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THE BOURNE ULTIMATUM (2007)

August 28, 2007

The Bourne Ultimatum review
screenshot-bourne-ultimatum.jpg

Matt: Three and a half Stars

Length: 111min

Taglines:

This summer Jason Bourne comes home.
Remember everything. Forgive nothing.

Review by Matt:

Jason Bourne (Matt Damon) is angry. Already he has battled his way through two Bourne blockbusters, snapping necks, bullets whizzing all around him. Now, as The Bourne Ultimatum begins, he’s still fleeing machine-gun-clad Russians and patching up his wounds Rambo-style as he goes. Bourne is a CIA-programmed human killing machine, with no memory and no true identity. He’s reached that point in every brainwashed killing machine’s life where the death and pain is too much. He wants to know who he is and why he was created. This time he is after the big guys. As he tells the hapless Russian he has effortlessly disarmed: “My argument is not with you”. That’s right, it’s with the CIA – probably the most sinister and formidable opponent around. Fortunately, in true pupil-turning-on-master style, if any person can crack into the CIA’s dangerous world, Bourne is the one. He’s onto it, and his pursuit takes him to exotic and lavishly-shot locations around the world – Morocco, Madrid, London, Manhattan – where he’s trampling over roofs, diving through windows, leaping over things on motorbikes, palming off snipers, bombers, knifers… it’s truly a visual feast and an electric experience.

To fit all this in, the film is almost all action, right from the start. And when it’s not action, Paul Greengrass (director of the engrossing film United 93) directs it with such a frenetic, hand-held style that, well, it still feels like there is action going on. Even during conversations. Good as this style is, it could become nauseating and during the quieter moments I found it intruded a little on my viewing experience – I’m in a cinema, not in a boat, right? Generally though, this style is gritty and atmospheric and it sucks you into the realism of the scenes. The Moroccan fight scene is so breathtaking and mercilessly edited that I kept flinching and trying to turn away to relieve the assault on my eyes.

Matt Damon doesn’t need to do much as the muted and resolute Bourne – he’s mostly a silent superhuman and occasionally I found he put the ‘bore’ into ‘Bourne’ – but that’s the way his character is. Julia Stiles reappears as Bourne’s ally Nicky Parsons, but she’s limited to being helplessly endangered the whole time. Joan Allen saves the females from relegation to ineffectual damsels with an important role as a tough and honest CIA heavy.

Swim past the adrenaline and you’ll find some light political undercurrents, but nothing too inspiring or radical. I don’t think Greengrass is really pushing any hard message; it’s more like current political themes and images are refracted onto the screen without meaning attached – like images from the day appearing in a dream. Scenes in the London subway echo the tragic real-life shooting of Jean Charles de Menezes by London’s anti-terrorism police. The frightening and unfettered CIA powers in the film are justified by the ‘war on terror’ and they mimic real life concerns about unchecked power and abuses. “You start down this path, where does it end?” asks the decent CIA op. “It ends when we’ve won” is the familiar sounding reply from her win-at-all-costs boss (played by David Strathairn). Bourne exists in an intriguing and dangerous parallel world. Unfortunately, it is still a world where some stereotypes persist. While the assassins in Madrid are happy to use trusty old guns to erase their targets, for some reason the Moroccan assassin feels the need to blunder along with a home made explosive. Not very professional and not very realistic – so it seems like it’s just the Islamist-as-bomber convention reinforced on the screen.

As is often the case with action films, the excitement overpowers some of the other ingredients. It doesn’t need to be like that, I think – action films can still get the adrenaline pumping while remaining grounded in reality. The Bourne Ultimatum lives in a believable reality for much of the time. But even if we accept that this is the magical action world where glass doesn’t cut and whiplash doesn’t whip, some of the plot is still frustratingly improbable. In particular, the last part of the film scuppers the early realism. For me, this diminished what was otherwise an enjoyable cinema experience. I don’t want to dwell, but can I just say, I’ve seen Cops; if some guy goes on a joyride, the LAPD snare him with the helicopter spotlight and a squadron of cars so that there’s no escaping. Can’t the CIA get some of that going on for their city chases? And, while they’re at it, should they also install a lock on their own front door?

The Bourne Ultimatum is dominated by action and adrenaline. It has a frenzied pace, it’s shot with an engaging cinema-verite style and it’s certainly a well-above-average action film. If that’s what you’re after, then it really is a winner. Just take a deep breath before it starts and make sure the edge of your seat is comfortable – you’ll probably spend most of your time there.

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One comment

  1. What a fantastic review, if I could be objective about this film then this is the review that I would like to be able to write. But I like this film so much that I can’t be objective about it. Two examples: first, I think it is implied that no matter how secure the CIA’s doorways, Bourne will gain entry; second, I have seen Cops as well and there is no way those lard asses can stop the ‘human killing machine’.



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