The Bourne Ultimatum
2007Director: Paul Greengrass
Cast: Joan Allen, Matt Damon, David Strathairn
t's easy to see why audiences love John McClane, Indiana Jones, and California's Gubernatorial Mandroid, Ahnold. They're out saving the world with a smile, continually risking life and limb for the sake of truth, justice and clever one-liners. And yet it's the sullen, tortured soul of Jason Bourne, the amnesiac CIA operative who's spawned two multimillion-dollar sensations, that garners some of the most rabid devotion among action fans. It's an odd thing, considering that Bourne is less concerned with fighting Nazis and warlords than he is with foiling American bureaucrats. And even then, the fall of various government big shots is usually a mere byproduct of Bourne's desire to probe his own twisted past, and not because it would give him an opportunity to use the words “Get out of my plane” in everyday conversation.
Okay, so the guy also knows kung-fu and drives Mini-Coopers down stairwells so maybe I shouldn't be at all surprised by America's enthrallment with Jason Bourne. But still, I think there is something else at work here. Perhaps he captivates us because his ambitions are more like our own. Bourne's quest is ultimately one of self-discovery, proving that it's just as hard to save your soul as it is to save the world. And we never have to question why he puts himself in harm's way because his wondering eyes tell the whole story.
In The Bourne Ultimatum, the third and probably final film of the series, Bourne's trip down memory lane brings him to Moscow, London, Tangier, and New York City. Armed once again with a hand-held camera and a hair-trigger in the editing room, director Paul Greengrass crafts what is essentially one long exhilarating chase scene, vastly improving on the winded and needlessly confusing second installment, The Bourne Supremacy. Along the way, Bourne encounters old acquaintances (Joan Allen, Julia Styles) and new enemies (David Strathairn, Albert Finney), all of whom are bathed in pale light and adorned with muted colors, emphasizing a sense of realism that has rarely been executed so well, let alone in an action movie. Like Casino Royale a year earlier, The Bourne Ultimatum deftly manages to get under your skin while still going over the top.
The film picks up where its predecessor left off with the wounded Bourne running from Moscow police after the chase scene that ended Supremacy. Before he can even catch a breath, he begins to see flashes of a nefarious-looking doctor (Finney) asking, “Are you ready to commit to the program?” followed by a vision of Bourne himself being held underwater with a bag over his head. Fairly certain that this memory will lead him to the origin of his involvement with Treadwell, the CIA Black Ops program that once employed him, Bourne hops on a train to get some alone-time with his thoughts.
As promised by early reports, the rest of the film is basically non-stop action and suspense, culminating in a wonderful demolition derby of a car chase that's as destructive as anything in Transformers (and way more fun). About the only respite from all the heart-pounding carnage comes from the CIA control room of Black Ops director Noah Vosen (Strathairn), always one step behind Bourne at every turn. Strathairn gives Vosen a chilling formality that pervades his every wicked endeavor. Never before has ordering a kill on an innocent civilian seemed so commonplace (or disturbing).
The majority of the action sequences are merely more refined, better-executed renditions of the fights and chases seen in earlier Bourne flicks. But there is one scene that deserves special note here. After discovering the location of Simon Ross, Bourne asks to meet him in Waterloo Station. With the CIA already hot on Ross's tail, Bourne must guide him via cell phone instructions through the massive crowds and out of sight of his assailants. The scene is a tour-de-force of hand-held camera-work and maverick editing that serves as an answer to anyone whose biggest criticism of Supremacy was its shaky cinematography and dizzying cut-frequency. To watch Greengrass use sight and sound to balance Ross's paranoia with Bourne's confident intensity is to witness one of the best young directors at the top of his game.
Toward the last fifteen minutes or so, Ultimatum does begin to feel a little conventional, offering up a couple textbook action movie lines and a last-minute twist that's as predictable as it is unnecessary. But the film's studio-sanctioned conclusion does little to diminish the thrilling set-pieces, superb acting, and dynamic camera-work of what precedes it. More thoughtful than Identity and less dull than Supremacy, The Bourne Ultimatum is not only the best of the series; it's also the best action movie of the summer.
The Bourne Ultimatum is currently in wide release.
By: David Holmes
Published on: 2007-08-06