#335. Action Spy!

The irony of the spy genre in Hollywood is that any spy who is really good at espionage is unlikely to be caught. If a spy is not detected, then there is no chance they’d have to escape via a high-octane action sequence. This would be a dull movie. Anymore, most spies are experts in the cyber domain, which makes any chances of action even less likely. Still, for those “feet on the ground” agents out in the field, knowing how to handle one’s self is a fundamental element to their survival should they be compromised. While most spy movies involve some elements of action, some have more action than others. Entire film franchises are based on spies saving the world by fighting their way out of the enemy’s clutches. So, while the action spy is a fabrication of Hollywood, it’s safe to say they’re here to stay. This week’s two films highlight some notable examples of the action spy.

The Bourne IdentityThe Bourne Identity
Year: 2002
Rating: PG-13
Length: 119 minutes / 1.98 hours

Most spies usually have an agency backing them. Whether it’s MI6 in the James Bond franchise, the Impossible Missions Force (IMF) in the Mission: Impossible franchise, or the eponymous U.N.C.L.E. in The Man from U.N.C.L.E. (2015), every spy has an agency giving out orders and providing logistical support to keep them armed and dangerous. But what if a spy’s agency turns on them? What if they have to not only survive with a compromised identity but survive against the agency that trained them? These spies need to think fast and move even faster. When a spy is the best of the best, it’s entertaining to watch them escape from even the most hopeless situation via their ability to fight, run, and survive by any means necessary. The epitome of this type of spy is none other than Jason Bourne.

After a botched mission, the Central Intelligence Agency (CIA) is shocked to learn that Jason Bourne (Matt Damon) has survived and now has no memories of who he is. Unfortunately, his training is so deeply ingrained in his mind that he is able to call upon his spy skills to avoid capture. From hand-to-hand combat to professional driving, Bourne uses his talents to escape to the French countryside where he eliminates The Professor (Clive Owen), a sniper sent from the same CIA black ops program Bourne was from to eliminate him. With this new knowledge of Project Treadstone, Bourne heads to the safe house in Paris to confront his handler, Alexander Conklin (Chris Cooper). Upon reaching a modicum of closure, Bourne vanishes into the night, attempting to live a peaceful life as he continues to search for his missing memories.

Year: 2010
Rating: PG-13
Length: 100 minutes / 1.67 hours

Any spy worth their salt (haha) will be able to maintain their cover, even in the most stressing of situations. As we’ve seen in films like Mr. & Mrs. Smith (2005), this cover can go so deep as to keep an individual’s spouse in the dark as to the true nature of their employment. Of course, as we also saw in that movie, once covers are compromised, action ensues in the most extreme fashion possible. Even if a spy’s spouse or significant other isn’t a spy, like in RED (2010), then there’s likely to be a greater chance said spy would need to protect themselves and their loved ones should anything go wrong. Obviously, when things go wrong with a spy, they can go wrong in a big way. There’s a reason these action spies are usually off globetrotting since the fate of the world is often in their capable hands.

Shortly after being rescued from North Korea, Evelyn Salt (Angelina Jolie) admits to her boyfriend that she is actually a CIA agent. Regardless of this, the two of them get married shortly afterward and live happily until two years later when a Russian agent arrives at the CIA and is interrogated by Salt. He tells her about a group of Russian sleeper agents and that she is one of them. Since his testimony is proven correct by a lie detector, Salt needs to immediately escape the CIA compound and head into hiding. Upon learning her husband is kidnapped, she decides to carry out the mission of her sleeper-agent self, killing the Russian President in the process. With her loyalty to the Russians now confirmed, she is given her next assignment: kill the U.S. President. When one of her CIA colleagues reveals himself to be another of the sleeper agents, Salt reveals her actions are a ruse and that she is still loyal to the U.S.

