The Bourne Ultimatum: Exclusive Ultimate Edition (2 Disc Set) Review
Jason Bourne (Matt Damon) is injured, running through the streets of Moscow from the police. He's limping from injuries sustained in a car chase through the city, one that came about as a determined Bourne made efforts to apologise for killing Neski, visiting Neski's daughter in the city to try and make amends for his life as an assassin. Through the underground, across the train tracks and over walkways, Bourne limps from the police, breaking into a pharmacy in search of medication as much as refuge from the police. But cornered by two officers, Bourne reacts by instinct to the situation, disarming one and pointing his gun at the other. Bourne has had enough of killing and notes the humanity in himself as he lowers his pistol, letting the policeman go. His fight is not with an unarmed policeman in Russia.
Six weeks later, Jason Bourne visits Paris to meet with Martin Kreutz (Daniel Brühl), the brother of Marie Kreutz, the girl he met in Identity but who he lost in India. In a copy of The Guardian that he picks up in Paris, Bourne reads an article by journalist Simon Ross (Paddy Considine), which names Bourne as a CIA officer. Travelling to London, Bourne telephones Ross and arranges a meeting in Waterloo station but amidst the bustle of tourists, Bourne tells Ross that he's under surveillance. Ross' mistake was to mention Blackbriar in a call to his editor, mere mention of which, a renaming of the Treadstone project that trained Bourne as an assassin, being enough to attract the attentions of the CIA. As the gunshots ring out in Waterloo Station, Bourne is once again in the sights of the CIA and Deputy Director Noah Vosen (David Strathairn), one who will stop at nothing, not even murder, to prevent word of Blackbriar getting out. But just as Bourne arrives in London, the CIA's station chief in Madrid, Neal Daniels (Colin Stinton), empties his safe and leaves for Morocco, an action that brings Bourne back into contact with Nicky Parsons (Julia Stiles) and forces Vosen to call Pamela Landy (Joan Allen) back into service. With Bourne on the run, Vosen calls in all his available assets, all of whom are gunning for Bourne. But, as Landy tells Vosen, Bourne has a habit of staying alive...
Even Jeffrey Dahmer must have wondered if perhaps the bodies were piling up. Even Jeffrey Dahmer, dancing in his scanties amidst the bodies sat in vats of acid while his half-finished victims were wandering the streets nude, must have wondered if all that killing might be getting on top of him. Or at least attracting glances from his neighbours over the smell coming from his apartment. That's the problem with killing, I would imagine, in that something has to be done with the body afterwards and bodies attract the attention of a good many things. The police, for one, rats and journalists another. And, of course, try explaining away the presence of a body to one visiting. Not even the home decorating talents of Ed Gein - lampshades made from human skin and soup bowls made from skullcaps - could disguise the grisly history of murder. It was the body of Bernice Worden hanging in his barn that did for him.
Noah Vosen has no such worries. Perhaps it is due to his place of comfort and security within the CIA but he seems to care not a jot when a journalist is bloodily shot through the head by his agents in London, when an American is blown up by his asset in Tangier and when his men shut down entire city blocks as he pursues Bourne through New York. In spite of how suspicious this must look, the normally covert Blackbriar operations make the evening news, catch the public eye with the dozens of agents shooting at Bourne on the crowded streets of New York and leave a trail of mangled cars across three countries. In all of these moments Noah Vosen keeps ordering his assets to use lethal force with Bourne, doing so as the bodies pile up, Pamela Landy warns him that his actions will eventually attract unwanted attention and that the more he pisses Bourne off, the more likely it is that his house of cards will come tumbling down. Throughout it all, Vosen attempts to keep Blackbriar under wraps, looking for all the world as Dahmer must have done, claiming innocence while standing in an apartment decorated with bloodstains and tripping over body parts as he excuses the mess. Never mind a covert assassination programme within the CIA, on the basis of The Bourne Ultimatum, I wouldn't entrust a surprise birthday party in Vosen's hands less the venue gets blown up, the host is extraordinarily rendited and the guest of honour is assassinated even before blowing out the candles on their cake.
