Wednesday, 15 August 2007

The Bourne Ultimatum - Review by Robert Duffin

Director: Paul Greengrass
Screenwriter: Tony Gilroy
Running Time: 111
Certificate: 15
Released: 17th August

That feeling is your heart hammering against your rib cage. There’s smoke everywhere, broken glass, sirens are blaring and your eyes are rapidly blinking as you emerge into the light of day. You’ve just experienced Paul Greengrass’ Bourne Ultimatum, and unless you were involved in Casino Royale, you’ll be ecstatic about it. Anyone who saw the Bond re-boot last year would have caught more than a whiff of Bourne envy as the Broccoli’s attempted to give Royale some edge without alienating the under 12s. It was partially successful, but Greengrass and co. weren’t resting on their laurels and they’ve raised the bar again; The Bourne Ultimatum is the finest action thriller in recent memory.

First Jason Bourne (Matt Damon) discovered who he was in 2002s Bourne Identity, then in 2004 he came out of hiding to clear his name in Bourne Supremacy, but now three years later he’s been tempted out once more for the ultimate prize: the truth. Guardian newspaper reporter Simon Ross (Paddy Considine) has caught onto the story of Treadstone, the secret CIA operation who trained professional killers, and has been contacted by an inside source who is poised to blow the whole operation open. Ross attracts the attention of Bourne but also of the top dogs at the CIA who are implicated, led by Noah Vosen (David Strathairn). With Bourne out in the open, the company finally have the chance to finish him and bury the secrets of Blackbriar with him.

Of course the real draw of the Bourne series hasn’t been the stories. Tony Gilroy, trilogy screenwriter, sensibly hollowed out Robert Ludlum’s airport novel tomes into a lean backbone onto which directors Doug Liman (Identity) and Paul Greengrass (United 93, Supremacy & Ultimatum) have layered their action. As we globe hop with Bourne, discovering secrets along the way, what really gets the blood pumping is the set pieces. Greengrass, editor Christopher Rouse and cinematographer Oliver Wood are currently the Holy trinity of action filmmaking. Whether they are playing cat and mouse around Waterloo train station, hurtling across the rooftops of Tangier or smashing up cars in New York City you’re only in one place: the edge of your seat. And for once the action serves the story, instead of existing in place of it, and there’s not a lick of CGI in sight.

Greengrass, whose politicised filmmaking has come the fore previously with Bloody Sunday and United 93, doesn’t let Hollywood dumb him down. In between the carnage Ultimatum subtly questions the rationalization of torture by the government and interrogation with visual shades of Abu Graihb. What’s better is that it’s done in such a way that won’t outdate the themes of the film, like Alan J. Pakula’s Parallax View or John Frankenheimer’s Manchurian Candidate. Even in Bourne himself is an interesting conundrum for our times. He knows he was a cold-blooded killer and wants to atone, but should he use his skills against the masters who taught him? Should violence ever be met with violence? In one poignant scene, without incidental music, Bourne has a brutally realistic fight with an operative that ends with a horrific strangling that throws into question Hollywood’s glorification of violence in action cinema.

In praising the form of the previous films the cast are often overlooked. Matt Damon, his boyish features hardened by time, has grown into the role of Bourne. Despite being a fairly monotone hero, his actions speak louder than words and I couldn’t help but pump my fists with joy each time his sophisticated planning pays off. The rotating cast that previously included Clive Owen, Chris Cooper, Brian Cox and Franka Potente expands the Bourne universe with more juicy character parts. The criminally underused Joan Allen returns as CIA operative Pamela Landy, as does Julia Stiles whose Treadstone dispatch officer Nicky is given more to do. Rounding us off is the wonderful David Strathairn (Good Night, and Good Luck) as the morally ambiguous Vosen and Albert Finney as a mysterious figure from Bourne’s past. It’s a cast filled with great character actors, and they add gravitas to the noodling narrative.

Here we are five years on and the Bourne phenomenon is at an end. Not only does it earn the title of best threequel of this summer, it may be the only trilogy that gets better with every instalment. Perhaps the final revelation of Bourne’s past is a little obvious when you think about it, but it’s been about the journey and with Paul Greengrass at the helm, it’s been one hell of a rush. Beat that Bond.

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