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Posts Tagged ‘Julia Stiles’

So, DC are releasing an antihero-themed wannabe-blockbuster and there’s a new Bourne sequel with Matt Damon in the cinema too: cripes, it’s like I’m back in August 2004 all over again. (I wonder if it’s possible to leave myself a note not to bother going to see Transformers? Somehow I doubt it.) I suppose this is a timely reminder that some things never really change.

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I suppose the key thing this time around is that Jason Bourne is the first film about that character in nine years, Damon, director Paul Greengrass, and Bourne himself all having excused themselves from participating in Tony Gilroy’s rather disappointing crack at a Bourne-free Bourne movie, 2012’s The Bourne Legacy. As I always seem to be saying, it took me a while to warm up to this series, and my review of the original 2002 movie is virtually the textbook case of my getting it very wrong indeed, but the prospect of a new outing from this team was always going to be a very enticing one.

Many years have passed since Bourne’s disappearance (the film appears to be set in 2015, but there is a degree of elastic movie time going on here – Bourne’s birth year is given as 1978, which is somewhat flattering to the 45-year-old Matt Damon, but it also seems to suggest that Bourne was going around topping folk in his early twenties, which somehow feels rather implausible) and a new generation of iffy projects is being cultivated by the top brass at the CIA. Determined to stop this, the CIA computers are hacked by Bourne’s old associate/handler Nicky (Julia Stiles) who downloads key files on his recruitment. The two of them hook up in riot-torn Athens, with the stolen files perhaps offering Bourne a way to reconnect with the world and find a reason for living beyond simply beating people up. But the CIA is determined to protect its secrets and mobilises its full array of resources against them…

Well, if you liked the previous Damon/Greengrass Bourne films you’re probably going to like this one, too. There is a sense in which it perhaps feels a bit formulaic in terms of the way the plot develops, but not to the point where it seriously impairs the film as a piece of serious entertainment. After the resounding phrrppp of the Jeremy Renner movie, it’s actually quite reassuring and cosy to find a film which hits so many of the familiar series beats: beady-eyed CIA analysts poised over computers, ‘Bring the Asset on-line,’ internet cafes, Matt Damon stalking purposefully out of airports and railway stations, ‘Eyes on target’, some wistful cor anglais during the character beats, a spectacularly destructive final chase sequence, Bourne displaying the kind of ability to soak up punishment normally only associated with Captain Scarlet or possibly Popeye the Sailor, Extreme Ways playing over the closing credits and so on. It doesn’t even matter that much that most of the characters are basically stock figures by this point – there is the grizzled CIA veteran (Tommy Lee Jones this time), the ambitious young operator (Alicia Vikander this time), and the fearsomely professional rival assassin whom Bourne is clearly going to have to engage in a deadly contest of skills at some point (Vincent Cassel this time).

I would happily turn up to any film featuring all these things, but the thing about the Bourne films was that they always had a bit more about them than the average action thriller, and the question is whether the new film has any reason to exist other than to profitably rehash elements of a well-regarded film franchise. Well, the jury is still thinking about that one, I suspect, for the plot of the film feels ever so slightly slapped together: the first two thirds are primarily about Bourne’s own past and his father’s hitherto-unsuspected role in the creation of the Treadstone Project, which feels more or less natural and justified – but for the final act and the climax they segue into an essentially unconnected plotline about internet privacy and the CIA infiltrating social network providers. This is the kind of hot-button topic that Paul Greengrass is clearly strongly drawn to, but it is a bit of a wrench given what precedes it, to say nothing of the fact that this kind of malevolent ubiquitous cyber-surveillance was the underwhelming Maguffin at the heart of SPECTRE, too.

I mean, this is still a superbly accomplished thriller, and miles better than the Renner movie, even if the major set pieces aren’t quite as stupendous as the ones in the previous films. The thing is that it doesn’t feel like it has the heart and soul of those films – it’s kind of searching for a reason to exist, which I suppose is Bourne’s own quest, but even so. As I said, it all feels just a little bit like a remix of the Bourne series’ greatest hits, something rather formulaic. Luckily, it’s a brilliant formula, and the result is a very satisfying piece of entertainment. The problem is that it’s inevitably going to draw comparisons with two of the very best thrillers of the last 15 years, and it simply isn’t quite up to the same standard. It says something about the older movies when the fact that this one is only a very good thriller qualifies as a disappointment.

