In The Bourne Supremacy, the chases are more than just action

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Bourne Supremacy Car Chase Taxi Bus Crash Universal Pictures

Jason Bourne runs along an idyllic stretch of white sand on Palolem Beach. But Bourne looks agitated, unaware of his picture-perfect surroundings, as if he’s being chased. And in a sense, he is—pursued by the past, and haunted by Treadstone, the CIA’s top-secret black-ops program that created him. He has been hiding out in Goa, India, for nearly two years.

In the apartment they share, Franka Potente’s Marie pores over Bourne’s journal, the bits and pieces he has dredged up from his broken memory. This is Bourne now: scattered images, dots on a map, newspaper clippings, a few words. Fragments. A scribbled note reads, Who am I? Bourne is on the run, and he’s on a quest in 2004’s The Bourne Supremacy—to reassemble himself, to atone and become someone better. And hopefully, to get revenge. He just has to stay alive long enough to do it.

 

Karl Urban’s Russian FSB agent Kirill finds Jason in India. Kirill is on a mission: kill Bourne. The film’s first chase through Goa’s crowded streets pits Kirill’s out-of-place silver Hyundai Sonata Gold against Jason and Marie’s well-used 1992 Maruti Gypsy King ST. Kirill accidentally kills Marie, the only person Bourne trusted. Kirill makes it personal, and Bourne is left bereft and completely alone. He begins a journey of vengeance, and of penance: He has to avenge Marie and apologize to the daughter of Vladimir Neski, his first job as an assassin. All the while, he has to contend with the CIA, what remains of Treadstone, and Kirill, arguably Bourne’s toughest opponent yet.

A rig for the job

In the second chapter of Jason Bourne’s saga, Paul Greengrass’s signature documentary-style shaky-cam allows us to see the world through Bourne’s eyes. As an amnesiac discovering who he once was and who he is now, his point of view feels frenzied. The style is choppy, jumpy, often out of focus, and we take in visual information fast. Like Bourne and his memory book, the film’s world is full of bits and pieces rather than one coherent narrative, all of it seen through a lens of confusion and pain. Action directors have repurposed the shaky-cam technique as a gimmick, or as a way to mask stunt doubles and to conceal mistakes. Though the technique is headache-inducing for some, under Greengrass’s direction, we see everything, the film edited down to its most essential, kinetic parts, making the action feel raw and immediate.

Bourne Supremacy Car Chase Police Crash
Universal Pictures
Jason Bourne Shifting gears taxi
Universal Pictures

Although credited as second-unit director on The Bourne Supremacy, Dan Bradley is the architect of the film’s stunts. Bradley wrote, choreographed, and filmed all the action, with help from his company Go Stunts, which he founded along with Scott Rogers and Darrin Prescott. The three engineered the Go Mobile, a special camera rig for the hero car, expressly for The Bourne Supremacy.

John Pearley Huffman, of Car and Driver, described the rig as “the drivetrain of a 1974 Cadillac Eldorado cleaved down to a self-contained two-wheel-drive module that can be used to propel any combination of chassis, crew, cameras, cranes, lighting equipment, and on-camera vehicle (or portion of vehicle) to which it can be bolted.” Essentially, the rig allowed Bradley to film from any angle, giving him an almost 360-view of the hero car. A stunt driver could sit in an out-of-sight, remote driver’s pod, performing stunts he might not be able to do otherwise on a standard trailer. Matt Damon called it “the NAR (no acting required)” because he could sit inside the car, experience the stunt driver’s maneuvers, and he’d look—and feel—as if he was actually driving during the chase.

Racing through Russia

The Bourne Supremacy’s second chase was set in Moscow (and filmed in both Moscow and Berlin), where Bourne is on the run from the CIA, Russian authorities, and Kirill. The chase starts on foot, when Kirill finds Bourne and shoots him in the shoulder. Kirill is briefly waylaid by the Russian police, who don’t realize he’s Secret Service, and Bourne eludes him in a nearby market where he grabs a map, socks, and a bottle of vodka. He commandeers a taxi, a Russian-made GAZ Volga 3110. The Volga has only a 131-horsepower engine, but the body is heavy steel, perfect for the kind of damage Bourne will inflict. (It’s rumored that Bourne’s Volga was outfitted with a BMW 3.0-liter inline six, giving it a secret edge.) Kirill seizes a nice Mercedes-Benz G-Klasse W463 from a couple of poor civilians and takes off in pursuit of Bourne, along with the Russian police.

Bourne Supremacy Car Chase Taxi Wall Crash
Universal Pictures
Jason Bourne Matt Damon
Universal Pictures

The chase pits an agent who no longer wants to kill and to make amends for his killing versus an agent who seems literally driven to kill. And in his puny Volga, Bourne is overpowered by Kirill’s Mercedes-Benz. To make things a little more difficult for our hero, the terrain is unfamiliar to him, and Bourne frantically examines a map as he drives, a nice touch of realism. He treats his gunshot wound on the run by pouring vodka on it, and when Bourne winces in pain, we feel it, too. Bits of the taxi keep falling off—at one point an entire panel peels away, and the scene begins to feel more like a demolition derby than a chase. 

Paul Greengrass explains in the director’s commentary that Moscow is a perfect city to find Bourne in: a place with a dark past that is trying to improve, to be better. There is a moment where Kirill and Bourne are both driving on separate but parallel roads, and as their paths intersect, the men share a look. Bourne remembers Kirill as the man who killed Marie, but there’s a deeper recognition there, too. If he hadn’t lost his memory, if he hadn’t been set on a different path, if he didn’t have a soul, Kirill is the man Bourne could have been.

The chase builds in intensity: the FSB join Kirill and the Russian police in pursuit, the sounds of the road punctuate John Powell’s urgent score, and Kirill starts shooting at Bourne, not caring about the civilian in the car sandwiched between them. Bourne finally gets the upper hand, striking the side of Kirill’s Mercedes and pushing him forward. Kirill is so intent on trying to kill Bourne, he realizes too late that he’s heading straight for a concrete pillar. Bourne braces for impact, and his taxi spins out as Kirill crashes into the pillar.

Bourne Supremacy Car Chase Dead Villian G63
Universal Pictures

A chase that tells a story

In The Bourne Supremacy’s commentary track, Paul Greengrass says that “a chase only works if it’s telling a story, if it’s got beats within it that unfold.” And storytelling is really this chase’s strength. The Moscow chase is the film’s climax, its biggest set piece, and where we find Bourne pursued by the kind of man he might have been once, the man he could have become. But Jason Bourne’s mission isn’t to kill, it’s to find redemption. When he gets out of the taxi after the crash, gun in hand, only to find Kirill near death, slumped against the steering wheel, Bourne doesn’t shoot him.

Bourne proves he’s not like Kirill: he doesn’t serve the powerful government agency that created him; rather, he’s a thorn in their side. He has empathy, and he doesn’t want to be a killer. To the left of the pillar, the road leads farther into the darkened tunnel. To the right, there is an exit leading to the world above, and Bourne walks out into the light.

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