A and A's Movie A Day

Watching movies until we run out.

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.

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October 8, 2010 - Posted by | daily reviews | , ,

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