Saturday, August 04, 2007

The Ultimate Bourne

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.


David Roth said...

Maya my love,

Read me BLOG from Thursday, and them read Ludlam's books. It is as much a stretch to say that these movies were based on Ludlam's books as it is to say that Shatner's 'Star Trek Memories' actually accurately reflects Roddenberry's golden years of Trek. The only thing Damon's films share with Ludlam's books are the titles and the character names. If I recall, and it has been 20 years since I read them, Bourne is a much older man in this third installment, and Marie St. Jacques - a Member of the Canadian Banking Establishment, and not thr trollop introduced in the first Damon film, is still alive and well and with her man - to whom she is nor married - in this final story.

If you want to see a much better- and far more accurate film version of the The Bourne Identity, find a copy of the 1988 TV mini series version which starred Richard Chamberlain as Bourne, and Jaclyn Smith as Marie. In that you see the chamelion that Ludlam describes - and which Damon never quite achieves. Damon may be the better action hero, but Chamberlain is the far superior Bourne.

And you're spot on about the Rambo films. First Blood was a classic against which every subsequent one fails in comparison.


Maya Reynolds said...

David, my own: You really need to quit reading other people's blogs and then commenting about them on mine :)

I never mentioned Ludlum in this post.

Having said that, I will admit to a love/hate relationship with Ludlum. I either adored his books or I hated them. There was no in-between. I learned to read the first chapter in the bookstore before committing to actually purchasing the book because, if I couldn't read the first chapter, the book was a goner for me.

Now this next may be the difference between male and female. I DID see the Richard Chamberlain version of "The Bourne Identity" and, while Chamberlain may have been the thinking person's Bourne, he was not the stuff of a girl's romantic fantasies (at least, not THIS girl's).

To be fair, neither is Matt Damon in any other role. I've never been particularly impressed by him EXCEPT as Bourne, but then--oh, Mama--the man moves me.

You're right. He's an action hero, not the classic "put on some makeup and a wig" spy. But go back and read the first line of my post. I'm looking for pure escapism, and Damon's Bourne fits the bill admirably :)

Do you read David Morrell? I think he is as good if not better than Ludlum--and more consistently so. I'm talking, of course, of the original Ludlum and not the manufactured books produced under his name in the years since his death.

David Roth said...

Of course you didn't mention Ludlam. It's a nasty habit of mine when I've read the book that the movie was supposedly based on, and while I don't mind little tweaks by the director (like leaving out the whole bit about Dobby's house elf rights in the most recent Harry Potter) It really gets my knickers is a twist when all the movie maker uses is the title and character names, and them mostly ignores the plot. I have to wonder if the guy who write this screenplay ever actually read the Ludlam stories, just like I wonder if Spielberg read Jurassic Park Lost World before making that movie. Or how about The Jackel, based on the MOVIE Day of the Jackel which was based on the BOOK Day of the Jackel. Talk about 6 points removed LOL.

You're spot on - Damon's Bourne is indeed pure escapist heaven.

Maya Reynolds said...

See, we're worlds apart here. I rarely, if ever, compare the book to the movie. I just enjoy each for its own merits.

If the author sells the film rights, then the filmmaker is free to develop his own artistic vision, and I'm just fickle enough to go right along with him.

Remember what happened when Philip Anschutz let Clive Cussler dictate the filming of "Sahara." The jury just recently decided THAT case (see my blog for May 17).

In my shallow little escapism approach to film, I loved "Jurassic Park," "Jackal" and the Bourne franchise.

What can I say? I'm frivolous, unfaithful and easily diverted :)

Thanks, as always, for your thoughts.

David Roth said...

Frivolous and Easily diverted, eh? Actually those are two of the qualities I always look for in a woman (I almost quipped the Ian Malcomb line from Jurassic Park - "Qualities I always look for in a future ex mrs Roth LOL)

Ah, if only I wasn't already married to the finest woman God ever created.