movie film review | chris tookey

Bourne Ultimatum

© Universal Pictures - all rights reserved
  Bourne Ultimatum Review
Tookey's Rating
8 /10
Average Rating
8.00 /10
Jason Bourne: Matt Damon, Nicky Parsons: Julia Stiles
Full Cast >

Directed by: Paul Greengrass
Written by: Tony Gilroy, Scott Z Burns, George Nolfi. Based on the novel by Robert Ludlum

Released: 2007
Origin: US
Colour: C
Length: 111

Top-class direction lifts ho-hum script.
Reviewed by Chris Tookey

Bookmark and Share

We’ve had a miserable collection of blockbusters this summer, and here is the first big movie that doesn’t disappoint. But to say only that would be to damn The Bourne Ultimatum with faint praise. That excellent British director Paul Greengrass, whose last film was the exceptional United 93, surpasses even his work on the second in the series, The Bourne Supremacy. He fashions some truly thrilling sequences, and film students for decades to come will be studying Ultimatum – especially Christopher Rouse’s masterly editing – for its expertise in raising tension and suspense.

Some of the extremely complex action set-pieces – notably the hunting down of a hapless Guardian journalist (Paddy Considine) by CIA assassins in a crowded Waterloo station and, later on, their pursuit of rogue spy Jason Bourne (Matt Damon, pictured) through the teeming streets and across the rooftops of Tangier – are among the best ever.

There’s no one around at present who organises action with more panache than Greengrass, and it’s because of the movie’s exhilarating, headlong pace – for Ultimatum is, essentially, one long chase – that it’s easy to overlook the implausibilities of the script and the fact that it gives the actors very little to play with, in terms of dialogue or character. This is, in one sense, the ultimate international spy thriller. You don’t need to understand English to get what’s going on. A man’s being chased, and he’s doing his best not to be killed. That’s it.

But there’s not much need for story-telling subtlety. The narrative had little more to reveal after the second movie. We knew going into this film that Bourne was the hapless result of a black-ops scheme conceived by high-ups at the CIA. The only twist here is that there is no twist.

Stop and think (though the movie gives you little breathing space to do so), and you may find it curious that even someone as clever as Bourne can walk in and out of CIA headquarters without being spotted, or that an intelligence boss as devious and careful as the one played by David Strathairn would leave highly incriminating top secret documents in his office.

Think even harder, and you may detect Greengrass’s political agenda. He posits a world in which the world power that is assassinating British citizens on our territory is not Russia but America. The only Arab killer we see is in the pay of the CIA. Greengrass is careful to include buzz words such as “rendition” to suggest that CIA corruption goes all the way to the top.

We are, in short, being fed the usual left-wing theories of big bad America playing fast and loose with international law. That’s a partial view of the truth, at best.

As with the previous movies, it doesn’t do to care too much about the ordinary people whose houses, cars and – presumably – bodies Jason Bourne leaves wrecked and mangled in his wake. We are expected to narrow our focus down to his immediate problems, just as we’re meant to ignore the fact that in real life the CIA has more important things to do (such as combating terrorism) than to expend all its energies tracking down a rogue agent who may or may not inconvenience some senior officers.

A core weakness is that Bourne’s search for his true identity doesn’t really capture our empathy. It is in a spirit of detachment that we admire his ability to outwit his former bosses, even though they are equipped with a seemingly endless array of assassins and high-tech devices. Even the male-female relationships – with lowly operative Nicky Parsons (Julia Stiles) and senior agent Pamela Lundy (Joan Allen) – don’t have much chemistry. Everything’s pretty cold and everyone’s equally inexpressive. I was mesmerised by the absence of worry lines on the supposedly stressed-out Agent Lundy’s forehead – do CIA bosses really use that much Botox?

Matt Damon’s performance is so understated that it is never far from woodenness, and I’m still not convinced that someone of his stature (he isn’t big) would be quite so lethal in hand-to-hand combat. But at least he makes a change from the more suavely sadistic James Bond.

The result is a movie that deserves to conquer at the box office, as it surely will. Whether it will act as a healthy influence on its worldwide audience’s view of America is another matter. And, although it succeeds triumphantly in pumping our adrenalin, it fails to move our hearts.

Key to Symbols