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The Essential Movie Library #82: The Bourne Trilogy (2002, 2004, 2007)

This saga of a renegade amnesiac agent taught 007 how it's done

Three chapters in the 21st-century reinvention of the spy tale: Life’s too short to spend any of it trying to decide whether Doug Liman’s first film, The Bourne Identity, or Paul Greengrass’s second, The Bourne Supremacy, is superior, especially when the third, Greengrass’s The Bourne Ultimatum, does a nifty job in its own right of wrapping up the story and casting what came earlier in a new light. This saga of a renegade amnesiac agent taught that other secret agent, the Brit with the three digits, how it’s done, and we should remember what a counter-intuitive masterstroke was the casting of Matt Damon, then known for boyish roles as working-class math geniuses and unreliable fuck-ups. Twenty minutes into Bourne, Damon finds himself reflexively dispatching two Zurich cops in as many blinks of an eye, and that he’s even more surprised than we is only the trilogy’s first thrill.

Notwithstanding pretenses to realism compared to invisible cars and villains with metal teeth, by any other standard plenty of things about the Bourne Trilogy are far-fetched, including not just stupefying car chases and Damon’s plummet down a stairwell on a dead body, picking off adversaries as he passes each floor, but the amnesia itself. The verisimilitude, then, derives from a sense that things are at stake and that innocent people whom we get to know just long enough to care about will pay the price for Kafkaesque machinations. Most of all Damon convincingly evokes a man haunted, first by the identity he loses, then by the identity he assumes, finally by the identity he recovers. There’s a fourth Bourne (…Legacy) with Jeremy Renner, serviceable enough but not in the same league without a charisma more compelling than Damon ever conveyed before or since.

Read them all:
The Essential Movie Library #81: Zero Dark Thirty
The Essential Movie Library #80: A Place in the Sun
The Essential Movie Library #79: Boogie Nights
The Essential Movie Library #78:  Le Samouraï
The Essential Movie Library #77: The Wild Bunch
The Essential Movie Library #76: Barton Fink
The Essential Movie Library #75: The Spirit of the Beehive
The Essential Movie Library #74: Sexy Beast
The Essential Movie Library #73: Groundhog Day
The Essential Movie Library #72: Rear Window
The Essential Movie Library #71: The 400 Blows
The Essential Movie Library #70: Blue Velvet
The Essential Movie Library #69: Dr. Strangelove
The Essential Movie Library #68: The Bicycle Thieves
The Essential Movie Library #67: Pulp Fiction
The Essential Movie Library #66: Faster, Pussycat! Kill! Kill!
The Essential Movie Library #65: Caché
The Essential Movie Library #64: A Hard Day's Night
The Essential Movie Library #63: The Searchers
The Essential Movie Library #62: The Conformist
The Essential Movie Library #61: Bonnie & Clyde
The Essential Movie Library #60: Sweet Smell of Success
The Essential Movie Library #59: Melancholia
The Essential Movie Library #58: La Dolce Vita
The Essential Movie Library #57: Pat Garrett and Billy the Kid
The Essential Movie Library #56: Contempt
The Essential Movie Library #55: Sunset Boulevard
The Essential Movie Library #54: Metropolis
The Essential Movie Library #53: In A Lonely Place
The Essential Movie Library #52: Talk to Her
The Essential Movie LIbrary #51: To Be or Not To Be
The Essential Movie Library #50: The Battle of Algiers
The Essential Movie Library #49: Notorious
The Essential Movie Library #48: Wings of Desire
The Essential Movie Library #47: L'Avventura
The Essential Movie Library #46: Malcolm X
The Essential Movie Library #45: In the Mood for Love / 2046
The Essential Movie Library #44: Touch of Evil
The Essential Movie Library #43: Once Upon A Time in the West
The Essential Movie Library #42: Belle de Jour
The Essential Movie Library #41: Apocalypse Now
The Essential Movie Library #40: Out of the Past
The Essential Movie Library #39: Branded to Kill
The Essential Movie Library #38: The General
The Essential Movie Library #37: Lord of the Rings
The Essential Movie Library #36: Aguirre, the Wrath of God
The Essential Movie Library #35: Raging Bull
The Essential Movie Library #34: The Rules of the Game
The Essential Movie Library #33: Chinatown 
The Essential Movie Library #32: Stalker
The Essential Movie Library #31: Weekend
The Essential Movie Library #30: Some Like It Hot 
The Essential Movie Library #29: Red River
The Essential Movie Library #28: The Passenger
The Essential Movie Library #27: Singin' in the Rain
The Essential Movie Library #26: Heat
The Essential Movie Library #25: L'Atalante
The Essential Movie Library #24: Sunrise
The Essential Movie Library #23: His Girl Friday
The Essential Movie Library #22: Black Narcissus
The Essential Movie Library #21: Blade Runner
The Essential Movie Library #20: Persona
The Essential Movie Library #19: The Shop Around the Corner
The Essential Movie Library #18: Lost Highway
The Essential Movie Library #17: Tokyo Story
The Essential Movie Library #16: 8 1/2
The Essential Movie Library #15: City Lights
The Essential Movie Library #14: Seven Samurai
The Essential Movie Library #13: Lawrence of Arabia
The Essential Movie Library #12: Citizen Kane
The Essential Movie Library #11: Jules and Jim
The Essential Movie Library #10: My Darling Clementine 
The Essential Movie Library #9: Double Indemnity 
The Essential Movie Library #8: That Obscure Object of Desire 
The Essential Movie Library #7: 2001: A Space Odyssey 
The Essential Movie Library #6: Casablanca
The Essential Movie Library #5: The Lady Eve
The Essential Movie Library #4: The Third Man 
The Essential Movie Library #3: The Passion of Joan of Arc 
The Essential Movie Library #2: Vertigo 
The Essential Movie Library #1: The Godfather Trilogy