The Bourne Identity (2002, Doug Liman)

Perhaps I’ve suffered my own bout of amnesia because I already can’t remember much of this movie. I remember it wasn’t as rapid-edit-afflicted as I’d heard, but then I realized that’s the two Paul Greengrass sequels that people have said each contain so many edits as to render the entire film a work of abstraction. I don’t see how that would be desirable, but I’m willing to give it a go. This one is by Doug “Swingers” Liman, who somehow pulled off a very competent, not over-stylish, gripping action movie before immediately falling under Greengrass’s shadow when Liman’s follow-up Mr. and Mrs. Smith was a critical bomb. Co-written by Tony Gilroy, all of whose movies I’ve been enjoying lately.

Matt Damon wakes up on a fishing boat after apparently having a change of heart about killing an African leader. The CIA doesn’t need an ex-superkiller roaming around, slowly regaining his memories along with a newfound conscience and thirst for vengeance, so bosses Chris Cooper and Brian Cox send bunches of faceless assassins (silent badass Clive Owen stands out just because he is Clive Owen) to stop him and hapless co-traveler Franka “Run Lola Run” Potente. Even with no memory (or because he has no memory: discuss) Damon is a super-effective instinctual ultra warrior who outthinks and outfights many assassins and possibly kills either Cooper or Cox, I don’t remember, before earning his Shawshank island retirement scene at the end.

Duplicity (2009, Tony Gilroy)

When Clive Owen is drugged and scammed by Julia Roberts at the start of the movie, you know they’ll be together a few scenes later. It doesn’t look like the kind of romantic comedy that’s going to artificially keep them apart for eighty minutes followed by a super-romantic get-together at the end, especially after such a confrontational intro to their characters. But when they end up working together – sure enough, a few scenes later – are they going to stay together, or end up tricking each other in a series of unsatisfying twist endings?

Surprisingly, their relationship is real and they stay together through the whole picture, though pretending they hate each other in public. Plot revolves around their counter-intelligence jobs at Paul Giamatti’s huge faux-Proctor & Gamble company, trying to steal a big secret formula from Tom Wilkinson’s rival company, with Roberts as the inside man. Giamatti’s plan is to beat Tom to the patent office and take his product public before he has the chance, and Roberts/Owen’s plan is to let Giamatti think he’s won while they take the formula to Europe and sell it for millions. The Big Twist: Wilkinson and his company’s superior counter-intel program knew everything all along and the formula was a fake.

A very fun movie with classy, classic style and charming acting. Some floaty split-screen montages give the light Soderbergh feeling of an Ocean’s Eleven sequel. Opening title sequence featuring a slow-motion airport-runway throwdown between the two CEO’s sets the comic tone. Chronology-juggling gradually, effectively reveals the depth of Roberts and Owen’s relationship and their scam, seems more purposeful than the chronojuggling he did in Michael Clayton. Same producers, cinematographer (Robert Elswitt, There Will Be Blood), editor (the director’s brother) and composer (James Newton Howard) as the previous movie. I am already looking forward to whatever Gilroy does next. Critics would disagree, judging from the rotten tomatometer, and Katy thought it was just pretty good.

Michael Clayton (2007, Tony Gilroy)

As with “Before The Devil” which I saw the same day, it’s a bit of classical hollywood storytelling without a very innovative story. This one I loved, however, and “Devil” just seemed okay.

Directorial debut by Gilroy, writer of the Bourne trilogy and junk like “Armageddon”. Starts at the end (not quite the end), and don’t know about opening credits beause I was a few minutes late. Opens with the only calm moment in George’s few days (few weeks? I forget), his pulling off the road and wandering into a field to admire some horses. George is middle of the shot with his look of tired awe, on one side of the frame a horse very close, on the other George’s car idling down on the road. Just when I’m thinking “what, are they trying to show George as being caught between nature and technology?” the car fuckin explodes and the movie begins.

George is the company fixer at a law firm run by the awesome Sydney Pollack (Eyes Wide Shut) and is called in to deal with his good friend, the awesome Tom Wilkinson, who has gone nuts in the middle of a multi-year class-action suit defending a horrible company who hurt a buncha people… a company with a legal team run by the awesome Tilda Swinton. So it’s already shaping up to be a pretty awesome movie. Tom gets killed (set up as suicide) and George loses his faith, ends up with Tom’s evidence against the company he was supposed to defend, and presents it personally to Tilda in one of the most gratifying, well-deserved righteous climax scenes I can recall. What’s next is even better, with George just on fire, going downstairs and out to a cab, driving off in one long shot, camera fixed on his face as the closing credits roll and we watch George veeeerrry gradually loosen up, realizing that he’s won.