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I wonder if this is an appropriate juncture at which to repeat the anecdote about my TV exploding on Christmas night a few years ago? I’ve mentioned it before, but basically, what happened was this: the tube went bang and we had to spend the next few days watching a portable set. This would not be particularly noteworthy were it not for the fact that I was watching The Omen at the time (we had got to the graveyard sequence), despite the disapproval of some of the more devout members of my family. (I still think showing The Omen on Christmas night has a touch of crazy inspiration about it. Hey ho.)

Anyway – and skip on if you’ve heard this one before – the next day one of these more zealous relatives sidled up to me with the air of someone doing something of import.

‘Apparently the TV blew up last night,’ he said.

‘Yes,’ I said.

‘While you were watching The Omen.’

‘Yes,’ I said, bracing myself for the inevitable.

‘Do you not think that you’ve been sent a message?’

‘I think it’s nature’s way of telling us we need to stop renting such an old TV set,’ I offered.

This was clearly not the hoped-for response and he went off looking just as disapproving as the night before. I must confess to doing something that would probably have completely outraged him a few years later: while staying at his house over New Year I stayed up late and watched Omen 2 and Omen 3: The Final Conflict on his own set without telling him. Needless to say nothing went bang in the night (but both films were sort of schlocky and the third one is actively bad).

I will happily stand up and defend the original version of The Omen against anyone, partly because I can’t believe the supreme power of the universe has nothing better to do with its time than go around frying home entertainment systems, but mainly because it’s a really great film. These days, of course, it seems that virtually nothing is sacred (if that’s the right word in this context) and so inevitably it got remade a few years ago.

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The remake was directed by John Moore and stars Julia Stiles and Liev Schreiber. Schreiber is Robert Thorn, a young American diplomat based in Rome, whose wife (Stiles) is in labour when the story gets going. He is distraught to learn that his child did not survive, and – somewhat against his better judgement – agrees to substitute a orphaned newborn, without telling his wife.

Five years pass, and, following the mysterious death of his boss, Thorn is now the US ambassador to Britain. His son has grown up to become a slightly creepy little devil, but Thorn is willing to overlook little things like nannies committing suicide, his child going berserk when they try to take him to church, hellhounds lurking round the house at night, and repentant Satanists shouting  at him about the great evil he is mixed up in, to begin with at least. But then he is approached by a photographer (David Thewlis) who believes he has the beginnings of an answer to the mystery of his son’s real parentage…

I’m going to say some fairly negative things about the remake of The Omen, and I feel compelled to preface them by saying that this is a perfectly competent film (much better than Moore’s latest offering, the utterly hopeless A Good Day to Die Hard). The acting is fine, the script is fine, the special effects are okay and the direction is acceptable. However, watching it one is simply struck by a colossal sense of redundancy, even outright pointlessness, because this is one of the most mechanical, uninspired remakes I have ever seen.

It’s very tempting, when doing a remake, to go a bit crazy and change everything about the story and in the process lose what made it so special in the first place. It must be almost impossible to resist doing something unusual, simply to put your own distinctive mark on the film. But Moore isn’t having any of this: his version of The Omen consists almost entirely of the most memorable beats and scenes from the 1976 film, limply restaged. It’s almost like Gus van Sant’s reviled shot-for-shot remake of Psycho.

Even if you haven’t seen the new version, you could look at a list of the supporting cast and a copy of the script and guess just who’s going to be playing which part: in other words, everyone is cast wholly to type and delivers an appropriately unsurprising performance. This even extends to Mia Farrow as the Antichrist’s new nanny – stunt casting which sort of suggests the makers of this version were trying to adhere to the ‘get someone from the original to cameo to keep the fans happy’ principle but got The Omen mixed up with Rosemary’s Baby.

And it’s not even as if there isn’t room for reinterpretation in this particular story. The 1976 film is all about the men: Gregory Peck and David Warner head off to Italy leaving Lee Remick to be a victim, left in the dark. You would have thought that they could find something more interesting for a strong, smart actress like Julia Stiles (who is, after all, top billed) to do – involve her more in the investigation and the denouement. No: she just comes across as passive and weak and perhaps even a little bit stupid. Everything is as it was: the only addition is some stuff about the Vatican, who are apparently fully aware of what’s afoot but never do anything about it, while – in a choice I can sort of understand – the music cues from the first film are conspicuously absent.

Disappointing as this lack of innovation is, it’s matched by the way that this film seems to have no desire to be anything more than a mid-range genre movie trading off the reputation of a classic. The original Omen was a prestige production with A-list stars and an impressive budget – almost unheard of for a horror film at that time. The new film doesn’t have anything like the same class or ambition – it’s a competent little film, but the emphasis is always on the little. As I said, not bad, just utterly pointless.

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