2 sum it up: 2 films, 2 exciting espionage agents

#177. Robert Schwentke

Many directors will tend to stay within their preferred genre when they make films. Some of the more talented directors can direct in multiple genres. Of course, many genres cross many boundaries, making it easy to slip from one into another. However, there are still some genres that are separate enough to require the need for different award categories. These broad genres are those of drama and comedy. Those familiar with the masks of the early Grecian theatre will know that the masks of drama and comedy (i.e., Melpomene and Thalia) are the defining icon of the theatre. Because they require very different acting and directing skills, a director who can successfully direct both dramas and comedies can be a rare find indeed. Robert Schwentke hasn’t directed many films, but those he has have covered both drama and comedy genres. This week’s two movies are from each of these categories.

Year: 2010
Rating: PG-13
Length: 111 minutes / 1.85 hours

Robert Schwentke started his film career in Germany with two films in 2002 and 2003. His second film was Eierdiebe (2003), a comedy about testicular cancer, an ailment he also survived. In 2005, when he started making films in America, Schwentke began showing his skill in adapting other works into his own films. While he has adapted two novels into films, The Time Traveler’s Wife (2009) and Insurgent (2015) (the second film in the Divergent series), he has also adapted two comic books into films. Even though the tone of the original comic books might have been different, Robert Schwentke took a more comedic approach in his adaptations. The latest one of these adaptations was R.I.P.D. (2013), which was a project he was probably given after the success of his first comic book adaptation: RED (2010).

After being attacked in his home by six assassins, Frank Moses (Bruce Willis) figures that the team had tapped his phone, which is why he immediately heads from Cleveland to Kansas City to pick up the woman he’s been talking to a lot on the phone: Sarah Ross (Mary-Louise Parker). Since she only knows him as a retiree who hasn’t been getting his retirement benefits, she isn’t willing to go along with him to find his former associates. Frank essentially takes her hostage and meets up with his mentor, Joe Matheson (Morgan Freeman) in New Orleans. The two of them track down the paranoid Marvin Boggs (John Malkovich), who tells them that they are all part of a hit list based off of a 1981 mission they performed in Guatemala. Now they need to figure out why this particular mission was a trigger for the hit list, as well as keep avoiding the CIA hit-squad led by agent William Cooper (Karl Urban).

The Time Traveler’s WifeThe Time Traveler's Wife
Year: 2009
Rating: PG-13
Length: 107 minutes / 1.78 hours

Balance is key to many areas of our lives, but it can also apply to directing. Schwentke tends to only stay in a particular genre for a maximum of two films, switching to the other genre in a pretty regular pattern. With his breakout German film, Tattoo (2002), he showed that he could excel in directing a suspenseful thriller. This was repeated in 2005 with the American film, Flightplan. However, between these two films, he directed his first comedy film, the aforementioned Eierdiebe. One of the traits of Schwentke’s recent works is that they infuse science fiction. From the sci-fi comedy of R.I.P.D. (2013) to the sci-fi drama of Insurgent, Schwentke has shown his skill of genre mixing. Of course, the first science fiction drama he directed was none other than the adaptation of The Time Traveler’s Wife.

Henry DeTamble (Eric Bana) travels through time at random. As a result, sometimes Henry knows nothing about the situation, whereas other times he knows everything. This is made evident when he met Claire Abshire (Rachel McAdams) in a library in 1991. She tells him that they’ve met multiple times before, even if it’s the first time he ever remembers meeting her. As time passes normally for Claire, their relationship deepens, eventually leading to their marriage. Unfortunately, since he cannot control when he time travels, Henry will sometimes disappear, causing Claire to worry. To make matters worse, his temporal abnormality is genetic, which causes Claire to miscarry a few times due to the baby time traveling. Even though fortune eventually smiles on the couple with a pregnancy, Henry is killed a few years after their daughter’s birth through a freak time traveling incident.

