The Bourne Ultimatum (9/10)

The summer’s most solid action pic is here. Matt Damon is back as super tough amnesiac spy Jason Bourne, who once more travels around the globe in an effort to find his identity. In this film, Paul Greengrass’s jerky documentary style camera movements, combined with Damon’s perfect performance, and a storyline that refuses to ever stop, all combine to make a sleek and solid action thriller that has no equal. It’s the best action movie of the year, surpassing both the over-the-top Transformers and the traditional Die Hard 4.0, not just because of its visceral action and consistently breakneck pace, but because of the resonating story and the human heart behind it that is obviously so much more than traditional Hollywood sap.

In the first movie, Bourne woke up without a clue who he was. Over the course of these films, he’s come closer and closer to the ultimate moment of truth where he discovers everything about him and where he came from. In the second movie, he was pissed off at the CIA for coming after him after he told them not to mess with him anymore. In this one, he’s finally coming to grips with who he is as he unearths a trail of clues that have him racing around the world in a globe-trotting movie that takes us to New York, Spain, Italy, and more, all within less than two hours.

This is a perfectly paced movie and fine tuned down to the tiniest camera shot, the most basic punch, the most simple cat and mouse scene. Everything about is kinetic, quick, visceral, and pounding. If your pulse isn’t going a million miles a minute while watching this movie, you should speak with your doctor. Paul Greengrass, once again using his in-the-moment, in-your-face trademark camera style, places us squarely in Bourne’s world, and the herky-jerky camera ups and downs serve their purpose perfectly in getting us into the mindset that this is a real ride, and we better strap ourselves in if we’re going to survive this nonstop rollercoaster. This is not some CGI-fest with animated cartoons flying at us from all directions. This is real – I would be very surprised to learn that there was even a second of CGI in this film. It feels that real and that amazing. Even Live Free or Die Hard, which prided itself on going back to basics with its stuntman work and minimal CGI, felt a little extreme and fake sometimes. Sure, the car crashing into the helicopter looked cool, but nobody for a second could possibly believe it would actually happen. In Ultimatum, however, every single blow, every single hit, every single savage throttle feels truly and deeply real, and a lot of this is due to Matt Damon’s wonderful performance.

The man who penned Good Will Hunting with MIA best buddy Ben Affleck was the last person anyone would have chosen to play Jason Bourne. But three films later and nobody’s uttering a peep against him. Damon’s acting in this movie is wonderful – he has minimal dialogue, it’s mostly face, eye, and body work, and he conveys Bourne’s tortured inner soul brilliantly. What sets Ultimatum apart from the other disappointing threequels of the summer (Shrek, Spidey, and Pirates) is that in these movies he has a clear character arc. There is a beginning, middle, and definite end to Jason Bourne, and if anybody less than a stellar actor had been chosen to play him, it would have failed. Damon brings Bourne emotionally full circle in a climactic final showdown that rivals its two predecessors because of how wonderfully it concludes. The ending does not feel contrived, cheesy, tacked on, or artificially extended. It fits perfectly with what came before, and doesn’t overstay its welcome for one second. The resolution happens, and then we move on. We don’t spend ten minutes with Bourne giving us some kind of deep monologue, thank goodness. There is no bold character revelation or deep moment of truth. It’s straightforward and subtle. No annoying final pontification here. (I’m looking at you, Sandman.)

What makes Bourne Ultimatum so amazing is that is stands tall in a sea of summer mediocrity. Yes, I know, I did enjoy Transformers, Live Free or Die Hard, Spider-Man 3, and Pirates 3. (Shrek 3 not so much.) But the reason I love and respect Ultimatum more is because it exemplifies the true definition of a trilogy. I sincerely hope they do not come out with any more Bourne movies. I believe this character’s journey is done – in interviews both Greengrass and Damon say that they don’t see a sequel on the horizon. Good for them. A trilogy that firmly closes and insists on staying closed is one that should be respected. I love the Bourne movies because each film is solidly encased in a box that makes it enjoyable if you just see that one movie, but watch them all together and they become a beautiful painting of one man’s need to discover who he truly is. It’s a metaphor for all of us – as Bourne questions his morality and past when he discovers he’s been responsible for assassinations, and as he is confronted with the stark reality that he has just killed a man, the pain and tragedy etched across his face speaks more powerfully than any five minute monologue could. (Er-hem, Trinity in Matrix Revolutions.) Bourne must make the difficult journey of finding out who he is. So must we. And because of this, we sympathize with him. Bourne is human. He’s flawed. We understand him. He is not James Bond, not even close. The Bourne movies have been said to be a smart man’s spy-thriller, and they are, in every sense of the word. They don’t disregard audience intelligence and throw us loud explosions, cocky winking dialogue , and voluptuous drop-dead gorgeous femme fatales at every turn. The main character doesn’t callously pop off bad guys right and left. When he kills, it hurts him, deeply. There is a moment in the movie, that I won’t give away, that I believe defines Bourne’s distinct separation from Bond. Bond can stick with his fancy gadgets and toys and cocky attitude. Sure, that’s enjoyable popcorn, but Bourne is actual substance. He’s a feast, not just crunchy food that you eat in a theater and then leave half behind not ever finishing it.

To use the analogy of food from my other favorite movie of the summer, Ratatouille, Bourne is a dish to be savored. It can be enjoyed for its visceral thrills and nonstop chase, but there’s human drama there too, a deep one, and it makes every single second onscreen that much more compelling. If there’s one thing that may be flawed about this movie, it would be its repetitiveness, but I find that completely forgivable. If I weren’t a critic I wouldn’t even bother to notice it. The Bourne Ultimatum finally gives us what we’ve all been craving. The conclusion to a satisfying trilogy that only got better as it went along, the final installment a capstone of thriller perfection.

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2 Responses to “The Bourne Ultimatum (9/10)”

  1. Hi,

    We are hoping you can help explain this to us. Based on the comment Nikki Parsons said to Bourne, I continue to help you because of our past. What is the relationship Parsons had with Bourne/Webb. Were they married?

    Thanks

  2. I don’t know. I’d have to get back to you on that. It’s been awhile since I’ve seen it. Maybe she meant the way they interacted in the second film…?

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