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  The Bourne Ultimatum
Paul Greengrass


Laure Thomas
posted 17 August 2007

We're saved! Ian Fleming can rest in peace, Robert Ludlum has well and truly taken over in the race to bring us the best spy stories from beyond the grave. With Casino Royale, Fleming sees his posthumous reign stretch over forty years. Chances are there will be many more Bournes! The Bourne Ultimatum is the third film in the ‘Bourne franchise’ which seems to have more than muscled in on Bond's territory. Mr Craig watch yourself, the Americans are putting even more punch into their spy flicks! Well, government-trained assassin flicks.

And the latest in the Bourne series does not disappoint. We're in Moscow, but we're not sure why. Jason Bourne (Matt Damon) is being chased by local police... still hunted by the CIA, still searching for his identity. The first scene seems a little disjointed from the others. Like the initial chase scenes in Bond films, it is there to make you feel as though you're picking the character up where you left him... only you're maybe not quite expecting that. You're thinking ‘we've done Moscow, what is this?’. Never mind. Moving swiftly along, as Bourne never fails to do. On the run again Bourne picks up the Guardian. His antics have created a few blips in the system and exposing Operation Treadstone has caused someone on the inside to talk, not just about Treadstone, but its larger and more pervasive parent op: Blackbriar. Bourne's life story is being splashed over the front pages by Simon Ross, the paper's intelligence correspondent. Bourne sets out to meet the journalist and get to his source in the hope of answering the $64 million question: who am I?

But the Agency is onto Ross and Bourne cannot meet him openly. What follows is an extremely clever way of drawing the viewer in. Bourne finds a way of communicating with Ross, giving him real time instructions for how to get past CIA surveillance. As they zig-zag their way across a busy Waterloo station, no Londoner in the audience can help feeling sucked into the action, as though you were the layman Bourne was guiding through the crowd. Thankfully, you're not!

And this is where the quality of Paul Greengrass' directing coupled with Oliver Wood's fantastic work with the camera create that trademark Bourne style which makes you feel as though you're right there in the thick of the action. The cinematography, using a lot of hand-held shooting, can feel almost dizzying at times, and is perhaps a little overdone, but it certainly gets the job done. The scenes in Tangiers feel so real they are reminiscent of the 1956 documentary-style film The Battle of Algiers.

Despite the level of innovation and the slickness of the filming, there is an inevitable deja vu phenomenon to Jason Bourne outwitting other agents, policemen of countless nationalities and ultimately the big bad man from the CIA in one metropolis after another. You come to expect that whether in the frozen streets of Moscow or the blistering heat of Africa, whether in a crowd of London commuters or souk shoppers, Bourne will find a way out of any situation, but he does so with enough ingenuity (and yes punch) to sustain your interest.

There are also a lot of similarities between the this film and the previous one. Blackbriar replaces Treadstone, and programme heads change, but ultimately the presence of Julia Stiles (State and Maine, Save the Last Dance) and Joan Allen (The Contender, Pleasantville) as the human face of the CIA standing between Bourne and the evil men out to protect themselves and their dodgy operations, create a sense of ‘we've been here before’. The ‘Get some sleep, Pam, you look tired’ line is an exact replica. It gives Landy a Moneypenny-esque quality. Allen is once again excellent in her role as the CIA operative and internal investigator. Her interplay with David Strathairn (LA Confidential, Good Night, and Good Luck) is intelligent and expertly delivered.

But ultimately this film, as brilliantly produced as it is, is supposed to be about Bourne finding out who he is – remembering. But what he is looking for only comes in the final scenes and there is only a limited sense of Bourne's evolution. Was the reality he is presented with at the end of the film worth chasing? It seems more a case of not having had the luxury of being able to ignore his past than any hope for a happy end that motivated him. In that sense you feel that a chapter is finally closed and he can move on. He remembers everything now. Will he go back to assuming his old life and ways? There is no doubt even the incredibly brilliant Bourne has learned a lot in the time since the onset of his amnesia and a straight reversal to blindly serving is not on the cards. But my guess is we will be seeing more of Bourne and it won't be for Mr Bourne Goes on Holiday or The Bourne Vacation!

 

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