Thursday, 6 September 2007

Review: The Bourne Ultimatum (2007)

Runtime: 111 Director: Paul Greengrass Starring: Matt Damon, Julia Stiles, David Strathairn

Jason Bourne (Damon) continues his search for his unknown past. After tracking a possible lead to Spain, he joins up with former enemy and government agent Nicky Parsons (Stiles), and has to contend with the continual might of the CIA and the US government on his trail. Meanwhile, agent Pamela Landy (Joan Allen), who has tried to stop Bourne before, has joined forces with CIA Deputy Director Noah Vosen (Strathairn) in a final attempt to kill or capture the renegade assassin.

The Borune Ultimatum is something of a cinematic rarity - a third installment in a trilogy that's actually superior to its predecessors. I wouldn't say it's perfect by any means, and there are some things about it that I genuinely didn't like. But for the most part it's a thrilling ride, and one packed with a calibre of acting you so rarely see in films of this nature.

I confess that five years ago I wouldn't have pegged Matt Damon as an action star, but he really has turned Bourne into a memorable character. Bourne is lethal, efficient and relentless, but the character is also tinged with a hint of desperation and sadness. Damon has always been able to convey the complexities of Bourne, and his performance here is certainly no exception. However, I would say that the vulnerable and almost repressed human side of Bourne has been diminished here, until the final third of the film anyway. In many ways he's almost too deadly and powerful in Ultimatum, hacking through enemies like an SAS-Ninja-Jedi. The result of this is a brilliantly intense character, but one we never think for a second is in any form of danger.

Elsewhere, Strathairn and Allen really do make the most of roles that would have crumbled in lesser hands. Landy and Vosen aren't complicated characters at all, though Landy has her doubts about the intentions of those around her. But the two actors transform scenes that could just look like a couple of grown adults squabbling into something a lot more than that. They might just be standing in rooms talking, but they hook you onto every word. Stiles has a bit more to do here than in the previous films, though Nicky's introduction is a bit too convenient for my liking. That said, there's an unusual chemistry between Stiles and Damon, and the character provides opportunities for the pace to quieten down a bit.

Three films in, and there isn't much plot to talk about anymore since we know what all the characters are up to. So that affords the film more time for action sequences, and there are plenty of them. There's a brutal intensity to them that suits Greengrass's directorial preferences well, and a climatic car case in particular is absolutely electrifying. That said, I do wish someone would buy Greengrass a tripod for his camera. The frantic shaking and zooming is forgivable during the action sequences, though on occasion it does distract from the proceedings. But Greengrass shoots the whole film like this - we really don't need a wobbly camera and quick zooms up actors' noses when they're just sitting down and talking on the phone. His style can sometimes make the film hard to watch; by comparison, even Michael Bay is normally far more restrained in interpersonal scenes.

Whether there will be anymore Bourne films is hard so say, as the film ends on an appropriate point with which to conclude the series. But as a trilogy closer The Bourne Ultimatum is a crackingly good ride, packed full of exhilarating action and engrossing performances.

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