2 sum it up: 2 films, 2 Robert Schwentke genres

#176. Bruce Willis

There are action heroes who just brute force their way through situations, then there are action heroes who think before they act. While the likes of Arnold Schwarzenegger and Sylvester Stallone are likely to fall into the first category, Bruce Willis would definitely be the thinking man’s action hero. Of course, he’s been in so many action films that even just a cameo appearance in a movie will immediately reference the other movies from his repertoire. In fact, even some of his more recent action films have been pretty tongue-in-cheek, knowing most of his career has been filled with explosions and bullets. That’s not to say Bruce Willis hasn’t acted in non-action films, as they are the minority of his body of work. This week’s two movies show that not much has changed in 20+ years of Bruce Willis action.

Die HardDie Hard
Year: 1988
Rating: R
Length: 131 minutes / 2.18 hours

Even though Bruce Willis had been acting since 1980, his breakout role in Die Hard (1988) really defined his work from then on. Considering the number of sequels featuring Willis’ John McClane, one wonders how one man could be so unlucky as to be caught in as many terrorist attacks. Even though the official franchise consists of Die Hard 2 (1990), Die Hard with a Vengeance (1995), Live Free or Die Hard (2007), and A Good Day to Die Hard (2013), the persona of John McClane is so closely tied to Bruce Willis that it’s almost implied in every other film he acts in. Of course, the real trick to the success of the Die Hard franchise is to not take it too seriously. It’s action for entertainment’s sake, even down to the quippy lines of dialogue given by John McClane, the most famous of which is a staple of the series.

John McClane (Bruce Willis) has the fortunate chance of being out of the room when a group of German thieves takes over the entire Nakatomi Plaza building. Because he wasn’t in the room, McClane was not taken hostage by the group led by Hans Gruber (Alan Rickman). This gives him a chance to take out the muscle of the team, one by one, gaining control over the planned heist piece by piece. After obtaining a radio to communicate, a load of C-4, and C-4 detonators, McClane attracts the attention of the Los Angeles Police Department, who send a SWAT team into the building with an armored car. Unfortunately, this attempt, as well as an attempted landing on the helipad, are thwarted by Gruber. The only person standing between Gruber and his $640 million in bearer bonds is the thorn in his side: the “cowboy,” John McClane.

Year: 2010
Rating: PG-13
Length: 111 minutes / 1.85 hours

Aside from the action genre, Bruce Willis has actually been in quite a few comedies. From voicing one of the babies in Look Who’s Talking (1989) and Look Who’s Talking Too (1990), to a nerdy doctor in Death Becomes Her (1992), to a police captain on a small island in Moonrise Kingdom (2012), Willis has a good sense of comedy, tempered by his extensive action career. With the rise of films based on comic books and graphic novels, Bruce Willis has had his hand in a few adaptations, including a part in the two Sin City films. The film which combines the comic book adaptation and the aforementioned comedy and action genres is that of RED (2010). Even though it differs from its source material, with an excellent A-list cast, RED was almost destined to be a comedy. In fact, it was so successful, it garnered a sequel three years later.

Imagine what happens to all the skilled CIA agents when they retire: do their skills just disappear? Well, Frank Moses (Bruce Willis) is just such a retired CIA agent, trying to adjust to a quiet life in Cleveland. This dull life is made a little more bearable by his frequent calls to the GSA pension office to talk with Sarah Ross (Mary-Louise Parker). In a moment of excitement, six assassins infiltrate Frank’s home, causing him to kill them and head off to Kansas City to pick up Sarah. While she was unwilling to come along, Frank brings her to a variety of other cities to meet up with contacts from his past work. As the team gathers together, they find they are being targeted due to an operation they performed in 1981. Now that they know they are targeted, the team of retired specialists takes the fight to those who want them dead.

