Sketchley's Translations Main Index
By AARON SKETCHLEY (aaronsketch@HOTdelete_thisMAIL.com) Ver 1.7 2022.03.03

Thriller Film Reviews


Air Force One

The Bourne Identity

The Bourne Supremacy

The Bourne Ultimatum

Clear and Present Danger

Collateral

The Hunt For Red October

The Hurt Locker

Italian Job

The Negotiator

Patriot Games

Ronin

S.W.A.T.

The Usual Suspects

Wild Things

Air Force One

stars

Release date:
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Review by: Aaron Sketchley
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The Bourne Identity

4 stars

Release date: 2002
Written by: Tony Gilroy, William Blake Herron
Directed by: Doug Liman
Review by: Aaron Sketchley
Reviewed on: 2022.01.29
Italian fishermen pull a man out of the water. He has two bullet wounds in his back. They tend to his wounds and revive him. However, the man has no memory of who he is. The ship's medic also finds a laser projector in the skin of the man's hip, that has the number of a safe deposit box in Zurich. When the ship lands, the man heads to Switzerland, hoping to finally learn his identity. Inside the deposit box, however, he finds passports and ID cards with his picture, but with multiple different names and nationalities! Having caused trouble earlier, the man—now using the name Jason Bourne based on one of 'his' passports—ducks into the US embassy to avoid the police. After a brief respite, the embassy staff move in to arrest him, but in a blindingly fast display of martial arts, Bourne defeats them. He then flees upstairs, hotly pursued by the embassy's US Marine guards!

Bourne Identity is as much a blistering action film as it is a thought provoking thriller. On the one hand, we have Matt Damon's everyman Jason Bourne being doggedly and relentlessly pursued by all the resources available to the CIA, as well as their finest hitmen. On the other, we have Bourne struggling to recall the little things like what his name is and where he is from, as well as grappling with questions about why he's being hunted down by the US intelligence agency! Thrown into the mix is the love interest Marie Kreutz, who is an enigma herself as she leads a vagabond lifestyle. Intrigue also comes in the form of Alexander Conklin—the leader of a CIA black ops program that Bourne is associated with—and CIA Deputy Director Ward Abbott, who have to scramble to contain the crisis of a rogue agent and the blowback from a mission that has failed rather publicly.

The funnest parts of the film is Bourne recalling unexpected abilities at critical times. The action is certainly explosive, in the sense that it happens unexpectedly, extremely rapidly, and is over shockingly fast at times. One thing I greatly appreciate about this film is that Dir. Liman has presented crystal clear action sequences. At all times we are aware of the combatants in three-dimensional space, and can follow the action. The techno/electronica soundtrack is also a highlight. The only drawback—and this is mostly due to the cinema medium itself—is that we don't get into Bourne's head to see his thought processes, like we do in Robert Ludlum's novel. While we are shown the visceral action and the outsmarting of one combatant by the other, we never get the sense that combat in the Bourne universe is as much, if not more so a thinking game than it is anything else, like we get in the novels.

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The Bourne Supremacy

3 stars

Release date: 2004
Written by: Tony Gilroy
Directed by: Paul Greengrass
Review by: Aaron Sketchley
Reviewed on: 2022.02.13
Jason Bourne and Marie Kreutz have settled in Goa, India. Bourne has daily flashbacks (nightmares) of his former occupation, and struggles to piece together the memory fragments he recalls. Marie insists that he write them down in a notebook. In Berlin, CIA Deputy Director Pamela Landy is investigating the theft of $20 million in CIA funds 7 years prior. Her undercover agent is about to purchase files that'll explain what happened when the agent and the information source are killed by Kirill, an assassin working for oligarch Yuri Gretkov on the side. He leaves evidence that incriminates Bourne, and heads to Goa to kill Bourne. However, when he shoots Bourne's fleeing vehicle, he unwittingly kills Marie and reports to Gretkov that Bourne is dead. Bourne, heads to Europe, and allows himself to be identified by security in the port of Naples. He subdues an American CIA agent working out of the Naples consulate that came to investigate, and learns about Landy and being framed for what happened in Germany. Bourne heads to Berlin, believing that the CIA is hunting him again.

The film picks up after a 2 year interlude and sees Bourne and Marie settled in a new life "off the grid". Sadly, the film decides that Bourne is better on his own, and quickly gets rid of Marie. This is something that author Robert Ludlum never did, as he recognized that she is the emotional core of the series, and the counterbalance to the Bourne character's cold, calculating assassin character. It's a shame, as it takes the heart and moral probing of Bourne out of the film. The other disappointment is the jerky camera movement that makes it very hard to follow the action. While it's a great technique in the right circumstances—arguably most scenes in the film—it is detrimental in key action sequences such as the Moscow car chase. There are a handful of times where the action is inexplicably transported to another unrelated location. The technique doesn't help either when the Bourne character is so well skilled that he can dispatch an opponent in mere seconds!

