John Wayne is back. He’s Matt Damon (Jason Bourne in “Green Zone”)


Matt Damon is kicking new butts in the heavily promoted “Green Zone,” from the Bourne team.  We had the feature-length adaptation of Robert Ludlum’s “The Bourne Identity” in 2002.  Jason Bourne is a bad ass government contract killer, but not so much in “Green Zone.”  Mr. Damon even said, in some behind-the-scenes DVD item, that Bourne is “the world’s biggest ass-kicker.”  And then we got “Supremacy” and “Ultimatum.”

I like it.  I might even love it.  This is some 15-years after the nuanced and complex mini-series adaptation of the Ludlum novel with Richard Chamberlain as a more realistically seasoned Bourne in 1988.

Matt Damon/Jason Bourne in "Green Zone"

John Wayne is back.  He’s Matt Damon.  But do we need a new John Wayne; a 21-century reincarnation?

In a way I suspect that the story pitch for the “Green Zone” was much like the “one man-against-all” action movies were after “Die Hard” hit: “It’s Die-Hard’ on a boat, on a bus, on a…you-name-it.”  Jason Bourne and Matt Damon represent a franchise that seems to have primed itself to venture beyond the original Ludlum-inspired constraints.  Just consider what “The Wall Street Journal’s” Joe Morgenstern wrote about the “Zone” being thrills and “speechifying.” It pushes beyond the “ordinary man in extraordinary circumstances” narrative model that so any filmmakers have exploited.  I feel for those viewers who have not yet watched Hitchcock’s “North by Northwest.”

North Americans like John Wayne because he represented many of the majority’s values.  In a studio promotion piece, Mr. Wayne once commented that he had created a character that audiences loved and connected with.  That he represented high-quality, national values.  For example Mr. Wayne said that he was “not petty.”

John Wayne in "The Searchers"

The potential problem, in having a new or recast Wayne-type icon, is the extent to which that icon ignored our world’s or even that era’s contemporary complexity.  He was hot for at least a generation: from the 1950s and into 1970s.  That was smack dab in the middle of the Civil Rights movement, the Women’s Movement and several others.  While John Wayne’s values were…valuable, they were isolated from those realities.

What truly seems to seal the creation of Damon’s iconography as our new John Wayne, even more than pushing Damon’s character in “Green Zone” as Bourne-like, is that he anticipates remaking “True Grit” with the Coen Brothers.  We don’t yet know if he’ll play the Wayne character.

As a side note, if you think about it (and I hadn’t and don’t recommend it.), even with pit stops in Tangiers or in India, Jason Bourne’s world largely omits brown, black, or beige characters.  Spike Lee made a fascinating point about John Wayne’s iconography and mythology, while he and screenwriter, James McBride, discussed the 2008 film “Miracle at St. Anna” as a part of The New York Public Library’s “Hollywood Visionaries” series on Fora.Tv.

Jason Bourne in "Green Zone"

Percolate on that.

You know what would be fun?!  I want to see a cool, crisp, progressive, and classic brown or black (or even an ethnically ambiguous) version of Jason Bourne.  That would be fun, and an opportunity to introduce a whole new icon.

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