Wednesday, 12 December 2007
THE BOURNE ULTIMATUM
The Bourne Ultimatum (2007) dir. Paul Greengrass
Starring: Matt Damon, David Strathairn. Joan Allen, Julia Stiles
“The Bourne Ultimatum” arrives on DVD this week. On second glance it’s still bad-ass. In "Supremacy" Bourne was framed and targeted for death, this time he's doing the chasing – from Russia to Europe to Africa and North America he’s got a death wish to avenge his forsaken life. It's one of the best films of the year. Let's hope critics have the courage to put a ballsout action film like this on their top ten lists.
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 evades the Russian police and disappears, but as we all know he’s still in search of the old Bourne, and so he doesn't stay in hiding for long.
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. Strathairn is the last in a long line of fantastic character actors cast in this role (Chris Cooper and Brian Cox being the others).
The film, and the series as a whole, feels like “The French Connection” – basically one long chase film with very little breathing time in between – like a 24 episode on speed. 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. There’s nothing Bourne can’t handle – whether it’s fighting hand to hand to the death, driving motorcycles or cars, Bourne takes care of business with panache. The car chase scene doesn’t quite top the climatic scene in “The Bourne Supremacy” but the rooftop chase makes up for it. My favourite scene though is Bourne guiding Ross through a busy London station while evading the CIA surveillance operatives. Greengrass filmed it in public with real bystanders. 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.
Like the films the DVD is unpretentious – It’s a one-disker, without a “special edition” or “director’s cut” label, but it contains an informative commentary track from Greengrass as well as a series of fine behind-the-scenes featurettes about the making of the best scenes in the film. And if you want to know how they achieved the fantastic jump through the window stunt in Tangier, it’s there.
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 best spy series ever made. Enjoy.