Thursday 6 September 2007

The Bourne Ultimatum (2007)

Thursday 6 September 2007
Director: Paul Greengrass
Writers: Tony Gilroy, Scott Z. Burns, George Nolfi & Tom Stoppard (based on a story by Tony Gilroy and characters by Robert Ludlum)

Cast: Matt Damon (Jason Bourne/David Webb), David Strathairn (Noah Vosen), Joan Allen (Pamela Landy), Julia Stiles (Nicky Parsons), Paddy Considine (Simon Ross), Albert Finney (Dr. Albert Hirsch), Scott Glenn (Ezra Kramer), Colin Stinton (Neal Daniels), Joey Ansah (Desh Bouksani), Edgar Ramirez (Paz), Corey Johnson (Wills) & Sam Dang (Raymond Sykes)

After a British reporter comes under surveillance by the CIA over an article he wrote about Jason Bourne, the amnesiac assassin himself comes out of hiding to expose the US government's secret program...

Ever since Doug Liman's The Bourne Identity (2002) exploded into cinemas, followed by Paul Greengrass' superior Supremacy (2004), Matt Damon has helped reinvigorate the modern spy thriller. Bourne's influence can be felt in many subsequent movies, most famously with the back-to-basics, gritty, kinetic Casino Royale -- as even the great James Bond had to tip his hat to this young, American pretender.

Now, Greengrass returns for the third chapter, The Bourne Ultimatum, and delivers another superb slice of thrills and kills. To be honest, there's little reason for Ultimatum to exist, as everything was wrapped up quite nicely in Supremacy, so while the "mystery" is basically a rehash of the last film (swap shadowy operation "Treadstone" for shadowy operation "Blackbriar"), it remains a wonderfully involving, tense and exciting few hours.

The stars of the show are Matt Damon and director Greengrass. Damon's boyish good looks have hardened since 2002, meaning he's far more believable and dangerous as Bourne these days. The brutal fights and stunts seem second nature to Damon now, as he tears up the screen and stakes his claim as the best action hero of the new millennium.

Greengrass' camerwork and editing is wonderful to behold; sucking you into the film and refusing to let your attention wander. He can take simple, cliched sequences (crowd surveillance, car chase, bathroom fight) and makes it zing with freshness and verve. His "shaky cam"-style may not be to everyone's taste, but it's never overused, rarely annoying, and creates a huge connection between audiences and the screen.

The assembled supporting cast are all great, particularly David Strathairn as Noah Vosen, another hard-nose CIA deputy director; and Joan Allen, who returns as CIA deputy director Pamela Landy from Supremacy. Julia Stiles is also back as Nicky Parsons, although her involvement is little more than an excuse to provide cohesion with Identity.

Character actors like Paddy Considine and Albert Finney also impress in their small roles, while Ultimatum is again full of great villains for Bourne to grapple with, most notably Joey Ansah as silent Desh Bouksani -- who has a gruelling fist-fight with Bourne in bathroom that will have you wincing. It's in that scene that the Bourne character's brilliance is most felt; as he makes a violent kill, but doesn't shrug it off, or offer a Bond-style quip to get a weak laugh... he just feels disgusted with himself.

While The Bourne Ultimatum is undoubtedly an immaculately produced action thriller, blessed with three standout sequences (surveillance at Waterloo, a Tangiers rooftop chase, a brutal car smash), it offers nothing new to the ongoing Bourne storyline. Supremacy successfully deepened the "amnesiac assassin" idea from Identity, but Ultimatum fails to bring anything fresh to the table. By the end of the film, there's actually only one new facet to Bourne's history that audiences were not previously aware of... and that's disappointing.

But while the series is stretching its conceit to breaking point (a fourth chapter would be silly -- what, Bourne tries to find mum and dad?), Ultimatum manages to avoid utter pointlessness by making the journey so wonderfully entertaining. This is slick, energetic, fast-moving, violent, intriguing and clever filmmaking, full of great performances and excellent direction.

Universal Pictures
Budget: $110 million
111 minutes