DAILY FILM DOSE: A Daily Film Appreciation and Review Blog: THE BOURNE ULTIMATUM

Wednesday 8 August 2007


The Bourne Ultimatum (2007) dir. Paul Greengrass
Starring: Matt Damon, David Strathairn. Joan Allen, Julia Stiles


“The Bourne Ultimatum” is bad-ass. It’s a red hot, non-stop thrill ride from beginning to end. It jumps into the story where the second one left off and tracks a downhill course that gains speed all the way to the end. It’s a rare series where the films get better and better with each chapter.


Few sequels start minutes after the previous film ended. (“Halloween II” is like that, any others?). Jason Bourne is in Moscow moments after stumbling out of Irene Neski’s apartment. He’s being tracked by the local police who corner him in a public washroom. Despite the injury he fights them off, and just before killing one of them he stops and lets him go. This is the new Jason Bourne – the post amnesia Bourne – the one with a conscience. As we all know he’s still in search of the old Bourne, the one who would have killed that officer in the blink of an eye.

While on a train ride to Paris he reads an article about himself in the paper, written by a London journalist Simon Ross (Paddy Considine). The unnamed source of information in the article piques his interest as the man who can answer all his questions. But with the CIA tracking Ross as well, Bourne once again is tempting fate by throwing himself into the fire. Cause and effect events spillover from there as Bourne finally tracks down the source of all his fractured memories and reconciles his past.

Pamela Landy (Joan Allen) is hot on his trail again, but this time under the command of Senior Official Noah Vosen (David Strathairn) – another steely-eyed acerbic pencil-pusher. Over the course of the series, after Chris Cooper and Brian Cox, the producers have cast three of the best character actors around for that role.

The film, and the series as a whole, feels like “The French Connection” – basically one long chase film with very little breathing time – like a 24 episode on speed. Sometimes it’s the CIA chasing Bourne, sometimes it’s reversed. The details of the surveillance techniques are well thought out and highly plausible, as compared with, say, the hackers in “Live Free or Die Hard”. The control room scenes with Landy and Vosen’s crack team of tech-spies is impressive. One of the key ingredients to the believability of the series is the intelligence of its minor characters. It’s like a chess match, or psychological case of game theory. Who can predict whose moves the fastest and strike first. It’s a spy vs. spy, battle of the brains.

Bourne has the brawn too. The hand-to-hand fight scene is brutally violent and had me cutting off the blood circulation to my wife’s hand. There’s a wicked-awesome chase through streets of Tangier, which starts off as a motorcycle chase, then turns into a running chase over the roofs of the buildings. The car chase scene doesn’t quite top the climatic scene in “The Bourne Supremacy” but it comes very close. My favourite scene though is Bourne guiding Ross through a busy London station while evading the CIA surveillance operatives. Greengrass apparently filmed it in public with real bystanders. And I believe it, it’s a masterful piece of choreography. Greengrass again employs his handheld camera, but it’s important to note that the effect is indeed dizzying but it’s never confusing. The sense of geography of the area is always there. He’s a supremely talented director, who deserves another Oscar nod – why not? They gave one to William Friedkin.

I advise watching Bourne II before watching Bourne III, there is a clever overlap between the two films, which you may not catch if it’s not fresh in your memory. It’s just one minor point which most people probably missed, but it adds more intelligence to already the smartest spy series ever made. After watching these three films, I don’t have a desire to see anymore Bond films. The high bar for the genre has been set, and I don’t think Martin Campbell or Marc Forster, or whoever they choose to reboot the credibility of the series will top these films. Enjoy.


Anonymous said...

The film editors had to have been on Dramamine. I disliked the shaky camera and the half obscured views. I can understand a partially blocked view if there is a point to it. Like to represent some surreptitious filming but to have the camera view blocked by intervening objects, thus bring to the forefront that the character is being filmed, i.e. that they are actually actors doing a job, seems counterproductive. I would think the goal is to get the audience to forget that they are watching a crafted production and have them suspend disbelief and get involved in the story. The stylized camera work did the opposite. I was constantly reminded that the camera was purposely obscured with blurry objects for no reason but style, like look at this I’m blocking half the shot. Aren’t I cleaver? I found it very irritating. This was the weakest of the three Bourne films with the action sequences shot in a way that obscured what was actually happening. I don’t like the jittering hand-held camera and extreme close-ups. I think it detracts from the movie. Maybe it makes the cinematography easier since shots don’t have to be composed, just move that camera in and most of the filming could be done in a broom closet. “The DaVinci Code” sucked for the some reason. Also the 21st century deus ex machina of computers was abundantly evident. A couple of keystrokes can replace intelligent writing easily plus the computers can be fickle and reveal all if needed while being conspicuously absent when suspense is needed. Matt Damon was good in his role, looking serious and troubled, and he was effective in the fight sequences, as far as I could tell. Joan Allen was very good as an intelligent mature woman, rare to see in the bimbo age of movies. David Strathairn, who I typically like, was too much of a cliché for my tastes. A standout was Julie Stiles. She had this tight lipped intelligent look. You could just see the wheels turning as she analyzed each situation I believed she was an intelligence operative who was trained to keep secrets and revealing very little of what she was feeling. She was great. Albert Finney did a competent job in another clichéd role. It seems that in these movies the idealistic, good people are young and the bastardly, manipulators are all old fogies. I would rate this movie as a weak 7 out of 10 on the basis of the strong performance of Ms. Stiles and Mr. Damon and on the basis of a continued compelling story. The camera work downgraded my rating.


Anonymous said...

Greengrass ruined the second installment in the series. I haven't watched Ultimatum yet but from the previous post, it looks like he has ruined it as well.