The Bourne Ultimatum
There is no ultimatum in The Bourne Ultimatum. Nevertheless, this may be the ultimate Bourne. It certainly feels like the end of the road, even if Universal will be desperate to persuade Matt Damon otherwise.
Kicking off where The Bourne Supremacy left off, with the rogue spy limping out of Moscow, the movie initially seems intent on replaying part two. Bourne's ex-CIA paymasters aren't prepared to let sleeping dogs lie, especially when this one appears to be connected to a Guardian reporter (Paddy Considine) who knows too much for his own good. Of course anyone familiar with Jason Bourne will realise that he's hardly the type to shoot his mouth off. (Not least because he can't recall the secrets hardwired into his noggin.)
Nevertheless, deputy director Noah Vosen (David Strathairn) is impatient to close off this potential breach, and instructs the agency's 'assets' (assassins) accordingly.
If the plot is straightforward, the movie's trajectory is anything but, zigzagging from Moscow to Turin, to Paris, to London, to Madrid, to Tangiers, and finally to New York. Wherever he goes, Bourne is only a whisker away from disaster; the film is one close shave after another. They should have called it 'Bourne To Run'.
Fortunately these variations on a single theme have been designed with a good deal of ingenuity. If Bourne's first near-thing is located in busy Waterloo station under the watchful eyes of dozens of surveillance cameras and CIA operatives, his second squeaker occurs in an empty office in the dead of night. Then he's off on a breathless rooftop chase through Tangier - this time Vosen et al are completely in the dark - which will climax with a claustrophobic fist fight in cramped bathroom.
By all accounts this was a long and difficult shoot, but you would hardly guess it from the agile and versatile action and prevailing air of expertise. Resourceful and pragmatic, Bourne seems ready to command of his own fate. It's only if you step back that you might wonder at the way the CIA is presented as astonishingly efficient one minute, and bafflingly incompetent the next.
Julia Stiles' Nicky Parsons turns up out of the blue in what can only be counted pure coincidence, but the moviemakers can't think of anything for her to do except place her in jeopardy. Joan Allen fares better as Pamela Landy - at any rate she gets more lines than Matt Damon - but the movie's crowd pleasing climax is hardly less far-fetched than any James Bond finale.
That's an observation, not a complaint. Former World in Action director Paul Greengrass (Bloody Sunday; United 93) has hit on a technique that feels so completely realistic, it's worth noting what it allows him to get away with. And what it doesn't: he choreographs a car crash so you-are-there you want to check yourself into an emergency room after, but it's jarring when both drivers show up minutes later barely scratched.
It's not just a matter of taking the shock absorbers off the Steadicam. The movie gives us such a blizzard of images we hardly know if we're coming or going: about 4,000 edits, apparently, up from about 3,500 in The Bourne Supremacy.
Perhaps the most slippery sleight of hand in the whole affair is the underlying implication that Bourne is essentially blowback: a covert killing tool who traded in his conscience for efficiency. It's just idle speculation, but I bet that even now, the CIA would be proud to have a dozen just like him.
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