2 sum it up: 2 films, 2 badass Bruce Willis characters

Bacon #: 2 (Mercury Rising / Jack Conley -> Apollo 13 / Kevin Bacon)

#140. Morgan Freeman

Chances are, now that you’ve started reading this post, you’re probably imagining Morgan Freeman narrating it. While this soothing, informative voice has narrated many movies before, it wasn’t until 2005’s March of the Penguins that this actor really became known for his narrating ability. This doesn’t mean that Morgan Freeman can’t act; in fact, it’s quite to the contrary. Having performed for over 50 years, Morgan Freeman has been in some of the most celebrated films of the late 20th Century. From Best Pictures like Million Dollar Baby (2004) and Unforgiven (1992) to cult classics like The Shawshank Redemption (1994) and Se7en (1995), Morgan Freeman has been in a lot of films (even including some less-successful ones). This week’s two movies examine two different sides of Morgan Freeman’s career.

Now You See MeNow You See Me
Year: 2013
Rating: PG-13
Length: 115 minutes / 1.92 hours

For the last 30 years, Morgan Freeman has been in a movie almost every year (with the exceptions being 1986 and 1999). Recently, he has been in multiple films, sometimes appearing in up to five different movies a year. Considering that most actors decrease their amount of work as they get older, Morgan Freeman has aged so gracefully and fits so many roles flawlessly that it would almost be stupid to stop acting at this point. And even though he is doing more narration work on this end of his career, he still manages to get key roles in film franchises. Most notably, he portrayed Lucius Fox, Batman’s equipment and tech support guru, in Christopher Nolan’s Dark Knight saga. Another great fit for him was playing Nelson Mandela in Invictus (2009), an obvious choice considering his close resemblance to the South African leader.

In Now You See Me (2013), Freeman plays Thaddeus Bradley, the magician’s worst nightmare. Bradley has made a fortune selling DVDs where he cracks open the illusions of other magicians and shows the world the secrets behind the tricks. As a result, he is pulled in as a consultant to help the FBI and Interpol catch four magicians who call themselves the “Four Horsemen.” They have managed to rob a bank in Paris during their show in Las Vegas. While the Horsemen are always one step ahead of the investigators, Bradley helps narrow the gap. By this time, there’s speculation that a “fifth horseman” might be helping the group from the inside. And yet, in retaliation for an event which helped define Bradley’s career as a spoiler of magic, he ends up being framed as the “fifth horseman” for assisting the Horsemen in their capers.

Driving Miss DaisyDriving Miss Daisy
Year: 1989
Rating: PG
Length: 99 minutes / 1.65 hours

Another Best Picture that Morgan Freeman performed in was 1989’s Driving Miss Daisy. What’s perhaps more strange is that, while he has won many other awards, he’s only won one Oscar for acting. That’s not to say he hasn’t been nominated. In fact, he’s been nominated four times over the length of his career. While you’d think he would win for Best Actor in Driving Miss Daisy, The Shawshank Redemption, or Invictus, his only Oscar was for Best Supporting Actor in Million Dollar Baby. And yet, because he is African American, Morgan Freeman has excelled in many roles dealing with racism. From the Civil War piece, Glory (1989), to the South African rugby championship in Invictus, Freeman has managed to handle these roles with grace and a sense of solemn power. Driving Miss Daisy is no exception to this.

During the civil rights movement of the 1960s, change is still slow in the south, but even more so for the older generations who have been set in their racist ways for a long time. When it becomes evident that Daisy Werthan (Jessica Tandy) cannot drive, her son Boolie (Dan Aykroyd) hires Hoke Colburn (Morgan Freeman) as a chauffeur for her. Even though Daisy is resistant to the idea, eventually she learns more about Hoke and begins to accept him. As a retired teacher, Daisy puts it upon herself to teach Hoke to read once she finds he’s illiterate. Unfortunately, racism doesn’t just affect the blacks, it also affects the Jews, which Daisy learns when her synagogue is bombed. Eventually, Daisy has deteriorated to the point where she needs to be put in a retirement home. Even so, when Hoke retires many years later, she still remembers their time together fondly.

2 sum it up: 2 films, 2 fantastic Freeman roles

Bacon #: 1 (Eastwood Directs: The Untold Story / Kevin Bacon)