The Bourne Ultimatum Review
We know his Identity and have witnessed his Supremacy, now get ready for the biggest thrill ride of the summer as Paul Greengrass delivers The Bourne Ultimatum. Back in 2002 Doug Liman directed The Bourne Identity, a sort of anti-Bond if you will, that went on to unexpected box office success and spawned the sequel, The Bourne Supremacy. Paul Greengrass took the reins, and upped the ante quite considerably, with frenetic camerawork and down and dirty fight scenes that turned Matt Damon’s Bourne into the go to guy for spy action and left James Bond looking distinctly old fashioned. Bond returned for Casino Royale and the influence of Bourne was obvious, with the fight scenes having a certain grittiness that had long been missing from the aging franchise. But Bond is still just a playboy on a world tour compared to the dangerous world of Jason Bourne.
The third instalment throws us right into the story where Supremacy ended with no helpful reminder of the previous film's denouement, so it would be a good idea to catch it on DVD before visiting the cinema. Bourne is still on the run, and still has no idea of his true identity, but things are starting to come back to him, in uncomfortable flashbacks, and he is even more determined to find the architects of his fate. A British journalist has stumbled onto the story and knows that Treadstone, the organisation that created Bourne, has spawned something called Blackbriar which is responsible for some quite unpleasant business within the CIA. Bourne arranges a meet in Waterloo station and from here on in the action never lets up. A walking chase through Waterloo station is, quite possibly, one of the most exiting sequences of the year, knocking spots off of anything that John McClane came up against and leaving those mutating toys in its wake.
Bourne knows that he has to get back to New York to confront his old bosses and nothing, and no one, is going to get in his way. Following leads, he jets from London to Tangiers and from Madrid to the U.S. seemingly without the need for sleep, toilet breaks or meals. Julia Stiles crops up again as Nicky Parsons, but where as the average Hollywood movie would throw in a romantic sub plot, Bourne doesn’t have the time for such frivolity. He is on a mission and nothing is going to distract him.
When he arrives in New York a team of superlative supporting actors are waiting for him, including David Strathairn as the sleazy CIA bad guy, Joan Allen, who has started to believe that Bourne may not be the enemy after all and maybe she should be looking closer to home and Albert Finney, as the evil doctor who obviously modelled himself on Josef Mengele.
The whole film is one long chase, with hardly any let up in the action, that will leave you breathless and gripping the edge of your seat. Seldom has a film camera been so close to the action and at times I feared for the safety of the poor cameraman. One fight scene takes place in a bathroom where there was hardly room for the two protagonists let alone a film camera, and when they race through the streets and rooftops of Tangiers you wonder how they managed to get some shots without people sustaining serious injury. Greengrass directs the film as though he has overdosded on double espresso's and his life depends on it, setting a new benchmark for others to follow, and the makers of the next Bond movie will have to seriously up their game if they want to compete. Bourne lives in a world where violence is ugly, and a killing is followed by guilt and remorse and not a throw away line.
The real revelation here is Matt Damon, who has made this character his own in a way few actors could manage. There is no vanity in his performance and no concessions in Bourne’s actions or appearance to pander to a Hollywood star. It’s hard to imagine just how different this series would have been if someone like Brad Pitt had nabbed the role. The actors who turned down this role 5 years ago must be kicking themselves today.
Although the film wants to come across as gritty and real it is, in fact, no more real than James Bond. It just does a better job of disguising itself. Bourne seems to manage to traverse the world with no visible income (where is his money coming from?), gets through customs at every airport, even though he is one of the CIA’s most wanted, without the aid of disguises and when he gets back to the CIA’s offices his security swipe card still seems to work. Someone in CIA human resources slipped up there, surely.
But all that is beside the point. This is entertainment at its most visceral. A thrill ride that you will want to revisit again and again, and without doubt one of cinemas best every trilogies, up there with Indiana Jones, Star Wars and The Godfather.
Before you head off to the cinema to part with your hard earned cash, there is just one thing you may want to bear in mind. Don’t sit too close to the front. There isn’t a scene in the film when the camera is not moving, not one!! Sit too close and you risk serious migraine. And if you suffer from any kind of motion sickness, I’d pop a pill before you go. Better to be safe than sorry.