Wednesday, Dec. 12, 2007

The Ultimate Bourne

By David Luhrssen
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The Ultimate Bourne A Killer Comes Home December 12, 2007 | 09:50 AM Sequels usually run from bad to worse, but it's been said that the Jason Bourne series only gets better with each installment. To my mind, the second film, The Bourne Supremacy, was a leap over the first; the third, The Bourne Ultimatum, out now on DVD, was a small step backward with a few too many Hollywood moments as our amnesiac protagonist pursues the answer behind his missing identity back to its source, a highly secret CIA program based in New York. Jason is the lost boy in search of his origins as a superhuman killer. The trio of Bourne films is derived from Robert Ludlum's series of pulpy, page-turning novels. In this case, the books were not necessarily better. The Bourne movies kept Ludlum's protagonist, his attributes and the nugget of the story, and discarded false notes and Cold War baggage. Unlike the sort of fluke success that spawns unplanned sequels, the original Bourne film contained an architecture of logical plot development that has unfolded from episode to episode. With The Bourne Ultimatum, the story reaches its climax after a zigzag chase across continents, giving the cameras loads of local atmosphere. The snow-packed streets of Moscow lead to a Paris apartment, the London Tube and the crowded markets of Tangier. The film's director skillfully manaed Bourne's global trek. Paul Greengrass had been best known for his Oscar-nominated recreation of 9/11, United 93. Before then, he had already mastered a style of postmodern media overload, the fast and fluid cuts, the jagged Cubist crossword puzzle of images that comprises our view of the world through the channel surfing and fractured attention of contemporary life. And yet Greengrass isn't simply forcing MTV jump-cuts onto a story a la Oliver Stone's failed football flick, Any Given Sunday. The Bourne Ultimatum also slows down and falls silent. The rhythm is always set to the emotional tone of the scene. As important was the choice of the actor playing Jason Bourne. Matt Damon invests his killing machine, the hard face of a man who can surmount most obstacles through skillful application of force, with a glimmer of inner life in the key of sadness and regret. His lips crack less often than in The Bourne Supremacy into an awkward, unexpected smile of happiness. He barely has a moment for reflection. His CIA masters have identified him as a rogue project, an experiment in behavior modification gone awry. They want him dead. The great character actor David Strathairn (Good Night, and Good Luck) plays the deputy CIA director, ensconced in an office whose banks of cameras can see almost anywhere, whose computers can tap any cell phone and landline in the world. Killing is no more distasteful to him than sipping the remnants from a cold cup of coffee. He speaks of assets and terminations, reducing the language of murder to an accountant's calculus. His assistant, played by veteran actress Joan Allen, is the story's wild card. Her conscience bothers her as she learns the lengths to which the agency has gone to ensure the safety of the homeland. The weakest link is Nicky (Julia Stiles), an agent who apparently had some kind of past with Bourne (naturally he can't remember) played by an actress of insufficient gravitas. Nicky seems like a half-aborted attempt to give Bourne a love interest, a replacement for the far more engaging Marie (Franka Potente), murdered near the beginning of The Bourne Supremacy. Albert Finney gives a small but memorable performance as the CIA psychiatrist who transformed Bourne into a deceptively mild-mannered Rambo. In its heart-pounding, two-hour race to the finish line, The Bourne Ultimatum is an action film with a moral conscience concerning the value of human life in the grand chess game of global politics. It's also a post 9-11 fantasy, a subversive way of processing anxiety over a war on terror run amok. Unfortunately, The Bourne Ultimatum falls into a stock, climactic smash 'em up car chase sequence and wraps it's story too neatly in the closing moments, a too perfect Hollywood ending with room for a sequel.
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