The Bourne Ultimatum

At the end of a long and bruising car chase in The Bourne Ultimatum, the cars come to a smashing halt, and the camera vibrates as if from the impact and continues vibrating for a few seconds. Behind me, people complained about the near-incessant “shakycam” technique employed by the director, Paul Greengrass. Though he’s only recently vaulted to international success with United 93 and this film’s predecessor The Bourne Supremacy, Greengrass is no young upstart who whips his handheld around out of filmmaking ADD — he’ll turn 52 this month. Obviously the tremulous, stress-inducing (and, for some, nausea-inducing) technique expresses a forceful you-are-there aesthetic for Greengrass; he used it to brutal effect in United 93. But those, like me, who appreciate clarity in action sequences may feel the same visual impact could be attained by filming a blender for two hours.

In The Bourne Ultimatum, the tormented ex-agent Jason Bourne (Matt Damon), pursued by the CIA and by “deep cover” spooks who claim full authority to kill, gets closer to the truth of who he is. Diamond-hard and close-cropped, Damon is all business in the Bourne movies, yet he understands how to smuggle in small flickers of doubt, remorse, frailty. Jason may be running on autopilot — at this point, he’s a bunch of nerve endings humming entirely on instinct — but Damon isn’t; he provides a quiet, assured center for these hyperactive movies, in which the camera zips madly around the room even during simple conversations.

Gray-haired eminence David Strathairn, as a merciless head spook, stands in a control room and rattles off orders, most of which bounce right off the cool blonde Joan Allen, as the ethical CIA director. The clenched sparring between Strathairn and Allen — he’s almost dashing, she’s never more sultry than when she’s long-haired and hard-bitten in these Bourne flicks — is the closest the film comes to romance. Jason, meanwhile, pairs off with Julia Stiles, a baby Joan Allen, as the junior agent from the previous films. When Stiles dyes and crops her hair late in the game, just like Jason’s doomed paramour (played by Franka Potente in the first two Bournes), Damon permits Jason a tiny expression of 404: Page Not Found before he clicks out of his emotional browser and gets down to business again.

The Bourne movies are about pursuit and assault; they’re perpetual-motion machines. As such, they entertain inside the moment but leave you with few leftovers. A sequence in which Strathairn’s goon squad tracks Bourne and a journalist through some of the most densely busy parts of London is a taut, dizzying triumph of suspense and narrowly-averted disaster — hats off to editor Christopher Rouse, who keeps the events skipping along maliciously. The hand-to-hand fight scenes have a certain feral nastiness; Greengrass and cinematographer Oliver Wood manage to give the impression of bone-splintering force without actually showing much of it. And then there are the vehicular bits — motorcycle, car — which really test the mettle of one’s stomach. Greengrass makes a car chase look high-speed and terrifying, something we wouldn’t want to try at home — admirably realistic, perhaps, but it takes some of the fun out.

I like the idea of the Bourne movies more than I like the actual movies. I don’t begrudge anyone’s enjoyment of them. But such high skill and intelligence go into these films, along with an up-to-the-minute mood of ominous paranoia about what really goes on behind closed doors, that the end result — an embittered, whittled-down spy vs. spy story — feels undercooked and underachieving. These are essentially 007 movies for Generation X, grounded in drab, coffee-cup-laden offices and preoccupied with questions of identity. They’re worth it for Matt Damon, who does small, delicate work when he’s not throwing people down flights of stairs, and Joan Allen, that wicked woman with a Puritan’s name, who single-handedly makes any movie smarter and sexier.

Explore posts in the same categories: action/adventure, sequel, thriller

One Comment on “The Bourne Ultimatum”

  1. Imagini Says:

    Having not seen the previous two in the trilogy of Bourne movies, I was a little reluctant to watch The Bourne Ultimatum.

    However it was a very thrilling experience and I didn’t have the problem of not understanding what was happening due to not seeing the first two films. Each part of the story was easy to understand and I fell in love with The Bourne Ultimatum before it had reached the interval! I don’t think I have ever watched such an exquisitely made, and gripping film, especially an action film. Since I usually shy away from action and thriller type movies, this was such great news to me. Ultimatum is one of the most enthralling films, it grabs your attention from the first second till the last minute before the credits roll.

    Matt Damon was simply fantastic as his role as Jason Bourne. I’ve heard a lot about his great performances in the Bourne 1+2, and now, this fabulous actor has one more to add to his list. I look forward to seeing more of his movies in the future.

    The stunts were handled with style – each one was done brilliantly and I was just shocked by the impressiveness of this movie. Well done.

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