Judge Ben Saylor wonders what's next for Jason Bourne. "Ex-CIA assassin" doesn't look good on a resume.
Our reviews of The Bourne Trilogy (published November 4th, 2008), The Bourne Trilogy (Blu-Ray) (published January 27th, 2009), and The Bourne Ultimatum (HD DVD) (published December 22nd, 2007) are also available.
Remember Everything. Forgive Nothing.
The Bourne Identity, very loosely based on the Robert Ludlum novel of the same name, became a surprise hit in the summer of 2002. With the film, the talents of director Doug Liman (Mr. and Mrs. Smith), screenwriters Tony Gilroy and W. Blake Herron, and star Matt Damon (The Good Shepherd) coalesced to create an intelligent, enjoyable spy thriller that was also a wonderful antidote to the James Bond movie of that year, the dreadful Die Another Day. A successful sequel, The Bourne Supremacy, followed in 2004. Now under the guidance of helmer Paul Greengrass (United 93), the series only improved upon its first installment and provided the setup for 2007's The Bourne Ultimatum, which, while certainly not a bad film, nevertheless is the weakest link in this exceptional trilogy.
Facts of the Case
Amnesiac ex-CIA assassin Jason Bourne (Matt Damon) has been on the run for three years. With some crucial documents from a Brit journalist (Paddy Considine, Cinderella Man) and his own increasingly clear memories to guide him, Bourne begins to piece together his dark past. But the CIA has not forgotten about their former employee, and while some (Joan Allen's Pamela Landy) want to help him, others (David Straithairn's Noah Vosen) want him dead.
The Bourne Ultimatum begins with Bourne on the run and never lets up on that momentum throughout its 106-minute (sans credits) runtime. In a way, the entire film is one long chase; Bourne rarely gets a moment to sit down and catch his breath. There are a few brief scenes of exposition to bring viewers up to speed on what happened in Supremacy, but these go by quickly and certainly do not bog the story down.
One of the high points of the Bourne franchise is its use of international locations, and Ultimatum is no different in this regard as we see our hero travel through Berlin (standing in for Moscow), London, Paris, Madrid, and Tangier. The ever-changing scenery, in addition to being fun to look at, helps ratchet up the tension and propel the story forward.
Director Paul Greengrass' presence on this film is another plus. While his
jumpy handheld camera style and short shot lengths are the source of frustration
to many (and he does go overboard a bit in both Supremacy and
Ultimatum), these stylistic choices are really an asset to these movies.
If you want long takes and meticulously framed compositions, go watch a Stanley
Kubrick film. (Even if you don't mind Greengrass' style, watch some Kubrick
anyway.) And this style is especially important to Ultimatum, whose pace
is much quicker than either of its predecessors. Thankfully, Greengrass knows
when to pull back, and in quieter moments, such as Bourne's conversation with
the brother of his dead girlfriend Marie, he settles this style down.
Joan Allen is also deserving of praise for her fine work as CIA agent Pamela Landy. Her strongly written character is compassionate in the sense that she feels Bourne may not be the threat everyone else thinks he is, but she is by no means soft, efficiently giving orders to a team of CIA techies and going toe-to-toe with Noah Vosen. In other words, it's a perfect part for a talented actress like Allen, and she takes the role seriously, not as a paycheck job.
Universal has put together a very good DVD package for The Bourne Ultimatum. I was impressed with both the image and sound of the disc, and the special features all help shed light on the process of making the film. First up is a feature commentary with Greengrass. While he has a tendency to lavish praise on pretty much everyone involved in the film, he nevertheless delivers an interesting commentary with very few gaps in the track. There is also about 12 minutes of deleted scenes, which unfortunately play without an introduction or menu. The longest featurette is "Man on the Move: Jason Bourne," which runs almost 24 minutes and offers behind-the-scenes footage and interviews regarding the different exotic locales the film was filmed in; specifically, Berlin, Paris, London, Madrid, and Tangier. You can select one at a time or play them all. This was probably my favorite extra on this disc since the globetrotting nature of this franchise has always been one of my favorite things about it. Also included are the shorter "Rooftop Pursuit," which gives a good behind-the-scenes look at the Tangier chase; "Planning the Punches," a brief look at the preparation for the Tangier fight between Bourne and Desh (Joey Ansah); "Driving School," a throwaway extra of Damon practicing his driving; and "New York Chase," which is pretty self-explanatory. While it's a shame that these aren't longer, for the most part, they're informative and also shine the spotlight on unsung industry professionals such as second unit director Dan Bradley. The Bourne Ultimatum has some of the best chase/action sequences in the trilogy (I'm thinking of the Waterloo Station sequence and the Tangier chase specifically), and it's Bradley and his team that we have to thank for that.
The Rebuttal Witnesses
The Bourne Ultimatum differs from its immediate predecessor in that the plot is more straightforward; unlike the multi-faceted narrative of Supremacy, this one is about one thing and one thing only: Bourne finding and confronting the man who made him into Jason Bourne. This is both good and bad; it works for the film's breakneck pace, but in the end, the story isn't really that compelling, at least not when compared to the first two. We see flashbacks throughout the movie that gradually help Bourne (and us) fill in the blanks, so Bourne's confrontation with Dr. Hirsch (Albert Finney, Amazing Grace) at the end feels rather anticlimactic. Both of the preceding Bourne films had more powerful endings, particularly Supremacy (I'm referring to the scene where Bourne visits the daughter of his first target, not the New York-set coda). With Ultimatum, I'm left with the sense that writers Tony Gilroy, Scott Z. Burns, and George Nolfi ran out of material.
This feeling of air escaping the balloon also extends to many of the characters. Noah Vosen is basically a one-dimensional replacement for the Brian Cox character in Supremacy, who was himself replacing Chris Cooper from the original (even though Cox had a small role in that one too). The talented Strathairn is utterly wasted in Ultimatum; ditto Scott Glenn (Vertical Limit) in a miniscule role as the CIA director and Finney as the man behind the curtain, so to speak. Then there is Julia Stiles' Nicky, who the writers hint had a relationship with Bourne previously. There is absolutely nothing in the first two movies to suggest any such connection between the two, which made this feel tacked on to her character in order to justify her presence in the film. (Her introduction into Ultimatum is a contrivance in and of itself; of all the CIA stations and substations worldwide, she just happens to be in the same one Bourne shows up at?)
Finally, I want to talk briefly about suspension of disbelief, which the first two Bourne films tested and Ultimatum damn near shatters. Are we really expected to believe that Bourne could survive the horrific car crash in New York City and walk away with nothing more than a bit of a limp, only to also survive a fall from a tall building into a body of water after being shot? He's not Superman, people.
The Bourne Ultimatum delivers the action and thrills that fans of the franchise have come to expect, even if it comes up short when it comes to story and character. Universal's solid DVD is certainly worth picking up, although given the company's history of multiple DVD releases of these films, I'm guessing we haven't seen the last of Jason Bourne.
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