The Films of Doug Liman
The Bourne Identity (August 7/12)
Based on the book by Robert Ludlum, The Bourne Identity follows Matt Damon's Jason Bourne as he's forced to piece together his identity after he's shot and left for dead in the middle of the ocean - with Bourne's quest taking him on a globe-trotting adventure and bringing him into contact with a suspicious yet affable bystander (Franka Potente's Marie). It's a decidedly larger-than-life premise that is, for the most part, employed to low-key effect by director Doug Liman, as the filmmaker, working from Tony Gilroy and William Blake Herron's script, emphasizes the central character's continuing efforts at solving the mystery behind his situation/existence - which consequently results in a subdued atmosphere that's perpetuated by both the deliberate pace and perfunctory action sequences. (In terms of the latter, Liman infuses such moments with a competent yet bloodless and far-from-engrossing feel that is, to say the least, rather disappointing.) The episodic bent of the film's midsection, ie Bourne goes from place to place hunting down clues, ensures that there's a lack of momentum here that's exacerbated by an overlong running time, and it's worth noting that the movie doesn't entirely become the exciting thriller one might've anticipated until its third act - as this stretch, which features an intensity and urgency that's otherwise absent, boasts a genuinely suspenseful confrontation between Bourne and a persistent assassin known only as the Professor (Clive Owen). The end result is a passable effort that receives plenty of mileage out of Damon's expectedly engaging performance, admittedly, yet, given its premise, it's difficult not to walk away somewhat disappointed by the film's persistently middling nature.
Mr. & Mrs. Smith (June 7/05)
Mr. & Mrs. Smith marks Doug Liman's first movie since The Bourne Identity, and it seems clear that the filmmaker is attempting to reinvent himself as an action director. Though his sense of style isn't quite as slick as some of his contemporaries (ie Lee Tamahori, Michael Bay, etc), there's no denying that Liman is just as guilty of eschewing character development and plot in favor of larger-than-life action sequences. The film stars Brad Pitt and Angelina Jolie as John and Jane Smith, a seemingly normal married couple whose relationship is suffering from a distinct lack of communication. As it turns out, both John and Jane are assassins (for different companies, of course), though neither is aware of the other's true identity. But when the two are sent on the same mission, a brutal confrontation between the couple becomes inevitable. The realization that Mr. & Mrs. Smith has been written by Simon Kinberg, the man responsible for the recent XXX follow-up, doesn't come as much of a surprise, given that the two films feature an emphasis on spectacle above all else - with the movie's second half especially guilty of this. This is despite an opening hour that's actually quite tolerable, as we tag along on John and Jane's respective missions; it's all very superficial and fluffy, but engaging enough thanks to a pair of dynamic lead performances (Pitt is particularly good in one of the most mainstream roles of his career). Eventually, though, the whole thing just becomes too trivial; because John and Jane are never developed beyond their most outward and basic attributes, it's virtually impossible for the viewer to develop any kind of a rooting investment in their respective fates. By the time we get to the prolonged shoot-out inside a department store, there's no shaking the feeling that we're watching action for action's sake. And at a running time of around two hours, the film is at least 30 minutes longer than it needs to be - a problem that's hopelessly exacerbated by the incredibly thin storyline. Mr. & Mrs. Smith will undoubtedly please audiences that are hungry for a big, dumb action movie, but for those viewers expecting something a little more complex from a director like Doug Liman and an actor like Brad Pitt, the film comes off as nothing less than a huge disappointment.
Though a mild improvement over Mr. and Mrs. Smith, Jumper nevertheless suffers from precisely the sort of problems filmmaker Doug Liman has come to be associated with in recent years - with the director's continued emphasis on big action sequences rather than coherent storytelling clearly the most problematic (and recurring) deficiency within his work. The frenetic plot follows a young man (Hayden Christensen's David) whose ability to instantaneously teleport to anywhere in the world has caught the attention of Samuel L. Jackson's villainous Roland, and much of the movie follows David's efforts at battling Roland along with the help of fellow jumper Griffin (Jamie Bell). Screenwriters David S. Goyer, Jim Uhls, and Simon Kinberg - working from Steven Gould's novel - have infused Jumper with a schizophrenic sensibility that ensures that the movie is rarely boring, though it often does feel like the scripters have attempted to cram too much story into the film's 88 minutes. There's consequently little doubt that the narrative generally sputters along in fits and starts, as it's in the copious action sequences that Jumper manages to hold one's interest (such moments are awfully well done, admittedly, despite Liman's relentless reliance on quick cuts and shaky camerawork). The end result is a mindlessly engaging piece of escapist fare that benefits from its uniformly able performances and refreshingly brisk running time, yet it's certainly impossible not to wonder when (or if) Liman will return to the comparatively masterful territory of early efforts like Swingers and Go.
