Ultimate Excitement – The Bourne Ultimatum



Remember the last time you held your breath watching a movie. It must have been a really suspenseful moment, a life hanging in the balance. Maybe you pressed your hands to your cheeks, eyes transfixed on the screen, heart pounding, stalling, sputtering as the minutes pass longer and longer. And danger is about to strike any moment. The score vibrates in your ears – you make a mental note to stay through the credits to see who composed the music – and you can’t hold your popcorn in your lap anymore, you can’t hold your bladder anymore!! God, just anything for some sweet, satisfying release!

My last time was in The Bourne Ultimatum, during an excruciating footchase through Morocco. It ends when the music cuts away, the camera goes crazy and Jason Bourne jumps through a window and beats a guy to death with a book.

My lungs opened back up and I breathed a sigh of relief, not only because Bourne killed the assassin, I was relieved that YES, after hearing all the hype and positive press, The Bourne Ultimatum is fucking awesome.


It’s probably the best movie I’ve seen all year and most likely the best serious action movie I’ve seen this year. Transformers, Live Free or Die Hard and Spider-Man 3 are terrific action flicks but I have to make about a dozen apologies for enjoying each one, especially Transformers. I mean, he ate the whole plate of donuts. Hot Fuzz, released earlier in the year, does action better than most action movies but it’s still a comedy. The Bourne Ultimatum stands above as an honest-to-goodness, well, film, if you wanna get all snobby. Which I do. It is the movie that actually lives up to the ridiculous praise and hyperbole you can read at Rotten Tomatoes, which awards it an o verwhelming 94%. Rollercoaster rides, action-packed thrill rides and other amusement park analogies, they all apply. Edge-of-your-seat entertainment and balls-to-the-wall and other hyphenated sayings as well.

It also stands above as the finest sequel, threequel, what have you, of the year for the way it plays with the series timeline, and how it ties everything up while revisiting key moments from past installments. Basically an extension of the plot and style of The Bourne Supremacy director Paul Greengrass and writer Tony Gilroy put Jason Bourne (Matt Damon) back in Moscow on the run from the police, limping, bleeding from the gunshot wound Kirill (Karl Urban) gave him in the last movie. With the death of Marie (Franka Potente) still fresh in the super assassin’s mind new memories resurface to haunt him and a U.K. Guardian article by Paddy Considine (A moustachioed cop in Hot Fuzz) exposes Bourne’s existence to the world. Mad as hell, Bourne travels all over Europe to find out who the journalist’s source is, then he finally “comes home” as the advertisements promise so can finally discover the truth about his origins.

The movie is a speedy globetrotting chase, lean and to the point with all the fat cut out. Characterization is a simple, subdued affair without the crying, overacting and monologues one would expect in a genre thriller. These characters think and reflect and say more in their expressions than any long-winded speech could. His scenes with Julia Stiles in particular, who returns as CIA handler Nicky Parsons, are mostly silent and yet they suggest a lot about Bourne’s past and possible future.

So many dirty things

CIA director Pamela Landy (Joan Allen) returns to instill a sense of warmth and humanity to the operation trying to track Bourne, under the hawkish eye of Noah Vosen (acted to ruthless perfection by the classy David Strathairn), who wants Bourne killed no matter what. Naturally, their idealogies and methods go head to head. The two of them spar so well, firing typical lines at each other like “Where do we draw the line?!” that would fall to the floor with all the weight of a “From my point of view, the Jedi are evil!” in the hands (uh. mouths?) of lesser actors.

A major criticism of the previous movie is the skaky-cam style of the camerawork. I hear people complain it makes them nauseous, that they should pull the damn thing back and let the action play out like it would in a kung-fu movie or a Street Fighter video game, with one combatant on the left side of the screen and the other on the right side. Do you want some old guy to yell “Round One!” too? Unless the two actors are serious martial artists and can impress on sheer athleticism and stunts alone, it won’t work. The fights in this aren’t elegant. They aren’t a dance. They’re dirty and mean, improvisational (Bourne uses whatever’s at hand be it a pen, magazine or book) and the camerawork and editing reflect that. If any cameras survived at all for the car chase through New York City would be astounding considering how much gets decimated.

