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Tag: Matt Damon

QuickView: Oppenheimer (2023)

“They won’t fear it until they understand it. And they won’t understand it until they’ve used it. Theory will take you only so far.”

J. Robert Oppenheimer

Based on the book American Prometheus, Christopher Nolan has crafted a Charlie Kaufman-esque biopic that is as much about the concept of political myth-making as it is about Oppenheimer himself, a brilliant physicist whose self-importance was matched only by his actual importance to the war effort in the 1940s. After years of supporting roles, Cillian Murphy finally takes centre stage in a Nolan production and his powerful portrayal of the conflicted scientist is multifaceted and captivating. Nolan presents him as a man who saw beyond the world at a time when it was pivoting, quantum physicists around the globe seemingly drawn to one another by their ideas as they replaced the old guard. This is also an unusual use of the IMAX format, filled with close-ups showing incredibly expressive facial detail rather than grandiose imagery. As is often the case with Nolan, the social aspects are the least convincing: Florence Pugh in particular is ill-used, with Oppenheimer’s popularised quotation from the Bhagavad Gita unnecessarily tied to a sex scene. Although the Manhattan Project provides the meat of the film, Oppenheimer uses a framing device of two committee hearings after the war that sought to discredit him for his communist connections and opposition to the arms race. These provide layers of nuance to the character study, the stark black and white providing an external viewpoint whilst colour presents Oppenheimer’s subjective perspective. This structure is not an unreserved success, leading to repetition and bloat — at first it seems the framing is being used to allow the film to culminate with the Trinity nuclear test; in fact there is a full hour of political machination which follows. The Trinity test itself is perfect for Nolan’s cinematic vision, eking out tension despite our knowledge of its success, and using the medium to transport us to this defining moment — a blinding light and fiery conflagration in silence as time seems to hang before sound rushes in with the shockwave. Oppenheimer casts doubt on US propaganda about the necessity of the destruction of Hiroshima and Nagasaki to end the war, though it is disappointingly indirect. However the far more direct use of haunting imagery intrusively plaguing Oppenheimer is effective in communicating his disturbance by the destructive power he helped to unleash, ultimately wishing to be remembered for the invention but not its use.


QuickView: Downsizing (2017)


“He never struck me as the kind of guy who’d go get small. Wow!”

Paul Safranek

Alexander Payne’s social satire takes a fascinating concept — shrinking part of the human population to reduce environmental impact — but fails to explore it in any real depth as he prefers to follow his usual brand of mid-life crisis tale against that tantalising backdrop. There is a biting cynicism toward a brand of faux-environmentalism in which people only engage when it offers other benefits to their lifestyle or economic situation. In “downsized” communities, minimal wealth earned outside translates to luxury living which is the real draw for most residents. Though peppered with interesting ideas, Downsizing‘s ultimate message seems to be that we ought to care for the people around us now rather than engaging in high-minded attempts to save the species. For that to be the only real take-away feels like a wasted opportunity.


QuickView: Elysium (2013)

“There’s nothing left down here. They have it all on Elysium, food, water, medicine, and they’ll do anything to keep us out. It’s time to change everything.”

Max DeCosta

Like District 9, South African director Neill Blomkamp’s sophomore feature tackles social inequality through science fiction. A bigger budget adds star power in the form of Matt Damon and a ludicrously-accented Jodie Foster, while the film’s messages are delivered with even less subtlety than before. Blomkamp’s trademark effects work delivers up highly realistic technology from exosuits to near-future weaponry, making the dizzying shaky-cam action a particular shame. With a plot that rarely surprises, and a completely overwrought ending, this is ultimately a film that sells itself more on visuals than anything else.


The Bourne Identity (2002)

director: Doug Liman
starring: Matt Damon, Franka Potente, Chris Cooper, Clive Owen
running time: 121 mins
rating: 12

“How could I forget about you? You’re the only person I know.”

Jason Bourne

When most Hollywood action films are now sold almost on special effects alone, it is delightfully refreshing to find an espionage thriller that is able to blend in just as much intelligence.

Found floating in the Mediterranean Sea by fisherman, Jason Bourne [Matt Damon] is suffering from severe amnesia with no way to explain the two bullets in his back, or the bank number embedded in his hip. On land he discovers his identity from a passport in the security box being held under that number. Only then does he find the box also contains a gun and several more passports, each under a different name. With the CIA hunting him down, Bourne must discover the truth behind his identity, aided by Maria [Franka Potente] who becomes unwillingly caught up in the chase.

The most striking thing about The Bourne Identity is its superb pacing. Varying between tender moments of reprise and tense sequences as Bourne flees his pursuors, Liman manages to maintain a fugutive sensation throughout, never being able to rest for quite long enough. The tension is also maintained through Bourne’s lack of knowledge of his own abilities, which manifest themselves suddenly. The first such occurrance is when approached by Swiss policemen, his perfectly precise reflex attack lasting only moments before both are on the ground. One of the film’s best moments is when Bourne eerily reveals to Maria while in a diner that he can recite the licence plate number of every car parked outside, but doesn’t know why.

The action is always swift and sharp, rapid outbursts of gunfire or shouts breaking through what is generally a very quiet film. When it does appear, however, it is of very high quality, like Bourne’s climb down the embassy wall, and most notably in the gripping car chase through Paris, one of the best for a long while as we see his hardwired skills surface again (and how often do we get to see what a superspy can do with a Mini Cooper!?). A prime example of the film’s intelligent manipulation of the audince’s tension appears at the end of this chase, having evaded their pursuors, where rather than a quick quip, the pair quietly sit in the car regaining their composure and realising they have to clean it of fingerprints and dump it.

Damon at first appears a little young for the role, but his acting is of a high quality throughout. He is not only able to carry himself ably through the action sequences (which are nothing too stretching or original) but also reveals more depth to his character, portraying bpth his frustration (Maria inquires about his taste in music and he cannot answer) and a tortured side that does not like the history he is discovering about his identity and would rather start afresh. Potente skillfully changes what could be a standard “spy’s girl” role into something far more interesting through her lively charisma. Clive Owen’s creepy and mostly silent hitman was perhaps underused, and Julia Stiles’ small role as an inexperienced dispatcher was often unconvincing (arguably due to her lines rather than performance).

Liman’s greatest move is in letting the characters drive the story, and the developing relationship between Jason and Maria is given as much screen time as the exhilerating stunts. Nothing about the film appears overly contrived, and the sets and locations lack the usual Hollywood flavour. Paris is painted as rather grim and sterile, while the wintery European countryside is beautiful but bland. Most impressively, the CIA office is a realistic basement office filled with standard computers, rather than the ludicrous technophile palaces we are usually offered.

While it may lack, as a result, the hi-tech style and panache of the James Bond franchise, The Bourne Identity wins out through its compelling intelligence in script, content and appearance. While Hollywood is cluttered with gadget-driven espionage films these days, imaginative cerebral thrillers like this rise rarely. And since author Robert Ludlum also wrote two sequels to the novel this is based upon, perhaps this isn’t the last we’ve seen of Jason Bourne…


"A film is a petrified fountain of thought."

(CC) BY-NC 2003-2023 Priyan Meewella

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