"Somebody made me what I am.
I'm going to find them."
The Bourne Ultimatum is the third installment of the highly popular series of summer action/adventure movies starring Matt Damon, loosely (very, very loosely) based on the books of the same name by Robert Ludlum. It was released August 3, 2007 in the U.S. market after a relatively short (for today's film industry) publicity campaign, relying mostly on the interest garnered by the first two movies to pull in audiences. The strategy seems to be working so far, most of the way through the first weekend of release; the movie is way up the box office charts.
It's difficult to review the third film in a series of three without offering spoilers, if not for the film itself then at least for the prior two. I hereby punt the attempt at retaining secrecy over the first two films; I have to assume (if you continue reading this review) that you've seen the first two and are interested in how this one compares to them. I will, however, attempt to be very clear about when the spoilers (for the first two) start showing up, and offer a bold face warning. Oh, yeah - be warned, there appear to be a lot of scenes in the trailer on the internet that don't actually show up in the movie. Not big plot-laden scenes, but it sure looks like there are some stunt/special effects scenes they decided not to use; and there are some voiceover scenes which are either lines from prior movies or are just plain not there.
There are, of course, things I can talk about prior to getting into how well the movie fits at the end of the trifecta (I really don't want to say trilogy because that term is so loaded, these days). For example, the filming, from a technical standpoint.
The Action or please keep all arms and legs inside the vehicle
There's lots. Lots and lots and lots. Hoo boy. This film is essentially a 1:51 chase scene, with varying levels of plotline and ancillary violence thrown in along the way. Somehow, it manages to retain a PG-13 rating - I don't know how. Probably because there's no sex or bad words in it, just unending amounts of violence and property damage. If you think James Bond is a dab hand with a vehicle chase, that may be true, but if you think he's a whiz at vehicular mayhem, give over, Jason Bourne has it all over 007.
"Sir? Sir, he just drove off the rooftop..."
...stop whining, that was in the trailer
. Anyway, if action is what you crave, then that's what you'll receive. Chases on foot, on scooters, in cars, you name it.
Lots of people get the bejeebus beaten out of them by Mr. Bourne during this movie in ways which are deliberately ambiguous as to their survival chances. If that was reality, no, they'd most likely be dead. In the movie? We don't know. We don't have time to wait and see, places to go, cars to steal, people to threaten, information to jack, countries to hop. The film starts in Russia, then shows us Italy, jumps to the U.K., then it's Spain, Morocco, etcetera, etcetera, faster than you can figure out what airport/ferry port/railway station you're looking at. Good thing The Hunt For Red October started the trend of that particular "THERE IS A COMPUTER PRINTOUT HAPPENING IN THE LOWER RIGHT SO READ IT NOW YOU DOLT" sound effect. You know the one, in military type use, when it's printing letter by letter? Yeah, that one. They use it. A lot. Because they have to tell you where we are.
The Filming or booms, cranes and tripods were invented for a bloody reason
The filming is probably this movie's weakest part. There's one simple reason for this, and I will hereby sum it up in one mostly-made up word: The Unsteadicam. The Steadicam is a wonderful invention (see the node for more details). The problem is that someone, in recent times, discovered that a sense of extreme tension and urgency could be 'heightened' by having a camera jerk around as if the camera holder was themselves running and/or zooming in and out frantically. Probably it was one of those wankers responsible for The Blair Witch Project. For that alone, we need to hunt them down. But ever since then, movies with DRAMATIC TENSION have been giving in to the temptation to jiggle the POV like movies in the '50s and '60s used to go ga-ga for vaseline on the lenses when the female lead showed up and wanted a smooch. It's really getting out of hand.
No, really. I was almost motion sick during The Bourne Ultimatum. Twice. This has never, ever happened to me before during a movie. Except once. I'll give you one guess.
Note: Walter informs me that the handheld documentary-style camera work is an established Hollywood thriller convention, dating at least as far back as The French Connection. I do not dispute his knowledge of film history, as mine is spotty at best. I will stand by my annoyance at what I consider to be the overuse of the technique in this and other recent movies.
Other than that horrendous problem, the filming is fairly workaday. Good pans, some inspired work on rooftops in Tangier, and some so-so work during New York crowd scenes. There were a couple of scenes, one early in the movie especially where Bourne is trying to lead another person around via instructions in a cell phone, where although the gist of it came through fine - no small feat given the number of players in the scene - the technical challenge was such that there was really nothing left over to show me the surroundings. I could follow the action, but had no sense of where they were or what their surroundings were, or even felt like. It came across as German engineering rather than Italian art - all precise edges and designed curves, with no excess left over for fanciful embellishments.
That, of course, may be deliberate. The edgy, technology overlaid over emphasized cultural cues scenery may be the movie's way of picturing 'the grid' which the principals have been talking about since episode one - if you show up on the surveillance systems of the U.S. and allied intelligence agencies, you're on 'the grid.' Every location on 'the grid' has an almost European style and look to it, a cool leather and metal design that would be perfectly at home in a very high end shopping center - but the architecture on which it is hung gives you the only clue as to where you are.
The Story - SPOILER ALERT (Not big ones, though)
Okay, skip here if you haven't seen the first two.
There is one very well done bit - remember the scene from the end of The Bourne Supremacy where Bourne calls Pam Landy at her desk in New York? Well, that scene is in The Bourne Ultimatum - and let's just say that context is everything. I don't know if they knew, precisely, how they were going to use that scene in the third movie when they filmed it for the second, or if some extremely clever writing went on to make it fit - but it worked quite well, let's just leave it at that.
The story is a bit of a problem, for me. It's as if they took the first two movies and smashed them together. There's a great deal of 'more of the same' down to the people we see (you'll know what I mean - at one point, I groaned and said "no, what is that person doing here? Come on.") Some of it is deliberate - Jason finds himself on the other side of some of the scenes he's been in in the first two, line-wise at least, and that's...interesting, I suppose.
There is a nod to current events in the plotline. It's not subtle. It's not even all that well handled. I thought it was completely unworthy of David Strathairn, who is a far better actor than the role he was handed here - but ah well. There aren't many complex roles in Bourne movies. There are cutouts, placed carefully on a lethal and fast-moving obstacle course which Matt Damon/Jason Bourne navigates with superhuman persistance, skill, lethality, and (I couldn't help muttering) healing power. I mean, damn, this guy gets beat the hell up.
There is closure of a sort. It's a Bourne movie, though, so despite Damon going on record and saying he personally is done with the franchise, he also notes that another actor could take it up (sorry, I don't have a reference. Google it, you'll find it.)
In sum? Exhausting, fun, a bit repetitive, but a great way to spend some quality time in air conditioning on an August weekend.
The Bourne Ultimatum - 2007
Directed by Paul Greengrass (United 93, The Bourne Supremacy)
Written by Tony Gilroy, Scott Z. Burns and George Nofi with a sneering nod to the Ludlum novel