This nonsense belies the reputation of the Bourne films as being somehow more realistic than Bond. Granted, The Bourne Ultimatum doesn't feature an Aston Martin with a cloaking device and has yet to visit either an undersea kingdom, outer space or a rocket base within a hollowed-out volcano but given how this series is progressing it's really only a matter of time. Just as Bond followed two fairly serious spy movies with the gadgets'n'girls of Goldfinger, so Identity and Supremacy make way for Ultimatum, a sillier film in which concerns over plotting, character and location are replaced by car chases, martial arts-inspired fights and brief stopovers in various sunny locales, Morocco, Spain, New York and even a brighter-than-usual London amongst them. In the manner of Bond arriving amidst the security of the British secret service, so Bourne appears to be able to finance himself, has a way of getting through customs in spite of creeping onto the Most Wanted lists of most of the western world and has a way of arming himself in the most improbable of places. Even the tired old phrase, "You don't know who you're dealing with!" gets an airing. Like Bond, it can only be a matter of time before Bourne is sufficiently well-known that he's greeted like an old friend in the coffee-shops and roadside diners that he frequents as often as Bond does casinos.
However, should you not mind the way the series is going and simply enjoy this for what it is, The Bourne Ultimatum is a fairly exciting film. Unfortunately, it doesn't have the European flavour that was the highlight of Identity and nor is the story as clearly defined as that of Supremacy but when it finds something worth getting excited about, as it does in the car chase in New York, it can be very entertaining. Again, the fight between Desh and Bourne in Tangier is a good showcase for the influence that martial arts has had on the series, it makes good use of a London landmark and has an authentic New York feel about, which does a good job of bringing The French Connection to mind. However, it doesn't make very much of its cast, features Julia Stiles and Joan Allen much less than did Supremacy and with such a dreary beaurocrat for the most part in Noah Vosen, calls in Albert Finney to growl his way through a good deal of exposition, finally revealing Bourne's past to him and letting him and the audience know that much more is to come. Inasmuch as The Bourne Ultimatum points towards a much less serious future for the Bourne series of films, that's not an entirely unwelcome direction. The Bourne Identity remains the highlight of the series to date but this film at least keeps it moving forward but, like Bond, suggests that Bourne will be a role that progresses safely rather than with any sense of daring.
Like earlier films, The Bourne Ultimatum is not only dark but comes with a noticeable blue tint to the picture, which made perfect sense in the European locations of Identity and Supremacy but which comes and goes here, completely absent in Morocco but rather done to death in Paris. The picture is anamorphically presented in an aspect ratio of 2.40:1 and while the image is crisp, there's is a noticeable amount of grain throughout, not something, I suspect, that was added in during post-production but simply present throughout. However, the DVD does a good job of presenting the picture. Bit rate is generally healthy, the image offers plenty of detail and there are no faults with the source print, at least none that I could detect.
The English DD5.1 audio track is also very good. It's a mix of quiet retrospection, during which time the track performs very well, and noisy action scenes, in which the speakers handle the gunshots, car smashes and explosions without ever sounding troubled. The audio track uses the rear speakers to involve the audience in the action while the subwoofer offers plenty of punch to the gunshots and though there's often an absence of dialogue, it generally sounds good in the quieter, more talky scenes.
Commentary: Paul Greengrass is on his own for this track and remains softly spoken throughout, commenting on scenes but never really getting animated by the film, by the production or even by his own involvement in the film. And...he has a...habit of...talking like...this...throughout. He begins to tell stories only to lose interest in them halfway through the anecdote and there are times when, having not said anything for a minute, you rather hope he hasn't dozed off. Not a great commentary by any means and, actually, something of a chore to listen to.
Deleted Scenes (12m22s): These scenes go some way to make up for the criticisms that I have of The Bourne Ultimatum. There is far too little in the film to explain the actions of the CIA whereas these scenes do much more to add some depth to the story and to the characters of Noah Vosen and Ezra Kramer rather than as beaurocrats ordering killings. Vosen is even allowed an explanation for his actions, something that the main cut of the film denies him.
