Thursday, August 16, 2007

A star is Bourne?

If you only enjoy action movies that like, make sense, then The Bourne Ultimatum isn't for you. Yes, there are some really clumsy dialogue passages, same as in Supremacy. For instance, when someone really wants Jason Bourne dead, instead of shooting him, they try to talk him to death with exposition. And yet, miraculously, even after massive info-dumps, things are still murkier than a Karl Rove explanation.

The Bourne franchise also suffers a bit simply because of its premise: It's about a guy trying to save his own skin. Most successful action movies raise the stakes considerably higher than that by having the hero of the piece fight for someone else's well being. John McClane had a bunch of hostages and his beloved Holly. Keanu was speeding down the highway for passengers and that chick who told him that relationships based on intense experiences don't last. James Bond takes Pussy Galore for himself but is generally saving the whole world. But Jason Bourne is the perfect symbol of our self-involved generation, because the whole heart of the matter is that he's trying to find himself.

What saves the Bourne films from ridiculousness is that their chase scenes and fight scenes are really freaking good. Choreography and filming mesh together to really make it feel like an intimate assault that can make a collectively experienced audience still lean forward in their seats. And, somehow, Matt Damon can make us root for Bourne.

I can't figure out exactly why I like Damon so much. And I do like him enough that I've tried to pick apart the exact reasons. But just like Bourne's identity, I can never fully grasp his appeal to me. It just seems like he's the antithesis of his no-talent, smarmy pal Affleck. There's something everyman about his looks. He's cute and attractive, but approachable. He never seems to be working onscreen (with the possible exception of The Departed) -- he just is the guy who's up there. Also, who else in his generation has shown such smarts in choosing roles? Even in the monstrosity that was Ocean's 13, his Linus never pissed me off. I still liked him, even if the nose did not, in fact, play.

There's something so blessedly normal about this guy. And yet when he's called upon to play unbelievable characters with unbelievably big brains, his quiet and understated manner works to make it believable. I know intellectually that I'm watching Matt Damon, but he's one of the few actors out there who's so damn unaffected and un-scenery chewing that he's able to uphold my suspension of disbelief for prolonged periods so that I end up watching the character he's playing. And really, there aren't many actors out there today who do that. That's part of what it makes it not-insufferable when he has to deliver such turgid lines like, "Marie used to help me remember the names of people I killed."

Damon has a kind of throwback feel, his style is more casual and laid-back Newman and Redford as opposed to the much imitated Brando-Pacino-DeNiro style that most actors today favor. But I could never imagine that Paul Newman would be willing to strap himself next to Redford to play a conjoined twin in the Farrelly brothers movie Stuck on You. Nor could I ever picture Redford picking up a gun and giggling with glee as he executes a boardroom as the angel of death in Dogma.

Damon's Bourne doesn't have room for silliness like that, but it must say something that people root for Bourne. I mean, yeah, on the surface, he fits the pattern of the modern antihero what with all his past murdering business and all -- and yet not really. He was a killing machine, which is good. But, but, he was programmed to be that way, and he seems awful upset about the murders. In today's entertainment climate where the main characters are either alcoholic narcissists, drug addicts, or vituperative careerists -- and those are just the females -- we clearly like having characters with faults. And yet here's Bourne, this guy who's done awful things, and yet is clearly not an awful guy; he's more like a lost child, really, almost innocent of his sins -- and yet we still like him despite the fact that he seems to be a decent person. What the fuck? He's not a mob boss or polygamist, so what's to like?

I know. It doesn't make a lot of sense. Just like large portions of the Ultimatum script. Chase scenes shouldn't hold that much sway, should they? But just like Damon, already greater than the sum of his parts, I still like it.


Jordan E. Rosenfeld said...

I could not have said this better. Matt Damon (and sorry, but I always hear his retarded alter-ego in the South Park guys puppet movie, Team America: World Police) is the actor I want to dislike but can't. Why do I want to dislike him? I think it has something to do with Affleck, yeah. But more and more I grow to love him like I would a brother. A non biological brother who you also find kind of hot.

And how killer was that fight in the bathroom scene? Awesome!!

trudi said...

I like Matt Damon because he is willing to doff his shirt or drop trou if it is important to the story line.

And also when it's not important.

Dating said...

I like Matt Damon