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.
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”*