Based on true events, Fair Game follows CIA agent Valerie Plame (Naomi Watts) as she attempts to deal with a number of post 9/11 security issues - with problems ensuing after her identity is revealed in the wake of her husband's (Sean Penn's Joseph Wilson) involvement in a covert operation. There's little doubt that Fair Game gets off to a decidedly underwhelming and uninvolving start, as director Doug Liman, working from a script by Jez Butterworth and John-Henry Butterworth, aggressively emphasizes Plame's day-to-day exploits as a covert CIA agent - with the frustrating absence of character development during such sequences ensuring that viewer is initially unable to work up any enthusiasm or interest in Plame's ongoing exploits. The lack of an entry point for the audience ensures that Fair Game's opening hour is essentially a love-it-or-hate-it proposition, yet it's just as clear that the film does improve quite a bit once Plame is forced to deal with the consequences of her exposure. (Having said that, the less-than-subtle bent of the Butterworths' script does prevent even this section of the film from becoming quite as electrifying as Liman has clearly intended.) The inclusion of an emotionally stirring final 20 minutes ensures that Fair Game concludes on an unexpectedly positive note, although, by that same token, one ultimately can't help but wish that the remainder of the proceedings had been equally involving and engrossing.
Edge of Tomorrow (June 18/14)
Edge of Tomorrow follows Tom Cruise's William Cage as he's reluctantly drafted into a war against vicious outer-space creatures, with the movie primarily detailing the character's exploits after he's caught in a time loop that resets each time he dies. Filmmaker Doug Liman has infused the early part of Edge of Tomorrow with an almost aggressively disorienting feel, as the movie launches straight into the narrative with little by way of exposition or explanation - with the head-scratching atmosphere compounded by Liman's ADD-afflicted directorial choices (ie the film's initial action sequence is all but incomprehensible). It's clear, then, that Edge of Tomorrow doesn't begin to wholeheartedly entertain until it launches into its science-fiction-heavy premise, as scripters Christopher McQuarrie, Jez Butterworth, and John-Henry Butterworth do a fantastic job of thoroughly exploiting and exploring the various possibilities afforded by the futuristic setup - with the screenplay containing a number of thrilling and unexpectedly comedic set pieces that pave the way for an engrossing, exciting midsection. There's little doubt, too, that Cruise's typically charismatic turn as the frazzled central character plays a key role in the movie's success, with the actor offering up a tremendously engaging performance that's matched by a strong supporting cast that includes Emily Blunt, Bill Paxton, and Brendan Gleeson. The captivating atmosphere persists right up until the film rolls into its final act, with this stretch, unfortunately, mirroring the rather incoherent opening in its ineffectiveness (and it doesn't help, either, that it transpires in murky darkness) - with the lackluster vibe compounded by an ending that simply isn't satisfying in the slightest. Edge of Tomorrow is ultimately an uneven yet mostly entertaining blockbuster that benefits from its unique premise and Cruise's stellar work, with the film, despite its deficiencies, generally faring better than most contemporary summertime releases if only due to its (relatively) short running time.
The Wall (May 16/17)
An obvious change of pace for Doug Liman, The Wall follows Iraq-stationed American soldiers Allen Isaac (Aaron Taylor-Johnson) and Shane Matthews (John Cena) as they’re pinned behind a crumbling wall by an enemy sniper – with the film predominantly detailing the battle of wills that ensues between the men. The palpable thinness of the premise isn’t, at the outset, as problematic as one might’ve feared, as filmmaker Liman and scripter Dwain Worrell deliver an engaging opening stretch that effectively establishes the central characters and their increasingly perilous situation – with the movie benefiting from an impressively suspenseful sequence in which the two protagonists first become aware of the aforementioned sniper’s presence. It’s only as The Wall ambles into its somewhat uneventful midsection that it begins to lose its grip on the viewer, and it’s clear, too, that Taylor-Johnson’s solid yet charisma-free performance contributes heavily to the movie’s progressively uninvolving vibe (eg the actor is never quite able to transform Isaac into a wholeheartedly sympathetic figure). The most obvious problem with the Phone Booth-like second act is an almost total absence of tension, as Worrell, for the most part, emphasizes the ideological conversations that ensue between Isaac and his newfound nemesis – with the majority of this stuff, coming out of the mouths of characters that are practically ciphers, fine but far from engrossing. And although things pick up in the comparatively action-packed climax, The Wall has long-since confirmed its place as an endeavor that, even at 81 minutes, simply can’t sustain a feature-length running time.