A and A's Movie A Day

Watching movies until we run out.

Movie 222 – The Bourne Ultimatum

The Bourne Ultimatum – October 8th, 2010

Last night when we finished the second movie Andy suggested waiting for midnight and putting this in immediately. I was tempted. Very tempted. Because while I did have issues with last night’s movie, I enjoyed it all the same, and knowing there was a third I was left very hopeful. After all, at the end of the second movie Bourne’s still dealing with some very difficult morality issues and his fractured memory and identity. He’s looking for answers about who he is and who he was and why he’s been doing what he knows he’s been doing. So even though it could all possibly end at the second movie, there’s plenty to work with for a third. But I was exhausted. And I wanted to sleep. I’m glad I did, because this is one hell of a tight movie, full of twists and double crosses, and I’m glad I watched it when I was awake enough to really pay attention to it.

I loved this movie. I loved every moment of it. For one, it starts off nice and tense, picking up where it left off in Moscow and setting Bourne up to be injured and on the run. So it starts out with risk involved and it never really lets up. That’s a far cry from the second movie, where yes, there’s danger, but it doesn’t last. Yes, there’s a plot point that sucks Bourne back towards the CIA but I think it was done far more elegantly this time and he was headed somewhat in that direction anyhow. And it all plays well into Bourne’s search for his past. I’m kind of hesitant to go into too much detail, to be honest. I could explain the plot and what it involves, but really, it would start to get spoilery so quickly.

The plot we get involves a leak to the press regarding Treadstone, which is now defunct, and Project Blackbriar, which was mentioned in the end of the first movie and which is easily assumed to be something equally or more dangerous than Treadstone was. The leak gets the attention of Noah Vosen, played by David Strathairn, and that’s where all the big shit starts. I like David Strathairn. No, scratch that. I fucking love David Strathairn. Dude’s a badass with glasses and a mild voice. I’d say he’s on a level with Joan Allen as an unexpected badass. Someone professional and cool and collected. The big difference between Strathairn’s Vosen at the start of this movie and Allen’s Landy is that Landy in the last was working without everything she needed. She started out behind Bourne and never quite caught up. Vosen starts out with an upper hand. He knows who and what Bourne is and what he’s capable of and he has tools on the same level at his disposal. I immediately feel like Bourne’s at risk, even though he’s just as tough as always. And then Landy’s brought on board with Vosen and Bourne’s doubly in danger because Landy almost had him when she was at a disadvantage and now she’s distinctly better armed. It’s a lovely set-up. Fast paced and tense, with just the right element of danger involved.

What really strikes me now that I think about it is that this movie goes back to something from the first one, which is that the enemy Bourne is dealing with is someone who knows him better than he knows himself – theoretically at least. He has allies, and some unexpected ones at that, but his opponent is another chess master, playing by some creative rules. I am reminded in one scene of a game called Fluxx. It’s a card game and on the surface it’s a simple one. There are item cards, there are action cards, and there are also cards that set the instructions for how many cards you can have, how many cards to draw, how many to play each turn. And there are goal cards that set the winning conditions. And every turn the rules change. That is how the game works. You play a card and suddenly the goal your opponent was playing for is gone and one that you’ve got the cards for is in place. Winning is a matter of setting everything up right. When Vosen says it’s over when they win? I can’t help but think that he’s looking at a win condition that someone else might change in the next turn. That’s the sort of movie this is.

I can’t help but admire this entire setup. Where last night felt like amateur hour every so often, tonight feels like watching artists at work. There are so many double crosses it’s brilliant. There’s genuine risk, and it’s at such a high level it forces Bourne and Landy to both work at the top of their games because Vosen’s working at the top of his and he’s got resources. It heightens the entire movie for me. There’s at least one moment mid-movie where I laughed out of pure delight as what had just transpired, with all three leads involved in something so twisty I didn’t quite see it coming. The movie deftly works in issues of morality that surface for many of the characters, not just Bourne. He’s a catalyst for many of the key players. Landy, Nicky, at least one of the assassins he faces. The movie has some amazing plotting, writing and direction as well as once more demanding fantastic performances from its leads. And when it was over I was so thrilled with what I’d seen, I was left speechless for a little while. That’s one hell of a movie.

