Tuesday, August 07, 2007

The Bourne Ultimatum

You know, if Paul Greengrass could stop showing off for ten minutes to shoot an action scene, this third Bourne film might have been really great. As it stands, I feel kind of torn. I really admire this series, which is far more clever and inventive than most American spy fare and which provides a perfect vehicle for the steely distance of Matt Damon. But I can't get past the chase sequences, which are jittery and blurry and indistinct and awful. I'm not sure if D.P. Oliver Wood actually suffers from epilepsy, but if not, someone needs to put a stop to Greengrass before he ruins another savvy, globe-trotting Hollywood thriller.

After three films, screenwriter Tony Gilroy (who here teams up with Scott Burns) just absolutely nails the Bourne formula. Really, Bourne's a reverse spy, and his entire story is one long, relentless chase. Bond pursues the villains by using assumed identities and gadgets. Bourne spends two hours running from the villains at top speed. Rather than using state-of-the-art technology to track criminals and evil-doers around the world, he is constantly being tracked and spied upon, and must escape using his superior wits and super-strength. That formula essentially describes every moment of Bourne Ultimatum. Will Jason manage to usurp the greatest tactical and surveillance forces on the planet by repeatedly punching people really hard in the solar plexus? Let's watch...

And it works; for the better part of 2 hours, it works. David Strathairn makes an excellent addition to the series as Jason's latest foe within the CIA, Deputy Director Noah Vosen, and the great Albert Finney takes an important, if small, role as Dr. Albert Hirsch, the man who holds the secret to Bourne's memory loss and backstory. Bourne tracks Hirsch, Vosen tracks Bourne and Bourne's old allies Pamela Landy (Joan Allen) and Nicky Parsons (Julia Stiles, who has appeared in all three films but only gets an actual role to play this time around) help out whenever they can.

That's about all there is, folks. Lots of chases, lots of close-calls, lots of one-ups, and an ending that doesn't really add any new information about Jason that we didn't get in the first two films, but at least provides the series with a sense of closure. (The door is, of course, left open for what Damon and Greengrass have termed The Bourne Redundancy.) I can't say I was totally satisfied by the ending. It seems like the film is building to some kind of crazy twist, a previously unimaginable wrinkle in Jason's story, what with the extensive use of flashbacks and the ominous atmosphere surrounding the Finney character. Instead, Jason's backstory is pretty much what I've assumed it would be all along - Wolverine's backstory minus the adamantium.

Greengrass manages to settle down a little from spazzed-out Bourne Supremacy mode, in which the camera never stopped rattling around for long enough to focus on a subject, like an excitable old lady who's off her meds. Here, a brutal back-and-forth between textbook-wielding Bourne and another assassin actually uses the shaky handheld technique well, highlighting the claustrophobia of the setting and the visceral force of the punches.

Alas, as he did in Supremacy, Greengrass hopelessly botches the film's car chase. I suppose it's impressive, in a way, that he's actually able to physically capture an entire car chase using handheldc ameras, but it's a pyrrhic victory because you still can't tell what's going on. The exciting part about watching a car get bashed into a center divider is, you know, watching it, not getting a sense for its impact by seeing blurry shards of glass flying near your head.

Look, I'm not a fan of this guy from Part 2 in this series and particularly the woeful United 93, which just felt like a tremendously self-involved wank session, Greengrass attempting to substitute his personal vision of events for their reality. So I guess I'm a little biased at this point when he hauls out his old tricks on every single movie and asked to be acclaimed anew. Yes, Paul, you're the Parkinson of Cinema, the Sultan of Shaky-Cam. Now will you cut it the fuck out and direct a movie I can actually watch without developing Ménière's disease?

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