Monday, August 6, 2007

Review: The Bourne Ultimatum

Starring: Matt Damon, Julia Stiles, David Strathairn, Scott Glenn, Albert Finney, Joan Allen
Director: Paul Greengrass

Producer: Patrick Crowley, Frank Marshall, Paul L. Sandberg, Doug Liman
Release Date: August 3, 2007
Running time: 111 min

MPAA Rating: PG-13
Distributors: Universal Pictures

“If you were in your office right now we'd be having this conversation face-to-face.” (zing!)

The Skinny:
The final chapter in the Bourne trilogy. Hopefully.

The Review:
Every now and then I have this dream. In it, I am my current age and I wake up and find myself in the halls of my high school (of which I am 13 years removed). I continue to make my way through the hallways making my way towards my locker. Everyone around me is how I remember them in high school and they don’t even notice that I am in my early thirties. The only thing running through my mind is an increasing feeling of anxiety as I get closer to my locker because I can’t remember my combination. For some reason I think that if I can’t figure it out or have to go to the principal’s office to get it, they’ll figure out how old I am and that I am not supposed to be there. But every time I get to the locker, I get the combination right. It doesn’t seem familiar to me as I am trying the lock, but I get it open first try - every time. Weird, but true. I have no clue what it means, if anything, but as I sat down to write this review that dream popped into my head and ended up being the best way to summarize how I felt watching the movie.

The movie picks up right where the last one left off. Literally. After the car crash in Moscow at the end of Supremacy, we rejoin Bourne as he evades police then goes to Paris to tell Marie’s brother that she is dead. During this time, he reads an article about himself in the Guardian Newspaper and heads to London to track down the writer, Rimon Ross, and find out who his source is. He meets up with Ross at Waterloo station and learns of Blackbriar, formerly Treadstone (the top-secret CIA program that basically ‘created’ Jason Bourne). During this meeting, Bourne gives a clinic on surveillance evasion by guiding Ross via cell phone through/around numerous cameras and CIA converging on the station. He finds out the source, gets away from an asset (Blackbriar assassin) sent to kill him and Ross, and he’s off to Madrid to track down his source. And so on and so forth.

This movie is essentially two hours of Bourne running. Away from CIA trying to kill him and towards what he hopes are answers about his identity. In the end, that is pretty much what the whole trilogy is about - Bourne trying to find out who he is and kicking everyone’s ass that gets in his way. The action in this movie doesn’t disappoint. There are two scenes in particular that stick out in my mind. There is a car chase scene is pretty intense. I haven’t seen many that look this seamless or exciting, even if it was a bit long and overdone. I had the same complaint about the chase scenes in Supremacy. How many shots do we need from inside the car where we see an incoming car smash into Bourne’s vehicle and watch his head shake back and forth? Impressive the first few times I saw it, but overused. Like that friend of yours that still quotes Old School - it was funny the first hundred times we heard it, but, we get it, let’s move on.

The real tour de force of the movie was the sequence in Tangier where Bourne is tracking Desh, an asset sent to kill his source, then him and Nicky (a CIA agent and former Treadstone contact who offers to help Bourne). There is about a 10-15 minute stretch where there is virtually no dialogue; just straight action and a chase on foot. We see Bourne hopping from building to building tracking Desh before he has a chance to kill Nicky with intermittent cuts back and forth between Bourne, Nicky, and Desh. The climax of the sequence is the confrontation between Desh and Bourne that is hands down, the best fight sequence of the trilogy. The most impressive part is, like I said, there is no dialogue at all and the suspense is basically created out of thin air through the editing and camera work. It works on all levels and I wished there had been more direction like this in the movie. I would recommend the movie solely on the integrity of this sequence alone. Absolutely amazing filmmaking.

I liked Identity, and loved Supremacy but Ultimatum, sadly, sort of let me down. I wouldn’t go so far as to say this is a bad movie, by any stretch of the imagination. Supremacy was so far and above Identity that I guess I was spoiled into thinking this would be an improvement to the same degree. Instead it felt more like The Bourne Supremacy, Part II. There is a scene in the movie that is directly taken from the end of Supremacy (where Bourne is calling Landy and tells her to “Get some sleep. You look tired”). Wait, what? Didn’t we already see that once? If it was an attempt to be clever by tying the two films together, it didn’t work. Clever for the sake of clever is weak, tired writing. And if that last scene in Supremacy was supposed to prelude to Ultimatum, the jump into the middle of its sequel didn’t make any sense to me. Again, clever for the sake of clever kind of feels like cheating. The ultimate answer to the question of the series, ‘Who is Jason Bourne?’ was, well, sufficient, if not a little awkward and a bit forced. I don’t know what ending I would have accepted more, but the solution presented didn’t work all that much for me, but it’ll do. Just like in my dream, I was anxious of what was to coming but in the end, there weren't too many things to get worked up about because I'd been there before. Many times.

The Rub:
I really wanted to like this movie more than I did. By no means is it a bad movie; it just feels too much like we’ve been down this road before. A tidy ‘end’ to a very good trilogy that I didn’t expect much from when it first started. And there’s the rub.

** 1/2 out of ****

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