The Bourne Ultimatum
|Matt Damon||Jason Bourne|
|Scott Glenn||Ezra Kramer|
|Julia Stiles||Nicky Parsons|
|Paddy Considine||Simon Ross|
|David Strathairn||Noah Vosen|
|Joan Allen||Pamela Landy|
|Directed by||Paul Greengrass|
Watching The Bourne Ultimatum is like being strapped to a vibrating bed set on high for two hours in a cheap motel. Well, all right, an upscale motel. The surface is polished, the trappings are slick, the staff is expert, the room freshener reeks of money. The ride is kind of fun, some of the time. But you’re being jounced around with such intensity that when it’s all over you reel down the corridors with only the vaguest sense of what just happened.
In terms of plot, very little does. Director Paul Greengrass (Oscar-nominated last year for United 93) tosses us in to the middle of action that spills right out of the last reel of his previous encounter with this Robert Ludlum franchise, The Bourne Supremacy. Jason Bourne (Matt Damon) is staggering through the Moscow night, bleeding profusely, with Muscovite coppers hot on his trail and John Powell’s ragged, pulsing music hounding him from the soundtrack. He spots the green neon cross of a shuttered pharmacy. Moments later he is inside, thrashing through pharmaceuticals for the wherewithal to dress his wound, injecting himself with this, binding himself with that.
This is as good a time as any to point out that Bourne is a man against whom no barrier can stand. A locked door is of so little consequence they don’t even insult us by showing how he penetrates it. Language barriers are child’s play to him. When the Russian cop who tries to arrest him finds himself looking down the barrel of his partner’s gun (now in Bourne’s bloody fist) and pleads (in Russian with subtitles) for his life, Bourne fluently responds (in Russian with subtitles) “My argument is not with you.”
His argument is with a person or persons mostly unknown to him. They come up in blurry, scratched, overexposed, shakily photographed flashbacks to an experience he can’t quite remember but that looks damned unpleasant. “That’s where it all started for me,” he says, groping painfully through the cobwebs of memory. “I’ve got to find out what happened…or I’ll never be free of this.”
This is the problem, with which you are familiar if you are a veteran of the Bourne saga: he doesn’t know who he is. It’s the one barrier he has not (yet) been able to conquer. Languages, no problem. We will hear him express himself later with equal ease in Spanish and French, and should the opportunity come up for Urdu or an obscure New Caledonian dialect, there is no doubt he would be equal to it. Gravity, roadblocks, traffic, dead ends? He’ll ride a motorcycle up a steep flight of steps, jump a car onto or off of a roof and walk away from the wreckage. No time to pick a lock? He’ll leap from a rooftop across a street through a (closed) window and scarcely get s scratch. His capacity to absorb punishment is virtually infinite. Blow him up with a bomb, and the most satisfaction you’ll get from him is a catnap’s unconsciousness before that eyelid flickers and pops open again, and he’s on his feet, running, running, running. Damon didn’t train at the Actor’s Studio, he trained at Stillman’s Gym.
International frontiers are no obstacle. Despite being at the very top of the CIA’s must-catch list, he hopscotches through London, Madrid, Moscow, New York, Paris, Tangier and Turin with nary a border incident. He is only spotted when he wants to be and uses the passport of an old alias to “send a signal” to the CIA brass who are desperately searching for him.
They include Ezra Cramer (Scott Glenn), the Director, and company bigwigs Noah Vosey (David Straithairn), and Pamela Landy (Joan Allen). Their identities relative to good and evil are so blatant that they might as well be wearing black or white hats. Landy believes in Bourne. The others want him dead. The CIA is running a secret black-ops program called Blackbriar that Vosey is desperate to keep secret. It has something to do with Bourne’s loss of identity, and Bourne is very likely to expose it if he is not terminated with extreme prejudice.
Greengrass keeps a relentless pace going virtually from the first frame to the last. Choppy editing, sustained action sequences, electronic gizmos, brutal beatings, and chases upon chases set the tone. There are only widely scattered scenes in which there is a modicum of relative calm, mostly the ones with the Agency people, welcome little oases where a breath can be drawn while the villains sneer and the good ones frown with perplexity and concern, as they dialogue in Agencese, tossing around terms like “the asset,” “the target,” “on the move,” and “eyeballs on the street.” Then DP Oliver Wood or one of his operators takes Steadicam in hand again and bounds off after Bourne on the run.
A few other characters come and go. Sometimes they leave by train, sometimes by more permanent means. There is some very entertaining stuff while Bourne talks a journalist via cell phone through a minefield of potential assassins. Julia Stiles returns from the earlier Bourne adventures to help him out of a scrape and listen with deep-eyed understanding as he agonizes over his identity crisis and his vague feelings of guilt at being such an efficient killing machine.
"I can see their faces -- everyone I ever killed,” he mutters. “I just don't know their names."
My guess is that there are hundreds he has killed whose faces he has no idea of, vast anonymous swaths of corpses left in the wake of his grisly car chases and impromptu explosions. Call it collateral damage. There’s a lot of that here. Sense is one of the casualties, but action triumphs.
© Text 2007 Jonathan Richards - Filmfreak.be
© Pictures 2007 Universal Studios