Short Cuts is a new feature here on Quiet of the Matinee that focuses on a specific element of a film, rather than the film as a whole. We’ll be analysing certain shots and sequences, uses of colour and music and films’ cinematography and camerawork. The aim isn’t to break new ground in film analysis, just explore why certain films elicit certain emotions and thoughts.
First up is Paul Greengrass’s The Bourne Supremacy…
If The Bourne Identity is about Jason Bourne’s attempt to reclaim his life, The Bourne Supremacy is about his bid to reclaim his humanity. The film is markedly darker than its predecessor, with Greengrass exploring Bourne’s past as an assassin and, specifically, his killing of Russian politician Vladimir Neski. Bourne killed both Neski and his wife and made it look like a murder-suicide – a story which was accepted by all, including the Neskis’ young daughter, Irina. By the film’s conclusion, Bourne reveals to Irina the true nature of her parents’ death and regains his humanity, but before that comes this scene…
Bourne’s journey has taken him to New York. He wants to arrange a meeting with former Treadstone technician Nicky Parsons (Julia Stiles) and calls CIA Deputy Director Pamela Landy to force the issue. Landy is evasive at first, telling Bourne that it won’t be easy to track Parsons down. Bourne, however, knows this not to be the case. He knows that Parsons is stood right next to Landy as he’s watching her office, sniper rifle in hand, from a nearby building. He lets her know this at the end of the scene.
Greengrass was hired to direct The Bourne Supremacy because producer Patrick Crowley admired his “sense of the camera as participatory viewer” and that certainly shows in this scene. The viewer is given Bourne’s point of view and therefore his advantage over Landy. Greengrass shoots much of the scene through the crosshairs of Bourne’s rifle as it pans from Landy to Nicky and back again. To reinforce our power, we see the scene primarily through high-angle shots, looking down at Landy’s office.
As the scene continues, the audience becomes complicit in Bourne’s threatened violence. We feel the excitement of the potential revenge of a man who has been wronged by Landy and her organisation and will him on. The tables have turned – the hunted has become the hunter, and for the audience, as well as for Bourne, it’s a thrilling reversal.
The tension that has been slowly building throughout the scene is finally released when Bourne lets his position be known. The secret out, Landy turns around and looks out the window, trying to find Bourne’s position. In doing so, she breaks the fourth wall, staring straight into the camera twice. Greengrass shoots the first shot at Landy’s eye level, despite the fact it doesn’t match up with Bourne’s previously-established POV, and the second shot in close-up, again breaking the illusion that we’re seeing events through Bourne’s eyes.
We’ve been spotted! Our part in Bourne’s scheme has been exposed and our alignment with Bourne has been broken. Suddenly it seems that Landy was never the hunter – we were. We’ve been playing both sides against each other, willing Bourne to commit against the CIA agents exactly the kind of violence we’re so outraged they’ve been committing against him. We’re as bad as they are, and now we’re being punished – we’re the hunted! It’s Greengrass’s most thrilling reversal in this masterful cat-and-mouse game.
The scene is echoed at the end of the film, when Bourne, having cleared his name, returns to New York and again tracks down Landy. Greengrass’s set-up is the same, though this time Bourne doesn’t have a rifle and we don’t see Landy through any crosshairs. Bourne calls Landy, who is again unaware that he is watching her. She apologises to Bourne and tells him his real name – David Webb. “Get some rest, Pam,” he tells her in conclusion. “You look tired.”
Landy again spins around, again trying to pinpoint Bourne’s location. This time though, she doesn’t break the fourth wall. Her eyes roam around the camera, but not directly into it. Bourne has made peace with his past, found his humanity and finally found a route to a brighter future. He doesn’t need to resort to violence and won’t suffer the guilt that comes with it. We are in the same position.