Wednesday, April 09, 2014

Straying from the Party Line: The Three Henchman Structure of The Bourne Identity

Two final deviations from the checklist rules:
  • Deviation #3: This movie is making me look bad. I wrote a while back and the danger of a “three henchmen” structure, in which the second act is taken up with the good guy fighting the bad guy’s three henchman, and then the third act fighting the bad guy…but I was shocked to realize upon re-watching this that this movie I love has precisely that structure!
  • The Problem: This make the 2nd Act into a snooze, marking time until the real movie begins in the last half hour.
  • Does the Movie Get Away With It? Yes and no. Seeing it again, I remembered that the “three assassins all get called up in the middle of their cover jobs and go into action” montage did make me roll my eyes when I saw it in the theater, but the cheesiness of that moment quickly passes and it doesn’t really turn the second half into an intermediary slog, as I would have predicted. It helps that the heroes don’t ever know who the main bad guy is, or that three guys have been called up, so although it creates an expectation for us of the movie’s structure, it doesn’t for him, so he isn’t marking time or saving his best stuff for the big bad. 
Once again, the acting sells it: Clive Owen is so good as the main assassin that a potentially cheesy moment (the hero gets the dying assassin to give him the clue he need to get to the big bad) feels painful, real, and well-earned.
And one last one, the most problematic of the four:
  • Deviation #4: There are a whole lot of repeated beats in the third quarter. We have three men all trying to piece together what happened on the boat, Conklin, Wombosi, and Bourne. Bourne is way behind the other two, and since we’re watching all three, we frequently see him uncover the same clues that we’ve already seen the other two find. This is especially true when Bourne visits the morgue and realize it’s a fake body after we’ve already seen Wombosi do the exact same thing in a very similar scene.
  • The Problem: Audiences hate repeated beats. Yes, we care about our heroes getting what they want, but they should also serve as our eyes and ears as we piece the plot together alongside them: if they’re shocked, we want to share that shock. It’s hard to get excited about a scene where they discover stuff we already know.
  • Does the Movie Get Away With It? Not really. This is the slowest patch in the movie. It culminates in Bourne and Marie both realizing who he is, and we appreciate the devastating emotion of that realization, but it’s frustrating because they’re so far behind us. Once they accept that he was a bad guy, give up on finding out the whole truth, and decide to flee, the movie picks up again. In retrospect, they should have cut the Wombosi morgue scene and not let Bourne and Marie repeat any beats that we’ve already seen anybody else cover.
Okay, okay, enough with the rules it broke, let’s move on to some rules it exemplifies...

1 comment:

AD said...

Let's face it, the third Bourne movie is better!