Judge Clark Douglas sat at the keyboard, and behold, a new review was Bourne.
Our reviews of The Bourne Files: 3-Disc Collection (published August 3rd, 2007), The Bourne Identity (published February 17th, 2003), The Bourne Identity (Blu-Ray / DVD) (published January 29th, 2010), The Bourne Identity: Explosive Extended Edition (published August 10th, 2004), The Bourne Identity (HD DVD) (published August 3rd, 2007), The Bourne Supremacy (published December 20th, 2004), The Bourne Supremacy (Blu-Ray / DVD) (published January 20th, 2010), The Bourne Trilogy (Blu-Ray) (published January 27th, 2009), The Bourne Ultimatum (published December 17th, 2007), The Bourne Ultimatum (HD DVD) (published December 22nd, 2007), and Universal 100th Anniversary Collection (Blu-ray) (published November 26th, 2012) are also available.
It's time to get Bourne again.
"Everything I found out, I want to forget."
Facts of the Case
These three films present the saga of Jason Bourne (Matt Damon, Syriana), unwitting super-spy. Despite the potentially amusing possibilities the concept presents, this is not a comedy series. In fact, you'll be hard-pressed to find action movies more humorless than the Bourne films, which are the very definition of no-nonsense action movies. In The Bourne Identity, Jason attempts to discover who he is and why he is suddenly being hunted by some very dangerous people. By the end of that film it seems all is settled, but in The Bourne Supremacy, rough guys are hunting Mr. Bourne once again. Jason takes a more aggressive approach this time around, attempting to dig his way to the truth of the matter. Finally, The Bourne Ultimatum follows Jason down a very action-packed path as he finally makes The Big Discovery about his past.
I must confess, I'm a bit less enthusiastic about the Bourne series than some, while simultaneously having a certain amount of admiration for the films. They are unrelenting, well-oiled machines, with little time for things like complexity, humor, or romance (despite the presence of Bourne's female companion, played by Franka Potente in The Bourne Identity). Matt Damon gives us a sharp, humorless, straightforward hero. Despite discussions of what may have been a part of his past, you always know where you stand with this guy. He's a serious bulldog.
Perhaps unsurprisingly, my favorite moments are often the small beams of tender humanity that occasionally peek through the cracks of these relentless movies. From the first film, the brief conversation between Bourne and The Professor (Clive Owen, Sin City) in the middle of the field: "Look at what they make you give." From the second film, there's that surprisingly heartfelt apology scene at the end, which would have made a better closing note than the little, "Hey Joan Allen, I'm talking to you on the phone and looking at you at the same time, ha-ha-ha," bit.
Damon's performance is a little more complex in the second film than it is in the first, but perhaps that is intentional. The same goes for Brian Cox (Deadwood), who brings a lot more range to his role than he did in the first film (where he was a bit robotic). Joan Allen (Nixon) makes a nice addition to the cast in the second film, and there are quite a few times when the movie makes her the center of attention, perhaps because she makes the best default protagonist when Bourne is busy going through his emotional flashbacks and moments of pondering.
I think that the plot of the first film is a little more engaging on a basic level. Guy loses his memory, he doesn't know who he is, who is chasing him, why they are chasing him, why he has all these remarkable abilities…it draws you in very quickly and holds you. The second film probably has stronger individual moments, but doesn't hold up as well overall. For one thing, there's just a few too many cliched moments in the second: bad guy simply assumes that Bourne is dead without checking, Bourne tapes a conversation with a bad guy…lots of little things like that make the film feel a little less smart than it pretends to be. And that car chase is a little underwhelming, because of the jerky way in which it is edited, and because it comes a little too late in the film. Doug Liman handled action with a little bit more confidence and snap.
