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Movies: The Manchurian Candidate and The Bourne Supremacy

I so infrequently get to the movies these days that it was something of a minor miracle that I saw two films in two days last week. Unfortunately I squandered this historic opportunity by kind of going to see the same movie twice.

The first time it was called The Manchurian Candidate. When Angela Langsbury was told that Jonathan Demme was remaking the classic 1962 film in which she starred, her reaction was "What a shame -- it was perfect the way it was." Frankly I was inclined to agree, but my curiosity was piqued when the rave reviews started trickling in. Plus, I was was interested to see how they would drag the exceedingly dated piece into the 21st century.

Candidate is a nightmare of a movie, but I mean that as description rather than as criticism. The action takes place 20 minutes in the future (to borrow a phrase from Max Headroom), in a world that's a slightly exaggerated version of our own. As in the original, the plot centers around a conspiracy to infiltrate the US Government, although this time the Big Bad is corporate America rather than the Communist party. The story begins during the first Gulf War, when we meet Ben Marco, the leader of a unit doing reconnaissance in Iraq. When the squad is ambushed and Marcos is knocked out, Private Raymond Shaw bravely assumes control and manages to get the men to safety with minimal casualties. That, at least, is what Marcos has been told -- because he was unconscious at the time he has no independent memory of the event. But the recollections of the other soldiers are highly (uncannily) specific about Shaw's heroics, and even the US Government acknowledged his extraordinary actions by awarding him the Medal of Honor.

Fast-forward to today, where Shaw is a Vice Presidential candidate and Marco is stuck giving pep talks to Boy Scouts. As Shaw's political viability is predicated on his wartime heroics, Marco decides to use this opportunity to resolve a few niggling discrepancies that mar the otherwise perfect description of what took place during the gap in his memory. But even more troublesome to Marco is not the flaws in the legend, but the fact that, in his dreams, he "remembers" a completely different account of events, one that's as sinister as it is outlandish.

The second film I saw was The Bourne Supremacy, a sequel the surprise hit The Bourne Identity. (Actually, I don't know if the success of Identity was really unexpected, but it was a hit with me, and that was something of a surprise.) It's Matt Damon again as the titular Jason Bourne, a guy the CIA trained as a perfect killing machine and then tried to snuff after he lost his memory and went all "rogue agent" on them. As in the previous movie, sinister forces are again pursuing Bourne and he has no idea who or why -- and, thanks to his amnesia, doesn't even know if he should know who or why.

The tagline for the film could have been "This time it's personal." Pissed that he has again become a target after setting his affairs in order at the end of the first film, Bourne decides to seek out his attackers and take the fight to them. This gives the film a bit of a different dynamic than the prior installment, but there's still no denying that The Bourne Supremacy, is, at its core, a two hour chase scene. Because Bourne's CIA training apparently didn't include seminars on disguise how to change clothes, the baddies have little trouble locating him and, consequentially, he is always on the movie.

(The other thing always in this movie, alas, is the camera, to the point where I sometimes felt like I was watching The Blair Witch Supremacy. Most of the time I found this frenetic style is tolerable, but some of the action scenes look like the directory tied a rope to the camera and twirled it over his head. I know of at least two people who said Supremacy's "shaky camera syndrome" made them nauseated, and even I left the theater with a low-grade headache, so buyer beware.)

The Bourne Supremacy is an exciting and well-made movie, and contains one of the best car chase scenes ever committed to film. Still, about halfway through the film I had the disheartening realization that I had just seen this movie, albeit it a different guise. The protagonists of both Supremacy and Candidates are ex-governmental officers who are rushing to decipher conspiracies that are somehow linked to their memory problems. The directors of both films attempt to convey the paranoia their heroes suffer by giving the movie a "fog of war" feel, with assorted chronological and cinematic tricks employed to jumble the linear story. And at the end of either the viewer is left with the realization that there was considerably less plot in the film than the convoluted narrative structure would have had you believe.

Still, both films are quite enjoyable and either is suitable for an evening of light entertainment, so I'd happily recommend one or the other. But not both.

Posted on August 13, 2004 to Movies


I just saw supremecy last night, and I have to agree that the hand held camera action left me a little dissapointed. It was as if they just didn't want to do the choreography for the fight scenes, so they shook the shit out of the camera and viola, you can't really tell what's going on except that it's a fight. Kind of the real life version of those cartoons where the dust cloud settles around the combatants and all you see are fists and stars...