Nevertheless, the film has a lot of the same energy and strengths as the first film—explosive action, enigmatic characters and motivations, thought provoking thrills, and a great soundtrack. The highlight is Karl Urban as Kirill. In the original novel (which has a completely different story!), he is the anti-Bourne. The character's concept is one of the few things that was retained in the film version, and they do a great job presenting someone who is believably, and terrifyingly the equal of Bourne. As with all sequels, the stakes are raised and things are taken to new heights. However, in the Bourne series, that also means digging more deeply into the darker corners of what spy agencies and assassins do, and this film marks a turn deeper in that direction for this film series.

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The Bourne Ultimatum

3 stars

Release date: 2007
Written by: Tony Gilroy, Scott Z. Burns, George Nolfi
Directed by: Paul Greengrass
Review by: Aaron Sketchley
Reviewed on: 2022.03.03
Picking up right where The Bourne Supremacy left off, the wounded Jason Bourne is fleeing from and evading the Moscow police. When he pauses in a clinic to deal with his injuries, he has flashbacks of when he first joined Operation Treadstone. Six weeks later, journalist Simon Ross meets an informant in Turin to learn about Bourne and Operation Blackbriar. The CIA begins tracking Ross after he mentions "Blackbriar" to his editor in a call. Bourne—having read Ross's articles about him—contacts Ross and arranges a meeting in Waterloo Station. However, despite Bourne's best attempts to keep both of them out of the CIA tracking team's reach, Ross is shot and killed by an assassin under orders from Deputy Director Noah Vosen. Recovering Ross's notes, Bourne learns who Ross's informant is, and heads to Turin to try to meet him. However, the CIA have not only identified Ross's informant, but also spotted Bourne while he was assisting Ross! The chase is on with Vosen gunning for Bourne, Bourne scrambling to find the truth, and Pamela Landy trying to outmanoeuvre Vosen to both help Bourne and peacefully resolve the situation. Nicky Parsons appears in the midst of all this as a wildcard: is she still working for the CIA, or is she genuinely helping Bourne?

Complex would be a mild way of describing this film. There is plenty of action, but it is thoroughly grounded in the story. Unlike the previous film, some scenes seem specifically designed to vilify the antagonists. At the same time, the film attempts to get to the bottom of Bourne—who he really is, where he came from, and how he came to be a powerful assassin. The film also does a good job of subtly recalling the other films in the series as it connects the dots between the Bourne we know 'now' all the way back to when he was 'born'. Perhaps the best part of the film is that it succeeds in not only 'threading the needle' by filling in how Bourne successfully snuck back into the US, as shown at the end of The Bourne Supremacy, it flips that scene on its head and turns it into a vital stepping stone toward the conclusion of the film.

The film is excellent up until the ending, when it seems to rush through events—Bourne suddenly attains total recall, and it stops being about Bourne's personal journey, and focuses mostly on the closure of the antagonists that created him, as well as the Blackbriar leadership. Not to mention the somewhat forced ending with Vosen suddenly appearing and shooting Bourne, which adds unnecessary drama, and doesn't letting the audience fully appreciate any changes in the CIA assassin that had Bourne in his sights. Nevertheless, what I did like is the recurring theme of Bourne becoming unwilling to finish off anyone that he doesn't personally have a grudge against (or doesn't know why they've been told to kill Bourne), even if that choice comes back to harm him later. The jerky camerawork also seems to have been reined in somewhat, as the action scenes are easier to follow this time. Perhaps the most startling thing in the film is the drabness of the transportation hubs in New York. Compared to the vibrancy and life characterizing all the transportation hubs and locales the film series has visited, it is... well, I'm not sure what it is a testament of, but the lack of 'colour' is shocking.

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Clear and Present Danger

stars

Release date:
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Review by: Aaron Sketchley
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Collateral

4 stars

Release date: 2004
Written by: Stuart Beattie
Directed by: Michael Mann
Review by: Aaron Sketchley
Reviewed on: 2021.12.19
Max Doroucher is a cab driver in LA who works the night shift. He dreams of starting his own limousine business and is trying to earn enough to start a business. He picks up Vincent, who is impressed by Max's skill at driving through the city. So impressed, in fact, that at his stop Vincent offers Max $600 to drive him to several locations—claiming that he's in town for one night to complete a real estate deal. Max is initially reluctant to violate regulations, but Vincent eventually persuades him. As Max waits for Vincent to complete his business, a body falls onto his cab. Vincent, who rushes out of the building, reveals that he caused the man to fall. He then forces Max to hide the body in the trunk and continue driving him, as he has four more stops to make that night!

