Okay, I'll admit it. I go to the movies to be entertained. Not to be educated, inspired or challenged. I get enough opportunities for growth and enrichment in my everyday life. When I go to the movies, I expect to laugh, be thrilled, titillated, or scared.
With this low-brow agenda, it should come as no surprise that I have been eagerly awaiting the latest in the Bourne franchise.
So what do I have to say about the Bourne Ultimatum?
I hope they stop the series at this, the third one.
Because--to my complete surprise--this is the best of the three films, and I want Matt Damon to stop while he's ahead. I'd hate to see him follow Sylvester Stallone down the road to perdition. Sly took a terrific character--John Rambo--and reduced him to an embarrassing caricature.
Ultimatum is directed by Paul Greengrass, who also directed the Bourne Supremacy.
The cast is great. I suspect Julia Stiles gets second billing more for making her third appearance in the series than for her part as the nominal romantic interest.
Joan Allen is back again as the conscience of the CIA. Scott Glenn is the head of the CIA, and Albert Finney is the man who "created" Jason Bourne.
The film introduces David Straithairn as the villainous Noah Vosen, head of a CIA black ops unit called Blackbriar. The storyline seems to be that Blackbriar is the next iteration of the original Treadstone, the unit that spawned Bourne.
I love Straithairn as a good guy (he played Edward R. Murrow in Good Night, and Good Luck), but I think he makes a much better bad guy. He's a suave, cold and altogether slithery antagonist.
As good as Straithairn is, the film belongs to Matt Damon as the tortured, amnesiac government assassin still trying to figure out his past. The new movie picks up right where Supremacy left off with Jason Bourne limping away from a Russian apartment block. He's obviously still grieving for his lost love, Marie, killed off in the second film. Now that he's avenged her death, his goal is to learn more about his own background. What made him the killing machine he is today?
The movie has all the hallmarks that made the first two films such smash successes. Jason Bourne is the lone protagonist pitted against a vastly superior covert network. He survives by his wits and through his skills. There is a fabulous scene early on in the film where he is trying to communicate with a British reporter while evading the CIA who are watching him from New York on the cameras of London's Waterloo Station and who have dispatched a sniper to kill him and the reporter. I read on Rotten Tomatoes that Paul Greengrass filmed the scene during actual rush hour at Waterloo Station:
There was no way to fake that, so director Paul Greengrass used his own tactics to complete the scene.
"What you do is you design the sequence that is in many, many pieces so in fact you're planning to shoot in many different parts of the station," said Greengrass. "What you have to do is never be in the same place twice because what happens is that people get to know you're there and a crowd starts to build up. It's impossible to be like a true guerilla unit because it's a huge, it's a Bourne movie, but you've got to move from place to place and be unpredictable so people don't know where you are and then move on fast."
Of course, there are the car chases for which the Bourne franchise is famous. In this film, there are at least three: with Bourne on a scooter, in a coupe, and in a stolen police car.
The film also has its share of flashbacks with the amnesiac Bourne trying to remember his past.
The adrenaline-inducing pace never stops. If I had one quibble with the movie it was Greengrass' over-dependence on a close hand-held camera for the jittery action scenes. There is one mind-bending fight in Tangier, Morocco that moves so fast you can barely tell what happens.
This movie is the most overtly political of the series with scenes of rendition and prisoners in black hoods. When David Straithairn tells Joan Allen he won't stop until "we win," the inevitable comparison is to the current administration, and it's left to the audience to decide whether the end ever justifies the means.
On an emotional level, my favorite part was the growing sense of inevitability as Bourne draws closer and closer to his origins--and the answer of who he is. He starts in Moscow and moves to Paris, London, Madrid, Tangier and--finally New York. There's a line reminiscent of the second Rambo movie: "He went home."
If you're a fan of action films, don't miss this one. And do yourself a favor: see it on the big screen.