August 19, 2012

The Chatty Hero

How much did I love The Bourne Legacy? A lot. There's co-star Rachel Weisz, who goes most of the movie without any visible makeup, looks appropriately disheveled for being on the run for 24 hours, and acts as if she's been hit with a ton of bricks—and I mean that in a good way. She's shell-shocked and evinces just the right amount of glass-eyed trauma.

The writing and plot were great, if not perfect. Movies about dark conspiracies almost always start with a series of enigmatic scenes showing the main players reacting to a crisis or getting set up. It's a way of introducing the characters, building tension, and letting the audience struggle a bit to put the situation together, but it's become a cliche at this point and I really did want the filmmakers to just tell me already. That said, once the preliminaries are established, the plot and writing were fantastic, especially with regard to the two main characters. The growth of their trust in each other was slow and sure, neither instantaneous nor falsely drawn out for drama. Same with their affection: they don't go beyond holding hands, but that handholding feels significant and intimate because the actors (and writers) make you feel how out there it is to hold hands with a virtual stranger.

The man as protector in action films is always a tricky thing. We want to see it, want to experience that powerful mix of physical mastery and erotic attention. But it can't be straightforward anymore. The man's exceptionalism has to come from something other than just his maleness. He's specially trained, made of computer parts, enhanced with drugs, part supernatural creature, whatever. These add-ons provide an out for our twenty-first-century brains while keeping intact the essential charge we get out of, for men, seeing our gender glorified onscreen and, for women, imagining intimacy with such a creature. The writers wisely make Jeremy Renner's character vulnerable—and aware of his own vulnerability—in extra measure, someone who is truly unexceptional without the medicine that only Rachel Weisz's character can make for him. This knowledge keeps him from every having the kind of smug attitude that was a staple of the old Bond movies, for example.

Jeremy Renner is the perfect action star, with a frame that's both graceful and solid and the acting chops to put real personality into his character. What I loved the most about his character is a tribute to both him and the writers: He talks. A pretty good amount. Kind of normally. He's neither the taciturn hero nor the wisecracking hero. He introduces himself, asks "are you okay?" after a gun battle, makes conversation with strangers. It's kind of refreshing.

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