Nah. I kid, of course. Greengrass is our preeminent purveyor of Shaky-Cam-as-Gospel, and you’d be hard-pressed to find a director who pulls it off as well, or as lovingly (or as frequently) as he. Case most recently in point: The Bourne Ultimatum, the latest, if perhaps not the last, in a series of notably well-received (and notably loose), Matt Damon-propelled film adaptations of Robert Ludlum’s original Jason Bourne trilogy. And without much fear of contradiction (and, faith, without having taken in the ’88 Bourne tele-film featuring erstwhile heartbreakin’ priest Richard Chamberlain `right on schedule, my annual Thorn Birds reference` as the titular forgetful operative), I’m happy to report that Ultimatum is the best of the lot.
Fair warning: If you happen to be a fan of these flicks, this might be the most opportune moment to bow out of this review and hop onboard another, as I fear matters will only get less friendly from here forward.
(Well, maybe stick around for the plot-summary paragraph; should be reasonably inoffensive. But after that, you’re cruisin’ for some Bourne-borne disharmony. And maybe some worse wordplay, too. I’m not making any promises.)
Ultimatum deals directly with Bourne’s struggle to find out who he is and who made him that way. The others do, too; this one does so with less distraction. No romance, no revenge, no emotion, really, just “the truth,” with a bunch of waiting-to-be-dead bodies in the way.
Now that the old “super-soldier” program (Treadstone) that created Bourne is defunct, an even-more-super-secret one (Blackbriar) has risen to take up its mantle. Meantime, find-get-kill-Bourne CIA heavies Conklin (Chris Cooper) and Abbott (Brian Cox) have been replaced by the equally zealous, just-as-ethically questionable Vosen (David Strathairn) and Kramer (Scott Glenn). When a London reporter (the ever-remarkable Paddy Considine), aided by a secret source, publishes a story about Bourne, Bourne surfaces, the feds perk up, and the whole hunter-hunted thing kicks into full swing, eventually culminating in a Wolverine-style confrontation between Franken-spy and creator.
It wouldn’t be fair to say that I hate the Bourne flicks, because I don’t. But certainly, I’m just not seeing what nearly everyone else seems to see. And really, the worst bit of it is that I can’t really justify my prejudice. A spare-but-stylish, stripped-down, pseudo-realistic action film sounds like something I’d enjoy. Alas, I’ve spent a disproportionate amount of my time with the Bournes being, well, bored. Not as much in Ultimatum as with the others (Identity was better on a second viewing; Supremacy made me impatient), but it was there. I think it just comes down to wanting a little more personality with my ka-boom.
Now, I’m a Matt Damon fan. I respect his commitment, his talent, and his intelligence and courage in choosing roles (Stuck on You may not be fantastic, but it was brave); his will be a long and fascinating career. But I like my Damon more … interesting. (The Talented Mr. Ripley, say.) I get it: An amnesiac spy-hitman would be pretty wan, emotionless, not necessarily likable. It’s realistic. It’s just not fun for me.
The series as a whole just feels a bit too bland and humorless. And a bit melodramatic. As a rule, everyone namechecks Bourne. “Do you know who you’re dealing with? This is Jason Bourne.” “You want to go home? Find Jason Bourne.” Cut to Bourne handling another assassin or two, Terminator-like, barely breaking a sweat. Cut back to the control room, people yelling, “More assassins! This is JASON BOURNE we’re dealing with!” Cut back to Bourne, shaking off an explosion, a ridiculous car wreck, a fall that would kill anyone else. I know, I know. It’s an action flick. But see? Give me no character to care about, no comic relief or emotion, and there’s nothing to distract me from stuff like that.
And another thing: One too many people in Ultimatum ask, “You really don’t remember anything, do you?” No. No, he doesn’t. There are now three movies about how he doesn’t. Please stop being so impressed with the idea.
Sorry. Honestly, it’s rather unfair to air these frustrations now, because Ultimatum is really pretty good. There’s an ingenious and riveting construct toward the beginning wherein Bourne must guide Considine’s hapless and freaked-out reporter, via cell phone, through a busy London terminal, avoiding thugs and snipers. A little Rear Window-ish, on steroids. Great stuff. And there’s an impressively nimble, vicious fight scene between Bourne and a hired gun in which both race and jump from building to building before having it out in an apartment bathroom.
Essentially, the third Bourne is more of the same, but better. Put another way: If you’ve felt like punching my face during certain portions of this review, saddle up and grab a ticket.
If not, though, feel free to drop me a line. I may go pop in The Long Kiss Goodnight.
The Bourne Ultimatum
Dir. Paul Greengrass; writ. Tony Gilroy, Scott Z. Burns (screenplay), George Nolfi (screen story), Robert Ludlum (novel); feat. Matt Damon, Julia Stiles, David Strathairn, Joan Allen, Scott Glenn, Paddy Considine, Albert Finney (PG-13)