Bourne in Manila

BORN to kill: Jeremy Renner (universitytimes.ie)

(My movie review below of “The Bourne Legacy” is a slightly edited version of a Facebook post I shared with friends a week ago. For the benefit of those who haven’t seen the film yet, I’m reposting the piece here. I hope you find it useful, as you decide what films to watch over the long weekend. Those who have seen the film, see if you agree with me. Enjoy!)

AFTER months of waiting, not a few Filipinos have finally seen “The Bourne Legacy,” the first major American film partly shot in Manila in decades. Was it worth the long wait? Here’s what I think about the latest Bourne installment.

When it comes to chase and fight scenes, Paul Greengrass, director of the last two Bourne movies starring Matt Damon, is the better director. But when it comes to motivating his actors, Tony Gilroy, (writer of all the Bourne movies and now the director as well of this new one) wins by a mile.

Bourne, as originally envisioned by its creators, from novelist Robert Ludlum down, is a serious and efficient killing machine, who prefers to work below the radar. Although a tortured soul, he keeps his emotions in check, and almost succeeds at it. Almost.

In short, he’s the antithesis to the silliness, almost juvenile behavior of James Bond, the original globetrotting super spy, whose flashy ways and dependence on fast cars, fancy gadgets and beautiful women have become the stuff of cinematic cliché. And Ludlum and company succeeded in their task.

But while Damon captured Bourne’s efficiency and physical prowess, he still appeared rather callow and lacking in depth, especially for a character who has been through so much. This is where Jeremy Renner, a better actor, edges him out.

AN action picture that doubles as an acting vehicle for Renner and leading lady Rachel Weisz (technorati.com)

Gilroy, knows the characters like the back of his hand, but I think he purposely toned down the fight scenes and made his new hero, Aaron Cross, more vulnerable and introspective than Bourne. It also helps that Jeremy, although short in stature, is “blessed” with ruggedly handsome features, as opposed to Damon’s smooth, almost Ivy League looks.

And with such good supporting actors like Rachel Weisz and Edward Norton, there’s no way for a director, unless he’s Carlo J. Caparas, to bring out and capture lame performances from his stellar cast. And to his credit, Gilroy made the most out of his rich resources, including Filipino actors John Arcilla and Lou Veloso.

The only named Filipino actor who was underutilized was Joel Torre, whose brief cameo could have been played by any other actor. His part was probably shortened during editing.

The story could appear confusing in the beginning, as instances from and the aftermath of Bourne’s third installment overlap with this fourth one. But little by little, the layers unravel, as the movie soon reveals something bigger: a parallel government project of trained and chemically altered super assassins that could make the original Treadstone affair look like a children’s summer camp. I’m not revealing anything more.

As for scenes shot in Manila, (I know you’ve been waiting for this), the city “performs” like its mean, gritty self in the eyes perhaps of foreign viewers. But we know better than that. As we say in Filipino: Nakalamang ng dalawang paligo ang Maynila ni Gilroy compared to the real Manila you and I call home.

I even heard talk that the roofs of houses, where one of the key chase scenes on foot was shot, were reinforced, even replaced, and given a fresh coat of paint both for the actors’ safety and for cinematic purposes.

Gilroy, to his credit, steered clear of doing poverty porn (he doesn’t care about that), and presented a no-frills, slam-bang chase scene (on roofs of ramshackle houses and later in the metropolis’ bustling streets) for its own sake: jagged, jarring, superbly edited and geographically wrong (at least to this born-and-bred Manileño), but I’m already nitpicking.

Even the concluding scene shot in Palawan, according to photographer Willie Saw, was a fine example of superb camera work as it gradually zooms out to reveal not only the dilapidated fishing boat, but also the mounds of green islands in the background. The contrast between decay, as represented by the boat, and new life and hope as symbolized by the pristine group of islands was pure visual poetry. A fourth installment is definitely in the works.

EDWARD Norton, the film’s long-distance villain based in Virginia, outsources violence in, of all places, Manila (flicksandbits.com)

Saw also cited how Gilroy perfectly captured the energy and chaos of a typical crowd scene in congested Manila. In fact, it was so realistically filmed that it had a documentary, B-movie feel to it. And I mean this in a good way.

As Renner and Weisz, for instance, brave the network of overpasses teeming with humanity on Edsa in Pasay Rotonda, you can’t help but be caught up as well in the tension that builds up with every second the two lead stars try to keep their distance from the hired killer hell-bent on getting the job done.

If you’re after heart-pounding chase scenes, including flying cars, I think nothing can beat Greengrass’ groundbreaking work in traffic-choked Moscow, but if you’re looking for more hard-edged reality in an action picture that doubles as an acting vehicle for both Renner and Weisz, then Gilroy’s approach is better and more believable.

2 thoughts on “Bourne in Manila

  1. Well said! Contrary to others who saw the movie, I liked it too but I thought there would be one more fight scene of sorts didn’t expect it to end with the Palawan shots

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