My one nitpick? The car chase’s geography makes no sense. It starts at Port Authority in midtown and ends up by the Brooklyn Bridge way, way, way downtown. In reality that would be a whole lot of carnage. But hey, that’s the magic of moviemaking. Doug Liman admits the car chase in Paris in The Bourne Identity makes no sense if you know Paris. I was only slightly pulled out of Ultimatum’s climactic crash because it took place on my bus route.

The chase itself clearly recalls – and tops – the one from Bourne Supremacy, making its adherence to the previous installments Ultimatum’s greatest strength. Remember Bourne Supremacy’s ending phonecall? Effectively, it’s reworked into the conntext of Ultimatum and, miraculously, it succeeds. Writer Tony Gilroy should be commended for even attempting such a chronological stunt but it’s pulled off aces. Eagle-eyed Bourne vets will notice other delicious little moments including one that involves hair dye with some curious shades of Hitchcock’s Vertigo… Bourne’s final lines also echo those of Clive Owen’s character from The Bourne Identity. In a movie that suggests our American soldiers are more human than the malfunctioning replicants our government makes them out to be it’s a poignant and unexpected finish to a fantastic trilogy, a killer imparting his last words to his would-be killer atop a dark rooftop. I couldn’t help but be reminded of Roy Batty’s epiphany to Deckard at the end of Blade Runner.

And that’s never a bad thing. The Bourne Ultimatum cannily leaps over, or at least, meets the bar Casino Royale and Batman Begins set as the new paradigm of smart, affectionate entertainment that also happens to be commercially successful. Congratulations are in order for Greengrass, Liman, Damon and all those involved for delivering the best conclusion to one of the best trilogies produced. And a big, hearty, ass-kicking thank you as well. Bourne will be missed, though I’m sure he’d want it that way.

*cue Moby’s “Extreme Ways”*

Bourne lives here.

12 Responses to “Ultimate Excitement – The Bourne Ultimatum”

  1. IGoByChad Says:

    Oh man, I just got back from seeing this. Everything you said times twenty.

    For the first fifteen minutes of the movie I could NOT help but hear Paddy repeating phrases like “I know”.

    And the car chase. I honestly thought about forsaking my degree and starting a career stunt driving. When Bourne kicked it into reverse the second time just to completely slam through cars, it finally hit me why he would avoid going engine first. Then the car chase was even greater.

    I can’t believe they left me without anything concrete on Bourne and Parsons. I hate making up my own story.

  2. johnmora Says:

    I hate you and this franchise.

  3. Film Walrus Says:

    I think I’m treading water somewhere between you and John. I liked the movie a ton (I agree its the best threequel in a long while having particularly been disappointed by Xmen3, Spiderman 3 and Give Me My Wilted Spinach Leaf Back 3) and thought the cinematography was a fair improvement over the last one. Greengrass, having helped pioneer digital shakey-cam with “Bloody Sunday” knows his business. He helps a lot by lighting well, using textured high-contrast backgrounds and grouding the camera to his characters when they are moving quickly, but I think he could have slowed the cut rate. I caught plenty of tiny needless continuity errors (not even the NY one you mentioned!) and he mismatched his lines of action a couple of times. Overall though, he’s great at conducting the action with an intensity and meanness that feels like he really means it.

    But as a whole (for me), the franchise always reaches for the sun and only gets the moon. The flashbacks were so overexpose-by-numbers. I wish the villains could feel even fractionally as realistic as Bourne. What I wouldn’t give to see the nemeses be occasionally relatable and understandable rather than pure, shameless evil.

    The foot chase, though, and the moment when Bourne calls Vosen from “nearby.” Two moments of pure thrills.

    Are we seeing a trend here with the Bourne series and Casino Royale moving mainstream action cinema towards more gritty, bloody-nose realism? Because if so, I like it…

  4. johnmora Says:

    Give Me My Wilted Spinach Leaf Back 3 was the best of the trilogy by far! D:<

    And I prefer Casino Royale to these movies by a huge margin.

