The Bourne Ultimatum

Silver Linings Playbook

Bradley Cooper burst on the scene in 2009’s The Hangover and has been pretty busy ever since. He went on to star alongside Robert De Niro in Limitless, which gave me the opportunity to witness him in a more dramatic role.  He continued to expand his more serious repertoire with last summer’s The Words, giving an authentic performance wrought with emotion.  I disagree with those I’ve heard question Cooper’s range and talents.  His latest Oscar-nominated feature may convince some that he has what it takes to stick around for a while, as he teams with talented director David O. Russell (The Fighter) for Silver Linings Playbook.

Cooper stars as Pat, a man trying to rebuild his life after an emotional betrayal sends him into a psychological tailspin.  His marriage is on the flimsiest ground, a fact that is apparent to everyone but Pat.  We are introduced to him on the day of his release from a mental health facility in Baltimore, where he was sentenced to a brief stint after the aforementioned wifely betrayal left another man in intensive care.  Cooper reunites with his Limitless co-star Robert De Niro in the movie, as the veteran actor stars alongside Jacki Weaver (The Five Year Engagement) as Pat’s parents Dolores and Pat Sr. They are loving towards Pat and his older brother Jake (Shea Whigham, Boardwalk Empire), though Pat’s recent troubles and attendant mental state have given them cause for concern.  During his hospitalization Pat was diagnosed as bipolar, which clarifies some of the turmoil he’s experienced in his life up to that point.  He learned some coping mechanisms while there, and he tries to apply his new positive philosophy to life by looking for the “silver lining” whenever possible.

Pat settles in back home in Philadelphia, reconnecting with friends.  He has dinner with his old buddy Ronnie (John Ortiz, Pride and Glory) and his overbearing wife Veronica (Julia Stiles, The Bourne Ultimatum), where he is reintroduced to her sister Tiffany (Jennifer Lawrence, X-Men: First Class).  She is detached yet alluring, her grip on mental stability just as tenuous as Pat’s.  As Pat lives in denial about the possibility of reconciliation with his estranged wife Nikki, Tiffany continues her recovery from sex addiction in the aftermath of her husband’s recent death.  At Tiffany’s insistence, the pair form a friendship that initially begins as a quid pro quo where she will deliver a message to Nikki (who has a restraining order against Pat) if Pat will be her dance partner in a local ballroom competition.

Cooper’s performance was honest, and his chemistry with Jennifer Lawrence was effortless.  They both gave unguarded, nuanced performances, as their characters struggled for acceptance and affirmation in one another.  Lawrence shows incredible versatility, proving that she can shine in virtually any role: from popcorn fare like X-Men or The Hunger Games to grim material like Winter’s Bone.  I can’t recall the last movie I’ve seen that had so many standout roles.  The film has been nominated for eight Academy Awards, a whopping four of which are in acting categories.  De Niro put on a brilliantly understated display that began with subtlety but ended with layered complexity, revealing where Cooper’s character may have inherited some of his idiosyncratic and manic behavior.  Every performance was noteworthy, including Chris Tucker’s (Rush Hour) turn as Pat’s quirky pal Danny.  I don’t usually get caught up in the Oscar buzz, but in this case the hype is justified.  Grade: A

The Bourne Legacy

I love Matt Damon.  I think he’s extremely talented and versatile.  His turn in The Bourne Identity convinced me that he could do nearly anything.  Prior to that movie I never would have pegged him as an action star or deadly super spy.  He ushered in that franchise and made Jason Bourne a household name.  I couldn’t imagine the series continuing without him, yet any plotline involving his character seemed to have been exhausted with the last installment in the trilogy.  Acknowledging that the Jason Bourne plot had run its course, I was receptive to a new take on the franchise.  Enter Jeremy Renner (MI: 4 Ghost Protocol), who has seen a steady increase in popularity since his award-winning turn in The Hurt Locker.

Renner stars in The Bourne Legacy as Aaron Cross, one of many covert spies working for the same entity that produced Jason Bourne years ago.  I can’t say with certainty whether this entity is a government agency or a private defense company, because I honestly can’t keep up with all the intricate plot details.  When we last saw Jason Bourne in the The Bourne Ultimatum, he was tied up with Blackbriar and Treadstone, with the on-again off-again assistance of Pamela Landy (Joan Allen).  Those covert operations are present once again in The Bourne Legacy, only this time the Powers That Be want to disavow themselves from the program all together.  This means that any agents in the field must be eliminated, as they clean house in advance of a very-much-alive Jason Bourne blowing the whistle.  Bourne knows too much and still poses a threat, especially after the way he was betrayed and hung out to dry when we last saw him.  Once the decision is made to 86 the program, past and present agents are systematically destroyed.  This includes Aaron Cross, who was enduring a hellacious training exercise when his bosses sent a missile to obliterate his wilderness checkpoint, killing a fellow agent.  Cross narrowly escapes, eventually making his way back to civilization.

Like Jason before him, Aaron is extremely resourceful and resilient.  His first order of business is to retrieve some “chems,” pills that he took to sustain himself as he completed the training exercise.  If he doesn’t get another one soon, his body may begin to shut down.  A large pharmaceutical company works with the agency in the development of its internal medicine, and Aaron must travel to the plant where it’s manufactured to retrieve some tablets.  Rachel Weisz (Dream House) features as Dr. Marta Shearing, a chemist who works for the company.  She treats the agents and has treated Aaron previously, though she doesn’t remember him.  He seeks her out in the hopes she can get him a pill, but she explains that they have been transitioning agents off the pills.  Aaron was unaware because he had been completing his training exercise and was in remote locations for several months.  His continued ingestion of the pills has made him a more physically imposing spy.  For some reason that isn’t entirely clear to me, Aaron still wants to obtain some new chems.  From what Shearing explained, it sounds like the chems aren’t necessary for his survival.  Yet Aaron is still determined to go to the plant where they are manufactured in the Philippines and get more.  If it were a life and death situation, I would understand that – but it’s not.  Aaron says something about having witnessed what happens when you go off your meds, and he doesn’t want that to happen to him.  Yeah, ok.  Furthermore, it wasn’t realistic to me that there wasn’t a single pill anywhere in the United States.  Nevertheless, Aaron must get more chems and figure out what’s going on, all while trying to evade his murderous employer.

There were some effective elements of the movie, and some that were less successful.  The aforementioned plot point annoyed me, because it just didn’t make any sense.  It’s important to know what drives your protagonist.  The need for survival is a no-brainer, and I got that.  I also understood his need to protect Dr. Shearing, once they became caught up with one another.  But why is he going to the Philippines if she just told him that he basically doesn’t need the chems anymore?  That seems like a lot of trouble to go through just to avoid withdrawal symptoms.  Aren’t you being hunted?  Shouldn’t you lay low?  Despite that plotline, there were some very good scenes – particularly a workplace shooting that occurred at the pharmaceutical company.  It was a chilling scene that had particular relevance, considering the times in which we live.  At any rate, Jeremy Renner was convincing in his role.  I can’t say that he can fill Matt Damon’s shoes just yet, but he is promising.  He nailed every physical aspect, but I didn’t get a sense of his character’s underlying personality.  Jason Bourne was a more layered, tortured character, and I feel like we only scratched the surface with Aaron Cross.  I’m willing to see what’s in store for the future.  Grade: B.