However, I'm of the opinion that the first two flicks are both trumped by the third outing. Action junkies may be a bit disappointed to hear that there are essentially only three action sequences in The Bourne Ultimatum. I suspect that they will be relieved to discover that those action sequences take up approximately 93% of the film's running time. The film goes like this: big action sequence, brief pause, big action sequence, brief pause, big action sequence, extended dramatic scene, conclusion. It's all done with jittery cinematography, cameras bobbling around everywhere while cut after cut after cut is made very quickly. On paper, it sounds like precisely the sort of action movie that would irritate me. However, that is not the case here. I found The Bourne Ultimatum nothing short of thrilling. Director Paul Greengrass, who did a merely respectable job on the previous film, is once again in charge of things here. He has certainly raised his game to a new level as an action director. The long, seemingly endless action sequences are like symphonies of chaos, as every single cut, flash and jump is carefully orchestrated towards reaching a great deal of frenzied excitement.
Most of the performances are pretty routine for the actors involved, but the actual casting is the most important element, anyway. Anyone can speak secret agent lingo with terse, quick officialism, but some have a way of making such dialogue seem more credible than others. Scott Glenn (The Silence of the Lambs), Joan Allen, and David Strathairn (Good Night and Good Luck) are such people. Strathairn in particular impresses here, for some reason he reminded me of a vicious, well-trained Doberman, absolutely determined to accomplish his goal no matter what. Albert Finney (Big Fish) only has a brief portion of screen time, but he makes the most of it by becoming the only person in the movie who steps outside the realm of technical talk and really levels with us. Finally, Matt Damon had brought a certain perfection to his role as an indestructible force by this point.
The movie has an insane energy, rolling quickly to nowhere in particular. Though Jason Bourne is absolutely determined to make it to the finish line, he doesn't always seem to know what will be at the finish line when he gets there. The conclusion of the film, though perhaps a little too open-ended, makes a spectacular finish to the series, and even includes a touching reference to the finest scene of the first film. The movie does a lot of globe-trotting, but takes the least amount of time showing off it's locations as any globe-trotting flick in recent memory. As a film about the corruption of the government and the origins of one of it's most dangerous creations, it's just okay. But that is not its purpose. As director Greengrass says, "It's just a Saturday night movie." So it is. One heck of a Saturday night movie.
The transfer on all three films is fairly respectable, with The Bourne Ultimatum impressing the most. It's a pretty rich-looking effort, and The Bourne Supremacy isn't far behind. However, the image on The Bourne Identity is a bit flat at times, and blacks aren't quite as rich and deep. The audio is solid on all three releases, with the increasingly ambitious John Powell scores rocking pretty hard. The sound design on all three movies is genuinely impressive, particularly on Ultimatum. Of course, none of this is new information, as this isn't a re-release or a double-dip as much as it is a blatant repackaging…
The Rebuttal Witnesses
Other than some nice box art, there is nothing new here. Absolutely nothing. A while back, a box set of all three films was released as The Jason Bourne Collection. One disc was dedicated to each film, and a fourth disc contained extra supplemental features. That set contained some nice packaging and some cool physical extras. Here, the first three discs have simply been placed in slimline plastic DVD cases and tossed in a cheap cardboard box. The good news is that the set can be purchased for only $25. The bad news is that you really don't need to, unless you have not purchased the films individually. The supplements here have all been featured on previous DVD releases, and they aren't really all that great, anyway. If you're a fan of discovering what goes into creating an action scene, there is a lot to feast on, but much of the filmmaking process is neglected on all three films, with a heavy emphasis on technical tidbits. This even extends to the commentaries with Doug Liman and Paul Greengrass (particularly the former).
This absolutely pointless double-dip offers these three entertaining films at an attractive price. That's really all there is to the release, and whether or not it will be of any value to you is entirely determined by whether or not you own any of these films.
The set is guilty is failing to provide anything new, but the sentence is
reduced to time served thanks to the affordable price tag. The films are not
guilty. Court is adjourned.
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What's "fair"? Whether positive or negative, our reviews should be unbiased, informative, and critique the material on its own merits.
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