Posted by: Micah on August 16, 2004 4:44 PM

That's funny; I just posted my review of the movie the other day:


Posted by: steve on August 16, 2004 5:31 PM

The shaky camera syndrome, was best shown in the French film 'Irreversible'. It was either deliberated or the cameraman had no idea he did that and the production has no time to waste but to show it anyway.

Though I am yet to watch both of these films.

Posted by: vlad on August 16, 2004 7:58 PM

See, in the Bourne books, Bourne was a MASTER of disguise, so I'm a bit disappointed that he's not in these movies. Of course, in the books he's also a huge whiny bitch, so maybe we don't want EVERYTHING from the books translated to the movies.

Posted by: Ryan Waddell on August 17, 2004 6:19 AM

Get used to not seeing a lot of movies at the theater now that you're a dad. Soon all you'll see are Disneys and Harry Potters. The Lord of the Rings trilogy was a welcome three year long event but alas, it is finally over.

Go ahead and start looking at home theater gear. With DVD and a big enough image, it's a terrific way to watch movies...thekeez

Posted by: Jeff Keezel on August 17, 2004 7:02 AM

the thing i don't understand about the remake of the manchurian candidate is that it's supposed to be really frightening because, um, a corporation owns the candidate. but like, isn't that already the modus operandi of american politics?

Posted by: Ryan on August 17, 2004 7:11 AM

My review of Bourne here:

I agree about the camera thing. Ruined an otherwise enjoyable action flick.

Posted by: BillB on August 17, 2004 8:43 AM

I haven't seen it, but it sounds from your description like they turned The Manchurian Candidate into High Crimes meets Courage under Fire.

Posted by: just-married on August 17, 2004 9:26 AM

YOU TOO! I left the theater after watching the Bourne Supremacy with a minor headache and borderline nausia. The shaky camera got me good. It also left me wondering if they wanted to hide the action in the fight scenes. One of the things I really liked in the first Bourne was the awesome fight scenes - and was therefore somewhat disappointed in them in the second.

Posted by: Bob on August 17, 2004 10:34 AM

I liked the shaky camera in Bourne. The "fog of war" thing, like you said. And I thought it improved the fight scenes, too--most of the time people filming fight scenes don't want to waste their choreography, so they make sure you can see everything, but I thought making it so fast and erratic that you can't really get a good look at anything made it seem more like a fight, rather than a couple of guys doing acrobatics at each other.

My reference for nauseating camera movement is Dancer in the Dark. Especially the scene that would be a normal conversation scene--almost always looking at the person who's talking--except that instead of cutting from one to the other, the cameraman was standing between them and panning from one to the other. Ugh.

Finally: you might want to check if your copy editor has whisky on his breath...

Posted by: klaas on August 17, 2004 11:22 AM

The Bourne Supremecy made my wife pregnant. Or rather the nausea that she felt watching the film never went away and she became pregnant so she could blame it on morning sickness.

Posted by: Chris on August 17, 2004 1:57 PM

All I know was I watched Bourne Supremacy at a drive-in theater...and at one point we decided to assign actually WATCHING the movie to one person in the car at a time....the rest of us JUST LISTENED until we got through one of the innumerable shaky scenes. Worked pretty good if you took turns. Guess you couldn't get by with that in a real theater, cause the person watching couldn't get by with adding any commentary anytime he/she actually could see what was going on....

Posted by: April on August 17, 2004 6:26 PM

I find it odd that you didn't mention the COMPLETE POINTLESSNESS of Manchurian Candidate. Like Ryan said, the premise of corporations owning political candidates isn't exactly far fetched. Plus, (SPOILERS!) what was the point of the freaky, facially-tattooed Saudi women? Or the giant tomato? Or the creepy reverse-Oedipal scene? And can someone please explain to me the ending? Was Rosie working with the conspirators to cover up the project and save the reputation of the corporation, or was she working with the military to cover up the events and save the reputation of one of its officers? And who the heck was the guy that they planted in the video footage? Had we ever even seen him before throughout the movie? I had no idea what I was supposed to be thinking or feeling at the end, other than the fact that I wanted the past two hours of my life back. Utterly, utterly pointless.

Posted by: Erin on August 18, 2004 6:08 PM

Well, now you have all ruined the movie for me... It is probably a good thing I wasn't going to go see it anyway.

Posted by: kayfour on August 25, 2004 11:15 AM