  5. King_John Says:

    Here’s a comment my room mate made that I’d like some feed back on:
    At the end of Bourne Supremacy Jason goes to Moscow to see the daughter of his first kill. Then we next see him looking in on Pamela Landy in New York and saying “Go home. You look tired.” In The Bourne Ultimatum, we start off with Bourne in Moscow then Turin, then Paris, then Madrid and then finally in New York where he tells Pamela Landy “Go home. You look tired.” She leaves the building, the entire CIA’s staff (including receptionists apparently) follows her and Bourne gains access to the building and safe, etc.

    So do the movies over lap? Does the first three quarters of Ultimatum take place between the last two scenes in Supremacy? The alternative is that Bourne says to Landy “Go home. You look tired.” twice through the same window, like it’s his calling card or something.

    What are your thoughts?

  6. johnmora Says:

    Everyone was abducted by aliens, had their memories erased, then were planted back the way they were before.

  7. james Says:

    That final scene from Supremacy did not happen twice. It was incorporated into Ultimatum.

    Basically, you’re viewing a scene from Ultimatum at the end of Supremacy. It didn’t happen twice. It only happened once, and you get the full context of the scene and the conversation only in Ultimatum.

    So to sum up: all of Supremacy EXCEPT that final scene happen before Ultimatum. Then you have the first 3/4 of Ultimatum. THEN you have that final scene, which is shown in both Supremacy AND Ultimatum. Then the end of Ultimatum.

  8. Red Supra Says:

    Anyone notice that the repeated scene is on a sunny day in Supremacy and a wintry day in Ultimatum?

  9. The Ice Cream Man Says:

    I just saw this today. I have to say, the camera work sucks.

    “I hear people complain it makes them nauseous, that they should pull the damn thing back and let the action play out like it would in a kung-fu movie or a Street Fighter video game, with one combatant on the left side of the screen and the other on the right side. Do you want some old guy to yell “Round One!” too?”

    No, but I want to at least be able to tell whose who. Also, there’s no need for the camera to be shaking so much during the chase scenes, were the camera men a bunch of epileptics or something? It just wouldn’t stop moving, even when they’re just talking the camera was shaking.

    As for the rest of the movie, it wasn’t bad. I hadn’t seen the first two, but it wasn’t hard to pick up on at all. Overall it’s good movie, but nothing I’d consider amazing or anything.

  10. IGoByChad Says:

    Thank you Red Supra.

    I was under the assumption that he repeated his exact phrase a second time so that Pam would know he was back on the block. This 3/4 of a movie here and a dash of pepper here stuff are just too much to add for me.

  11. Paul Jeffries Says:

    Yes, here it is, quite possibly the greatest espionage thriller to ever show its face in Hollywood. Consistency errors aside (which, living in England, I got very little of), the film falls firmly into the “Masterpiece” category. For viewers such as ‘The Ice Cream Man’, I disagree on several levels. I think that Greengrasse’s technique with cameras and editing works more brilliantly than any other aspect of the film. The most natural thing in the world (especially during car chases and intense action sequences, but also during pure, plain conversation), is to move your head slighly and with his clever use of camera movement and quick, sharp and engaging editing is exactly what he achieves. Over the years, through no fault of our own, we have been overun (about 99% that is) by movies with boring, static and paced camera work and we have come to expect it from films that actually envolve a lot more than sitting from the sideline and watching the football game. I think that it is refreshing to see such a bold technique with (let’s not forget) what is really meant to be a pop corn film. One last thing ‘The Ice Cream Man’, the fact that you enjoyed Ultimatum while having not seen the first and the second (which, believe me, it heavily relies on) is tribute to how much you really enjoyed the film! If you want my advice, rent or buy Identity and Supremacy and then watch Ultimatum again, it’ll stick in your memory as one of the best trilogys you have ever seen. Up the Bourne!


  12. johnmora Says:

    [bites hand to keep from posting]

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