch the hem of an amnesiac spy’s garment).

As for support cast, the Chamberlain/Smith original had a few good baddies in it – Peter Vaughan, Denholm Elliott, Anthony Quayle – and this 2002 version keeps up with the idea of using thesps of a high standard and a touch of suaveté, plus a bit of movie-staple British villainy never hurts either. Brian Cox and Clive Owen satisfying the latter category, Chris Cooper and Julia Stiles the former. David Strathairn, Albert Finney and Joan Allen would all arrive at the waterhole in later movies.

 

 

Why Watch?

 

  • The film that rebooted the entire spy thriller genre
  • The film that rebooted Matt Damon’s career
  • The shadowy Treadstone unit is inspired by The Enterprise, set up to organise the Iran-Contra subterfuge
  • The great martial arts fights

 

© Steve Morrissey 2014

 

 

The Bourne Identity – at Amazon

 

 

 

 

Creep

Franka Potente, Creep

 

A movie for every day of the year – a good one

 

 

10 January

 

 

London Underground opens, 1863

On this day in 1863, the world’s first underground railway opened in London, UK. It was called the Metropolitan Railway and it ran between several significant mainline railway stations – Paddington, Euston and King’s Cross – before terminating at Farringdon in the City of London. It was built to deliver workers to the booming financial and commercial heart of the country and empire, and was necessary because London’s too-numerous railway termini were removed from its centre. When railways had first arrived in the capital, none of the mostly aristocratic owners of central London real estate would countenance a railway station on their land – hence London’s major railway stations’ siting in less salubrious parts of town, on the periphery of the action. The Metropolitan Railway, driven by steam, lit by gas and wooden of carriage, was an instant success and carried 38,000 passengers on its first day. Plans were immediately fast-tracked to connect up other railway stations in London with a grand circular line (of which the Metropolitan Railway would become part). Because of the extreme difficulty of getting anything built in London without approval of influential landowners, much of this original line was built under main roads, using a “cut and cover” technique (dig trench, drop in tunnel using precast sections, cover over). These days London Underground aka the Tube has 270 stations, 55% of which are in fact overground.

 

 

 

Creep (2004, dir: Christopher Smith)

Six years on from Run Lola Run and only two years after The Bourne Identity, Franka Potente is once again being pursued, in this cheap debut feature from writer/director Christopher Smith. Potente plays Kate, though the name isn’t important, since she’s one of very few people actually in this film, which is about a slightly up-herself model booker who, after dropping down into the bowels of London to catch a Tube home after a PR event, starts being pursued by an ungodly creature, something of a cross between Nosferatu, Hellraiser’s Pinhead, and Texas Chainsaw’s Leatherface. What follows is a chase movie set in tunnels, a showcase of techniques by Smith, who demonstrates sound knowledge of J-Horror and early torture porn and shows he’s seen more Hammer horror and giallo than is good for a man. I’m not going to pretend Creep is a great film; it isn’t. In fact some of the acting is way off, and from talent who are usually a lot better. But it is the debut of an extremely interesting horror director – if you’ve seen Smith’s superior “slasher in the woods” follow-up, Severance, or his extremely good multiverse thriller Triangle, then you’ll know this is a writer/director who is worth watching. And though I say this isn’t a great film, it is full of great moments. At the screening where I saw it, a woman next to me periodically started screamed and started jiggling her legs about as if someone had grabbed them. Her boyfriend, meanwhile, was chortling. The attractions of horror explained in a nutshell.

 

 

Why Watch?

 

  • Debut of a great horror writer/director
  • Last “blink and miss him” performance by great British eccentric Ken Campbell
  • Ingeniously cheap
  • Old horror scares presented with a new twist

 

© Steve Morrissey 2014

 

 

Creep – Watch it/buy it at Amazon

 

 

 

 

Run Lola Run

Franka Potente in Run Lola Run

 

A movie for every day of the year – a good one

 

 

9 November

 

 

Schicksaltag, Germany

In Germany 9 November has in recent years become known as Schicksaltag (the Fateful Day), a day which has been on five separate occasions the turning point for the country. The string of seeming coincidences was first noted after the Second World War but Schicksaltag as a concept really picked up momentum after 1989. In 1848, with the execution of poet and democrat Robert Blum on this day, the 1848 Revolutions were seen to come to an abortive end. In 1918, Kaiser Wilhelm II was deposed as head of state, bringing to an end the notion of a system of monarchy in Germany. In 1923 the Beer Hall Putsch, which had begun the evening before, saw Hitler march into Munich with 2,000 men and attempt to seize power. He failed, but he would be back. 9 November 1938 has gone down in infamy as Kristallnacht, when synagogues and Jewish properties throughout Germany were looted and burned and more than 1,300 Jews killed. And in 1989, 9 November saw the fall of the Berlin Wall, which led to the reunification of the country. Because of the last event, it had been proposed initially that 9 November should be German Unity Day. But because of the other associations with the day, Kristallnacht in particular, the 3 October was chosen instead (the date of formal reunification).

 

 

Run Lola Run (1998, dir: Tom Tykwer)

It’s just Lola Runs (Lola rennt) in German and the equally simple high concept powering this landmark German film is a cracker – Lola (Franka Potente) has 20 minutes to raise a mountain of cash, otherwise her boyfriend will be killed by the gangster he owes it to. She tries; she fails. Then director Tom Tykwer makes her do it again, and again, Groundhog Day style, while the pounding soundtrack, whipcrack camera and editing, plus the smorgasbord of visual styles add to the feeling of oppressive will she/won’t she. Beautifully made and utterly stylish Run Lola Run is a landmark because of what it symbolises – Germany’s arrival at a place where France (largely thanks to Luc Besson) had arrived a few years before. Gone was the need to make every film socially relevant – arthouse, if you will. In came a love for genre, an understanding that entertainment is also part of the weft of life and nothing to be ashamed of, and a decision to take on Hollywood at its own game. Tykwer was a new talent then with a gift for an arresting image. Since then he has never managed quite to achieve what Run Lola Run suggested he would, though there’s no shame in having directed The Princess and the Warrior, Heaven, Perfume and Cloud Atlas (with the Wachowskis). Run Lola Run also gave us Franka Potente, a ballsy modern heroine with bright red hair and a tattoo – just right for the new grrrl era. This was Germany’s biggest film of 1998. Since then we’ve had Downfall and The Lives of Others, Hell, Goodbye Lenin, The Counterfeiters and The Edukators – all arthouse to a certain degree, but all also infused with the lessons that Run Lola Run taught them. If you’re not entertaining people it doesn’t matter what you’re saying, because they won’t be watching. It’s OK to court popularity.

 

 

Why Watch?

 

  • The arrival of Tykwer, a great director
  • A pounding soundtrack – also largely by Tykwer
  • One of the best “female heroine” films of recent decades
  • Average shot length of 2.7 seconds – busy

 

© Steve Morrissey 2013

 

 

Run Lola Run – at Amazon