Collateral is a movie that deceptively appears to be an action film, but is really also a character study. Along the journey, we get to peer deeply into the two main characters as they get to know each other, and eventually have enough of each other and grow antagonistic. The central relationship is also thought provoking as even though we know that the antagonist is planning a grim fate for the protagonist, he is concurrently giving out helpful advice and pushing the protagonist to better himself. While we instinctively know that it will be a life changing experience, the film also charts out a road map to a better future that we know the protagonist will be following after the credits roll.

The highlight of the film is the music. While music is used to indicate the passage of time and describe the emotions of the scenes—like most movies—it is also used to give each character, each venue, each sequence their own unique flavours. It is also vital to the story, as not only are the musical likes of the antagonist informing us on his interests and pastimes, but also his personal philosophy! The movie also doesn't play any 'funny' tricks in its conclusion, staying true to its characters' abilities and limits (or blind spots). Perhaps that's what makes this film so thrillingly chilling: so many things boil down to sheer blind luck!

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The Hunt For Red October

stars

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Review by: Aaron Sketchley
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The Hurt Locker

4 stars

Release date: 2009
Written by: Mark Boal
Directed by: Kathryn Bigelow
Review by: Aaron Sketchley
Reviewed on: 2021.03.09
Sergeant First Class James is the new team leader of an Explosive Ordinance Disposal (EOD) team in Iraq—new, as the preceding team leader was recently killed by an Improvised Explosive Device (IED) in Baghdad. James is reckless, described as a "wild man" at one point, and grates on the nerves of the people in his team: Sergeant Sandborn and Specialist Eldridge.

The film follows them through their daily missions to render unexploded ordinance safe. During the Iraq War, the vast majority of those are IEDs. Woven throughout everything else, there is the suggestion that the EOD teams are in a cat-and-mouse 'game' with the people behind the bombs, as they constantly attempt to outmanoeuvre each other.

In addition to depicting the grim reality of EOD specialists and the mind-boggling scale of the IED problem during that war, the film focuses on James to depict not only the type of person that thrives in war, but the persons who are, in a certain sense, addicted to it. The film only suggests the motivations as it depicts the ramifications of such a person on the people around them—the psychoanalysis is limited to Eldridge, who is receiving psychiatric help to deal with the trauma of having lost the team's preceding leader.

The film kept me glued to the screen. It's hard to pick any single scene, sequence, or characterization that stands out above the rest, as it's all finely interwoven and excellent. Perhaps the best thing about the film is that Dir. Bigelow opted to keep it minimalistic—focused on only the three main characters, with few other recurring characters, and using well-known actors in a handful of short, key appearances. Due to that, the tension in the protagonists' torturous experiences is even greater, we feel their pain, and we can almost taste the ever-present dust.

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Italian Job

3.5 stars

Release date: 2003
Written by: Donna Powers, Wayne Powers
Directed by: F. Gary Gray
Review by: Aaron Sketchley
Reviewed on: 2021.02.24
Charlie Croker is the brains behind a heist to steal a rather large lock-box full of gold bricks from other thieves hiding out in a safe house in Venice. He has taken over the reigns from John Bridger—who is doing one last job before retirement—and assembled a crew consisting of John, Handsome Rob, Lyle (AKA Napster), Left Ear, and Steve Frazelli. They succeed and make off with the loot. While making their getaway through the Alps into Austria, however, Steve double-crosses them, shoots John, and leaves the rest for dead.

The action picks up one year later in New York, when Charlie visits Stella—John's daughter—tells her that they've tracked down Steve, and asks her if she wants 'in' to even the score. Stella initially declines, but soon decides to join the team. The team assembles in Los Angeles, and begins planning and arranging a heist to take their loot back from Steve.

I'm not sure how much this film has to do with the original that it is 'inspired by'. Nevertheless, the film has excellent writing with plenty of unexpected twists and turns, is well cast, and has cracker-jacket pacing and editing. While some of the characters aren't as smooth or as slick as their equivalents in Ocean's Eleven, for example, their rough edges and flaws give them distinct characterizations that add immensely to the fun. Perhaps the only drawback to the film is Edward Norton. He seems to be coasting in this performance—which may be due to him being contractually obliged to participate in this film.