October 8, 2010 Posted by | daily reviews | , , , , , | Leave a comment

The Bourne Ultimatum

October 8, 2010

The Bourne Ultimatum

The reason that I wanted to put this movie in right after we got with The Bourne Supremacy last night is that the two movies are so inextricably linked in my mind. They were filmed three years apart, but they are very cleverly bound to each other. Right at the start we follow Jason Bourne as he flees from Russian police officers in Moscow. The starting action in this movie picks up right after the events of yesterday’s movie. As this movie starts Bourne still has his limp (from leaping onto a barge during a chase scene) and a gunshot wound to his shoulder (from a battle with his Russian counterpart – the one who killed his girlfriend in the last movie.) So this movie impresses on you right from the beginning that Bourne is no impervious superman. He spends almost the entire movie on the run, and when he’s not running from superior numbers and coordinated efforts to capture or kill him he’s running towards his enemies.

This movie centers around Bourne’s attempts to find out more about how he came to be the uber-super-assassin that he is. There are tons of flashbacks to his initial training and the psychological conditioning that he was put through to transform him from whatever he was before into Jason Bourne. He’s already plagued by flashbacks (as seen as he flees the police in Moscow) bu it’s when he sees an article about him by an English journalist that he really becomes curious. He wants to know who the journalist’s source is and what he knows about the formation of Treadstone. Unfortunately for Bourne (and the journalist) the CIA is mighty interested in his source as well and has set up a whole tone of surveillance around him. This journalist has created a stir in the CIA because he knows something about something called Blackfriar which seems to be a kind of offshoot of Treadstone.

What’s awesome about this movie is that this is the film where Jason Bourne really comes into his own. Why? Because by now he’s earned some respect in the world of spydom. When the new badass chief of black ops for the CIA – Noah Vosen – sees Bourne on a monitor his immediate reaction is “Jesus Christ! It’s Jason Bourne.” By this time Bourne has a reputation in Langley and it is that of a horrifying natural disaster that destroys only spies. Things in the ops room are humming along with everybody trying to figure out what’s going on with the journalist Ross but as soon as they realize that Bourne is on the scene everything turns up to a new level of fevered activity. Bourne is the CIA’s worst case scenario made flesh. And with good reason.

The whole movie is a cat and mouse game as Bourne tries to find out the secrets of his past and Vosen tries to keep that information away from him. Vosen enlists Pamela Landy to help his team understand Bourne, and almost at the same time Bourne runs into Nicky Parsons again. (This would be my one quibble. It seems extremely implausible that Nicky should just happen to be working in one of the offices that Bourne breaks into in his attempts to get information. It would make a lot more sense if she just explained that she knew information about Jason was in that office and she’s been trying to get it herself – it is implied that she has some reason of her own to care about him.) I love the interplay as Bourne and Vosen vie with each other and the way that Bourne manages to cleverly get the upper hand on a couple occasions.

I love seeing not just Matt Damon and Julia Stiles returning once again to their roles but Joan Allen reprising Landy. If it is possible I think that Landy is an even stronger character in this movie than in the second one. You get the impression that she’s learned some lessons since the second movie. Lessons about how to deal with Jason Bourne and about just who you can really trust. She takes no shit, and she understands just exactly what Bourne is capable of. A new addition to the cast is David Strathairn as Vosen. He always brings a great sense of gravity to his work, and you totally buy him as both a commander of all these troops and as a worthy opponent for Bourne.

One thing that strikes me about the Bourne universe is just how exceptionally filled with corrupt spies the CIA is. Just how many corrupt people oversaw the Treadstone initiative? There was Conklin in the first movie, Abbott in the second, then this movie introduces Dr. Hirsch, who was involved in the psychological conditioning of the Treadstone projects. And there’s the whole Blackbriar operation in this movie which is pretty much every unethical and unpopular operation that the CIA ever does wrapped up in one place. Kidnapping, killing, torture – it’s all there.

I worry about what they would do if they ever make a sequel to this. By which I mean that after three movies the formula might have become too worn to support more. I love seeing Bourne taunt and outsmart the people who are hunting him, and I love seeing him get out of all sorts of tight spots through ingenuity and intelligence, but how many corrupt CIA commanders can he expose? There were parts of this movie that were pretty direct echoes of the first two (particularly Nicky dying and cutting her hair – which is directly out of the first movie) and I began to wonder how much of it was intended to be deliberate callbacks to the earlier films and how much was the film makers running out of ideas.

Don’t get me wrong. I love this movie. The way they work the closing scene from Supremacy into the very fabric of Ultimatum, re-purposing the scene and providing new motivations for it even though it uses pretty much the same dialog, is sheer genius and makes the whole movie worth while in my mind. But still, as much as I would love to see more of Bourne being the great badass that he is, I think I’m happy with three movies. Unless they can find something really great for the next one.

October 8, 2010 Posted by | daily reviews | , , | Leave a comment