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Husband, father, grandfather, friend...a few of the roles acquired in 62 years of living.  I keep an upbeat attitude, loving humor and the singular freedom of a perfect laugh.  I don't let curmudgeons ruin my day; that only gives them power over me.  Having experienced death once, I no longer fear it, although I am still frightened by the process of dying.  I love to write because it allows me the freedom to vent those complex feelings that bounce restlessly off the walls of my mind; and express the beauty that can only be found within the human heart.

Saturday, January 24, 2015

The Ultimate Action Flick: Bauer v. Bourne

Jason and Jack
The Knights of the 9mm

Picture credits -- 
Universal for Jason and Fox for Jack

Copyright © 2015
by Ralph F. Couey
Except quoted and cited portions

"I regret every decision or mistake that I might have made 
which resulted in the loss of a single innocent life.  
But do you know what I regret the most?  
That this world needs people like me."
--Jack Bauer.

"Do you even know why you're supposed to kill me?
Look at us.  Look at what they make you give."
--Jason Bourne

I've long been a fan of the action adventure movie, especially those that involved in some form the dark shadowy world of covert action.  Being a guy, I guess that preference is kinda written into my DNA.  From "Man From U.N.C.L.E." and Mission: Impossible in the '60's through the library of Jack Ryan movies, and Tom Cruise's re-invention of the MI story, those releases have consistently drawn me like a magnet.

In the last 10 years, two series, one of movies, the other of television, have captured my imagination.

In November of 2001, Fox Television launched a novel new programming concept.  Called "24", it followed the work of a federal counter-terrorism agent named Jack Bauer, played by Kiefer Sutherland.  Instead of the usual format, the series would follow in real time the minute-by-minute travails of Bauer through a single 24-hour day.  The tension was magnified by the ticking of the clock, a constant reminder of the passage of irretrievable time.  Although burdened with a certain amount of filler, and that Jack seemed to never be more than 15 minutes away from anyplace in the vast expanse of Southern California, the show was nevertheless an instant hit.  Although not intended to, it circumstantially fell into those dark, angry days following 9/11 when America at some level seethed with vengeance against the terrorists who had so brazenly attacked us and killed our people.  Americans saw in Bauer someone who would doggedly pursue and bring to justice, usually by death, of those who had sworn to do us harm.  "24" gave us a hero, albeit a fictional one, when we needed it the most.  

The series lasted nine seasons, each time with Bauer seemingly vanishing from sight only to reappear for the next "day."  The show not only glorified the agents of the Counter Terrorist Unit, but also made heroes out of some of the most unlikely of characters, particularly the very geeky Chloe O'Brien, underscoring that in the modern version of that secret world, a computer and a good operator can be every bit as dangerous as bombs and bullets.

In the summer of 2002, another action adventure franchise debuted with the "Bourne Identity," an adaptation of the Robert Ludlum novels.  I say "adaptation" with a certain irony because the movies resembled the books in the same way that a zebra resembles a parking meter.  That opener was followed by "Bourne Supremacy" in 2004 and "Bourne Ultimatum" in 2007.  All three movies follow Jason Bourne, a brain-trained CIA assassin, really a human killing machine, as he recovers from a bout of amnesia while trying to grasp the meaning and purpose behind his life and what he has been turned into.  Bourne and those who pursue him literally span the globe from New York to Tangiers, giving the films a rich locational canvas on which the action unfolds.

There are similarities in the two characters, beyond their common initials.  Both have done some difficult and dangerous things for the U.S. government, and both have been damaged because of that. Both find themselves largely on the outside looking in as their sponsors and supporters continually find new ways to betray and abandon them.  The question begs, is there enough of a link to join the two stories?

Universal has moved on to the next iteration, casting Jeremy Renner as an upgraded version (Bourne 2.0, if you will) and although you see bits of news from time to time that Matt Damon will return to reprise his character, it now appears that Jason has been left behind for good, first by the CIA, and now by Universal Studios.

"24" has apparently run its course as well.  The days of fear following America's personal introduction to terrorism have been replaced by a good deal more cynicism and a certain squeamishness where interrogation techniques are concerned.  After 9/11, nobody complained when Bauer would shoot a terrorist in the kneecap to get an answer to his questions.  Now, everyone complains.  Americans, apparently, now feel they have other things to worry about.  

But those two franchises were successful, both in their own way, stories that I thoroughly enjoyed when they were new, and continue to watch from my DVD library.  

This being the middle of winter when I find myself on long winter evenings allowing my brain to free range a bit, I've been thinking that there may be one more gasp for Jason and Jack.

Consider this possibility.

The government retrieves Jack Bauer back from the Russians, mainly because both governments now live in deathly fear of Jason Bourne, and someone in the U.S. has convinced the Russians that the only person on this planet who has a fighting chance against the Treadstone Terror is, in fact, Jack Bauer.

Bauer takes some convincing.  Having been imprisoned, tortured, and just plain wrung out, now he is being asked by the very instruments of all the tragedies in his life to save their butts one more time.  Bauer, still ruled by his strong sense of duty, finally agrees to take up the chase.

The story follows the two as Bauer closes in on Bourne.  Both are aided by their respective femme fatales, cantankerous Chloe O'Brien and the mysterious Nicky Parsons. Jason, of course, instinctively becomes aware that he's being pursued.  What gets his full, complete, and undivided attention is the discovery of the name and reputation of his pursuer.  In a series of near-misses and inconclusive fights, both men begin to realize that they have far more in common with each other.  Both have lived lives filled with violence and tragic loss, and have seen the idealism of national service turn to the ashes of betrayal.  Finally, Bauer catches up to, and corners Bourne in some suitably exotic place like Hong Kong, Bosnia, Tombstone, Arizona, or the Tyson's Corner Galleria in Northern Virginia.  They beat each other to exhaustion, neither gaining enough of an edge to do the other one in.  Then, they begin to talk, a conversation something like the scene in "Heat" between Pacino and DeNiro.  Only then do they realize who the real enemy is, sort of a Katniss Everdeen-Finnick Odair moment.  They vow to join together and either destroy the CIA or die trying.  And to make sure this is the last time we see this, they do, in fact, die trying. But they do end up hurting the Agency to the point that the whole idea of covert rendition gets a good review by some as-yet-to-be-identified competent authority.  The movie ends with the CIA's ship righted and finally steaming in the right (moral) direction, headed by Chloe O'Brien and Nicky Parsons.  

Okay, that last one is a bit of a stretch...

This idea is tantalizing to me, something of a 21st century version of Josey Wales, with Bauer playing the part of the Redleg Captain.  But sadly the legal end of the film business would probably not allow the mixing of franchises and copyrights to get this done.  

Besides, I'm not sure there's a screen big enough to hold Kiefer Sutherland and Matt Damon together in full-blown secret agent mode.

There are other screen pairings we never saw that would have been intriguing, such as John Wayne and Clint Eastwood, as the Duke passed just as Clint was getting up his head of cinematic steam.  But both Damon and Sutherland are still very much alive and in good health, save Matt's retreating hairline, and such a movie would be at the very least, a rousing good time.

And certainly a fitting denouement to two of the most fascinating film/TV characters of the last half-century.
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