Reel Opinions

Friday, August 03, 2007

The Bourne Ultimatum

Jason Bourne is a man of few words. Then again, The Bourne Ultimatum is a movie of few words. I mean that as a complement. In the third entry in the Bourne franchise, returning director Paul Greengrass (United 93) has created a nearly two-hour long cat and mouse chase movie that hardly slows down long enough for Bourne or anyone else in the movie to get any long moments of dialogue in. Not that you'll mind. This is a tightly edited and paced adult action thriller that ranks amongst the top of the summer movie line up. It comes close at times to becoming too much, but it always manages to stay in the safety zone, and not come across as an over the top mindless video game of a movie.

Having spent the past couple years trying to remember his forgotten past, former assassin Jason Bourne (Matt Damon) is getting closer to uncovering the truth behind the mysterious random flashbacks that continue to haunt him. The CIA now views him as a bigger threat than ever before, and head operations director Noah Vosen (David Strathaim) is determined to wipe him out by any means necessary. This puts him at odds with agent Pamela Landy (Joan Allen), who is not convinced that Bourne is a national threat, and that Noah's methods are extreme. As Jason Bourne pieces together the final parts of the puzzle that is his past, he finds himself outrunning, outthinking, and outfighting the various agents that are tracking him and trying to silence him. Along the way, he gains an ally in the form of agent Nicky Parsons (Julia Stiles), who actually puts her life and career on the line to help him. However, time is quickly running out, and people who hold the clues Bourne needs are being hunted down and killed off.

I will admit that up until this week, I had not seen the previous two Bourne films. I wanted to make sure I did not walk into this one completely unknowing. Fortunately, The Bourne Ultimatum is fairly easy to follow, as there is plenty of helpful flashbacks and dialogue to events that took place in the earlier entries before the action kicks in. After that, pretty much anything goes as the movie follows Bourne around the world in his search for answers. The energy contained within this movie is enough to hold probably two summer blockbusters, as the movie flies from one sequence to the next with very little time for exposition or character building. While this does somewhat stunt the growth of the characters, and prevents them from truly connecting with us, the movie more than makes up for this shortcoming with its absolute desire to amaze us and entertain us with its amazing action and suspenseful plotting. An early sequence where Bourne and an ally must elude capture in a massive train station is quite clever and manages to keep the tension high for the entire 10 or 15 minutes that it runs. Another highlight is a sequence where Bourne must track down a motorcycle-riding assassin who is out for not only an important person in his past, but also Nicky. These sequences are very long, sometimes seeming to clock in to almost a half an hour. And yet, the sequences never become dull or repetitive. The action is tense and fast-paced enough, and is constantly changing as Bourne is faced with new challenges, sometimes when he is still trying to tackle a previous one. It's a credit to the director and the screenplay by Tony Gilroy, Scott Z. Burns and George Nolfi that they can keep on thinking of ways to hold our attention for such long periods of time without making it seem like the action is being dragged out.

The action is incredibly well-shot and edited, with only the memorable sequences contained within June's Live Free or Die Hard matching it in terms of sheer "wow" factor. And yet, at the same time, it all comes with somewhat of a price. The characters come across as being somewhat thin because the movie seems to constantly be moving. Jason Bourne is still a great action hero, but he never really comes across as being anything but that. His dialogue is very short and to the point, and except for the film's final moments, we never really learn anything about him. He's a single-minded man on a mission, and he never really gets any time to do anything else. That certainly doesn't mean he's not interesting to watch. Matt Damon has certainly grown into the character, and he's much more believable as an unstoppable physical specimen than he was in the original film. (Damon's face doesn't look quite as boyish this time around as it did in the original.) He's also more than physically capable to successfully carry out the challenges that the film throws at him. I have a feeling if I had seen this movie before the previous two, Bourne would come across as somewhat of a one-note character, and not very interesting. The few moments the movie allows him to slow down and have a real conversation with someone, he doesn't come across as being very deep, but Damon brings a certain vulnerability to the character in his performance that at least makes him seem human and aware that he might be getting in over his head this time around.

In the supporting roles, Joan Allen and Julia Stiles come across the strongest, since they get the most amount of screentime outside of Damon. Even though Allen's character has very little interaction with Bourne during the course of the film, she's able to create genuine concern for him, and does a good job of conveying her feeling toward him and his mission to discover more about his past. Julia Stiles gets to share more screen time with Damon, and she does certainly have an easy chemistry with him during their scenes together. Her motives for joining up with Bourne are a little shaky and forced, but for the most part, she's a welcome member to the cast and gives him someone to play off on for part of the film. The main weak link in the cast is David Strathaim as the evil agent who wants Bourne dead. It's not that he's bad in the role, it's just that the character is severely underwritten to the point that he is just evil for the sake of being evil. He also never comes across as threatening as he truly should be, since he spends most of the film standing around and barking out orders to other people. He doesn't make for an interesting villain, and many of the people he sends after Bourne come across as being more menacing and interesting.
The Bourne Ultimatum is pure popcorn entertainment that requires very little thought to watch. The fact that it's targeted at adults instead of teens or kids helps it stand out a little bit more from its summer competition. Audiences are sure to get the action they come for, and fans that have been following the story from the beginning are sure to be satisfied. But, it still could have been even more with a screenplay that dared to dig a little bit deeper into the characters. As it stands, Ultimatum is fast paced and fun, if not slight, and is a good way to help the wind down of the summer movie season go down a little bit easier.



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