Nevertheless, the highlight of the film is not the car action with the at-the-time *new* Mini Coopers, but the musical score by John Powel. Not only does it keep the film strumming along, it had this viewer tapping his feet to the beat.

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The Negotiator

stars

Release date:
Written by:
Directed by:
Review by: Aaron Sketchley
Reviewed on:
Coming soon!
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Patriot Games

stars

Release date:
Written by:
Directed by:
Review by: Aaron Sketchley
Reviewed on:
Coming soon!
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Ronin

stars

Release date:
Written by:
Directed by:
Review by: Aaron Sketchley
Reviewed on:
Coming soon!
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S.W.A.T.

3 stars

Release date: 2003
Written by: David Ayer, David McKenna
Directed by: Clark Johnson
Review by: Aaron Sketchley
Reviewed on: 2016.08.25
A great ensemble buddy movie for when you want some escapist fun. Highlights of the film are the characters and their interactions, and the relatively realistic action. Not to mention that the film has great energy, and is fun.

I found the live broadcast (and subsequent rebroadcasts) of the villain's "get me out of jail for 100 million dollars" speech to be unrealistic. Don't journalists in this film have the moral decency to not make things worse? Or is it that the writers have a poor opinion of the moral balance in the average LA resident?

That said, without that does of unrealism in an action movie that strives to be realistic, there wouldn't be a back end to the film, and we wouldn't get to see the our heroes exercising creativity in doing their thing. Nor the thrill that comes from the unpredictability of potentially anybody on the streets jumping out at them with guns blazing.

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The Usual Suspects

2 stars

Release date: 1995
Written by: Christopher McQuarrie
Directed by: Bryan Singer
Review by: Aaron Sketchley
Reviewed on: 2021.06.16
There is a bloody shootout followed by an explosion on a ship docked in San Pedro Bay. The next day, the police find two survivors: a heavily burned and injured Hungarian mobster, and Roger "Verbal" Kint, a con artist from New York. Dave Kujan, a US Customs agent, flies in from New York to interrogate Verbal. While Verbal has arranged immunity, Kujan still wants to glean all that he can before Verbal posts bail. Verbal, under heavy questioning, describes how he and his associates ended up on the ship in a series of flashbacks. The events, which start out mundane, rapidly snowball into worse and worse situations for the protagonists until the shootout at the beginning (and end) of the film.

The Usual Suspects is a confused movie. It's probably deliberately that way as Verbal, the narrator, is spinning a yarn to confuse the cops, who he earlier describes as always looking for a simple explanation and facts that fit whatever assumption they have for a crime. It probably helps to keep in mind that Verbal is an unreliable witness—akin to Guy Pearce's character in Memento. In other words, everything told in flashback may or may not have happened, and may or may not have happened in the way it was depicted.

The highlight of the film is the sheer quality of all the actors. They all bring their A-game to the film, and it adds significantly to the movie's intensity. Of course, Kevin Spacey stands out in particular, having won the Academy Award for Best Supporting Actor for his performance as Verbal. However, despite all that, the plot is a little too labyrinth and murky, and the twist ending ends up underscoring how futile it is to try and unravel the film's convoluted plot.

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Wild Things

4 stars

Release date: 1998
Written by: Stephen Peters
Directed by: John McNaughton
Review by: Aaron Sketchley
Reviewed on: 2021.05.26
Sam Lombardo is a high school guidance counsellor in a wealthy Miami area high school. He is accused of rape by Kelly Van Ryan—daughter of rich widower Sandra Van Ryan—and poor outcast Suzie Toller. Sandra makes it her mission to make Sam's life a living hell. However, at trial, both girls admit to lying to get revenge on Sam for perceived slights. As Sandra and Sam privately settle, police detective Ray Duquette suspects that the three of them are working a scam.

Having outlined the first part of the plot, I've actually said hardly anything about it, as the plot is much, much, much more complex. This film is a joy to watch—despite it's trashy topic—as the plot continually surprises with unexpected twists and developments. The film is even explaining itself and providing fresh twists in flashbacks scenes spliced into the credits!

One of the films strengths is how well developed the characters are. Despite the complex plot, we are never confused about who is who, and where they're coming from. Every actor and actress fits their role, and the highlight is Bill Murray, who steals the show in every scene he appears in. Surprisingly, Jeffrey L. Kimball's cinematography is also a marvel to behold. The framing and lighting of some of his shots adds considerably to the film. Enjoy the ride while you watch this guilty pleasure, and make sure you stick around for the credits.

Note: I have the unrated cut. Some of the revelations add significantly to the 'icky' column, but they also more effectively explain the motivations of the key characters.

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© Aaron Sketchley