The Bourne Ultimatum (2007)Rated PG-13 for violence and intense sequences of action.
Starring Matt Damon, Julia Stiles, David Strathairn, Scott Glenn, Paddy Considine, Edgar Ramirez, Albert Finney, Joan Allen.
LVJeff's Rating: 8/10
Photo ©Universal Pictures. All rights reserved.
Bourne with Conscience
Going in to see The Bourne Ultimatum, I was prepared for the latest entry in the series this time. The shaky-cam aesthetics of the previous movie, The Bourne Supremacy, threw me for such a loop that I couldn't claim to enjoy it. But, in hindsight, I feel it was a better film than I gave it credit for at the time. Although mainly action/chase sequences punctuated by bits of plot exposition, the movie executed that action with a serious edge; also, thematically, the film hinted at dilemmas of morality at the levels of the government as well as within its individual agents.
The Bourne Supremacy's director, Paul Greengrass, signed up to continue his work with The Bourne Ultimatum, so now I knew what to expect. More jittery handheld cinematography? Definitely. Rapid-fire editing that obscures clarity of the action in favor of conveying kinetic chaos? Certainly. Accepting that these were all style choices, I found myself much more entertained by the more positive aspects of the Bourne series with this offering -- the no-nonsense tone, the sustained scenes of suspense, and the pure sense of satisfaction in knowing that Matt Damon was born to play Bourne.
Really, when one takes a step back to look at it, The Bourne Ultimatum is a rerun of The Bourne Supremacy. Given the success and general positive reception of that movie, Greengrass has decided to adopt the old reliable protocol of, "If it ain't broke, don't fix it." The new movie features the same structure -- Bourne is either chasing or being chased throughout the whole movie; he sneaks around a lot, and when he must fight he disarms his foes with brutal efficiency; and, meanwhile, back at the CIA, internal political war is being waged by those who would uphold justice (in this case, Joan Allen's character) and those who would follow corrupt methods to enforce more lethal survival tactics for the country (David Strathairn wears the villain's mantle here).
However, ending the description here might not serve the movie fairly. It does feel more streamlined than before, since its plot is less convoluted this time -- Bourne wants to find out where he came from, and it's as simple as that. But Ultimatum also more fully develops the strain that was glossed over in the previous movie, i.e. the exploration of morality. In the last film, Bourne gets thrown back into action against his wishes, but here his mission is self-made as he searches for his creator in an attempt to atone for the many past murders he's committed in the government's name.
Greengrass is interested in showing the human cost of furthering international government interest and improving national security. Hence, his two Bourne movies fall under the rare classification of action films with a conscience. He creates an interesting product of inherent contradiction -- the movie is meant to be thrilling, and it is; because of the hero's superhuman abilities and uncanny knack for outsmarting his wicked foes, he's an epitomized character through which we can fantasize vicariously; and yet, we're meant to consider what pains it took for him to become who he is. As we're on his side the entire way, Bourne's abilities and goals become a mirror to our own conflicting nature -- our inherent thirst for violent catharsis vs. our conscious desire to seek a humane world.
The Bourne Ultimatum, with more focus on this theme, succeeds at it better than The Bourne Supremacy did. In the end, Bourne discovers a surprising answer to his questions, and we learn that for some people morality can be easily kept in a corner while for others it may literally have to be beaten out of them. Either way, it's easy to lose sight of morality in this dangerous world, and Greengrass reminds us to consider this, even while watching a very entertaining action flick.
©Jeffrey Chen, Jul. 31, 2007