4/28/09

The Bourne Ultimatum (2007)

Matt Damon (Bourne), Julia Stiles (Nicky), David Strathairn (Vosa), Joan Allen (Landry)

Directed by Paul Greengrass (The Bourne Supremacy)

IMDB: Bourne dodges new, superior assassins as he searches for his unknown past while a government agent tries to track him down.

Let's see, I've talked about Matt Damon's hotness as Jason Bourne, and about the realism of the fight scenes and how they added to the dramatic tension. Cool. I'll move on to the much ballyhooed "Paul Greengrass style" of filmmaking.

After watching the nauseating trainwreck of cinematography that was Quantum of Solace, I had serious concerns about the handheld = compelling approach. Doug Liman's first Bourne movie was nice. No nausea. No feeling like the tension was being artificially amplified through the use of cheap camera tricks. This again added to my anxiety about watching Greengrass take the helm for films two and three.

Lesson learned: The artist who popularizes a style is generally the best at making it work. Subsequent attempts are substandard. (And can induce puking and/or headaches.)

Greengrass is really quite fantastic. Aside from the opening three minutes of Supremacy, when the handheld camera was very obvious in comparison to the first film, I got lost in the technique. This is no Quantum of Solace mishmash garbage, and the power of what Greengrass was able to accomplish was significant. I experienced a genuine sense of claustrophobia in the Waterloo scenes, reliving exactly how it feels to be in that place and among all those people, swimming upstream, the announcement echoing across the super-high ceilings, the cold air in winter because the exit doors are always open. Never once did I feel that the style trumped the storytelling, which is a serious credit to the filmmakers.

Speaking of storytelling, the screenwriters did an amazing job at keeping Bourne's relevance without it playing out like "just another movie." They made a compelling case that he had unfinished business. I really, really liked the subtext with Nicky, which explained a great deal about her involvement from the start. But they didn't take it too far. The "cut and dye your hair to go undercover" scene, mirrored from the first film, was particularly effective because they practiced a great deal of restraint. Not necessarily subtle, but very dramatic.

I also loved what I came to regard as my "what's he up to?" reaction. For example, when Bourne was running across the rooftops in Tangier, collecting laundry as he dodged badguys, I thought, "What's he up to?" Turns out he was using the laundry to pad his vault across glass-encrusted protective walls. They did this throughout the films, which demonstrated Bourne's cleverness and training rather than just his ability to delivery a serious bit o' kung-fu.

That said, Vosa's character made a consistent string of poor calls. "Bourne must be the informant." OK, but why? Why would he say it in such a declarative manner. Why not, Bourne could be the informant, but let's keep our options open? That would've seemed more credible, and his inconsistent logic showed up as the only flaws in an otherwise highly entertaining film.

Now that Lucas & Co have ruined their legacy, the Bourne films will have to take Indiana Jones' place as the most perfect trilogy.

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