Man On The Move (23m57s): This is as close to a straight making-of as this set gets, following the production through the five locations in the film - Berlin (standing in for Moscow), Paris, London, Madrid and Tangier - and with so much of The Bourne Ultimatum being filmed on location rather than being constructed in computers, there's actually a good deal to watch here. Granted some of it isn't that interesting - Waterloo Station and Gare du Nord are not the most attractive of locations - but it's fairly entertaining and the cast, even wrapped in layers of wool and sheltering underneath umbrellas are in good spirits throughout.
Rooftop Pursuit (5m40s): Like Identity, the DVD release of The Bourne Ultimatum consists of a great many very short features, including this one, which details the on-foot chase across the rooftops of Tangier between Bourne and the Moroccan police. Suspending the camera on wires, director Paul Greengrass can follow Bourne (Damon and stunt double) across the rooftops, including the very impressive shot of two stuntmen jumping from a rooftop and through an open window, one of whom is carrying a camera.
Planning The Punches (5m00s): Actor Joey Ansah, who plays asset Desh in The Bourne Ultimatum, introduces his feature by showing us some moves from the martial art capoeira before joining the crew in Morocco to plan and film the fight scene with Matt Damon.
Driving School (3m24s): 2nd Unit Director Dan Bradley takes us to the test track where Matt Damon and stunt drivers learn the tricks that we see in the film. Matt Damon is, in the words of Dan Bradley, quite talented at this so if you should ever have trouble parallel parking and Matt Damon is walking by at the time, you know just the person to ask to help out.
New York Chase (10m47s): There's a lot more on the car chase on the second disc, leaving this as being a nice introduction to Big City Action but never describing the stuntwork, camera shots or on-set troubles in as much detail as that feature does.
Big City Action (29m09s): Want to shoot a car chase in New York? Call Dan Bradley, apparently. It's what Paul Greengrass says in this feature and seeing Bradley in action in this feature, I'm not about to disagree. Before they do that, though, the cast and crew go about directing traffic and pedestrians - the former appears to be much easier to do than the latter - in Manhattan while the 2nd unit set about scouting locations for the car chase outside of New York's main business district. After that, it's on to the chase with this feature showing us the tricks used by the stuntmen to make it believable, including putting the driver onto the roof, of using CG to blend shots of the actors with those of the cars being smashed and of them grinding down a K-rail skater-style. It's not quite the car chase of Ronin and while it probably features more technology, there's none of the simple charm of watching a terrified de Niro play with a fake steering wheel but it's a fine little feature and should be sufficient to anyone with an interest in how the car chase was done.
The Evolution Of Nicky (10m24s): Julia Stiles has been a part of the Bourne movies from the beginning and this short feature looks at how her character of Nicky Parsons has evolved over the films, from not being very sure of what she's actually doing in Identity to the central part that she takes in tracking Bourne in Supremacy and The Bourne Ultimatum. There isn't very much on Stiles and certainly nothing on what she feels that she brings to the part, which is all for the better as it just looks at her character over the films.
Finally, there is a Music Video (4m37s) for Moby's Extreme Ways. These features are subtitled in English and Chinese.
There is one very obvious sign of just how far The Bourne Ultimatum is from reality and it comes with Bourne's trip to Morocco. Bourne appears to not only make it off the ferry and through customs but appears to be able to make his way through the streets of Tangier without once picking up an unwanted guide, who would guide a harried Bourne either to a market stall or a carpet shop. Having visited Tangier once, I quickly left it far behind for the quieter towns inland, being entirely unable to cope with the constant amount of hassle. Bourne appears to be able to avoid any of that - he may just shoot them! - testament to how the Bourne films finally waved farewell to reality. However, it doesn't look like the Bourne story is over yet so while the writers work out where to take him next - professor of linguistics at Georgetown University? I think not - this isn't bad but, too often, it engineers Bourne's place in action sequences rather than sets about telling a decent story.