Wednesday, December 12, 2007

Movie Review - The Bourne Ultimatum

As I've said elsewhere, I'm not big on going to movie theaters. I don't much care for either modern theaters, or rude and stupid modern theater crowds. I want to be able to watch a movie without listening to the guy behind me hogging down a bag of pork rinds and a giant slurpee. I hate it when people come it late, it just pisses me off. I want to be able to pause the flick if necessary, I'm in my forties which means I need to go to the little movie reviewer's room right about the time the first major action sequence hits. I've got classic noise induced hearing damage from a lifetime of having things blow up next to my head and from being around heavy military machines, which I compensate for in real life by watching faces and mouths (so, if we're ever face to face and I'm not looking you in the eye, I'm not being rude or evasive, I'm watching your mouth). When watching a movie I don't always catch every word because a lot of the visual cues I depend on just aren't there, so I like to back the movie up and listen to certain sections again. My wife and I tend to trade smart alec comments during the show, this is generally frowned on in a theater. I also like to watch a movie with my laptop, so I can look up trivia and such, this is also generally frowned on in a theater. I don't much care for the classic movie theater snacks (except for Junior Mints, I love those things), I want to be able to drink a beer and have cheese and crackers or dill pickles or whatever I feel like. And, most movie theater seats kill me, the rows aren't far enough apart and my ass almost always falls asleep about an hour into the flick. So, we normally wait for a movie to come out on DVD, then we buy the widescreen version, sometimes in HD depending on the movie, and watch it in the comfort of our living room on our monster plasma in full surround sound.

Last night we watched the third installment of the Bourne trilogy, The Bourne Ultimatum, based on the Robert Ludlum novels.

It did not disappoint. It's smart and fast and shiny and intense.

As expected Ultimatum finally answers the questions asked in the previous two installments: i.e. who is Jason Bourne, where did he come from and how was he trained, why can't he remember anything, and why is the CIA after him? The movie asks a few questions of it's own. A few loose ends are left dangling, leaving open the possibility of a fourth installment.

Ultimatum is an action movie, of course. Boy is it an action movie. There are chases and shootouts and some extremely intense fight scenes. In fact, if I had any complaints at all, it would be that there's just a little bit too much action. There are two intense chases sequences, one on foot through the claustrophobic alleyways of Tangier and a car chase through the streets of New York. Both go on just a little too long. But ultimately (heh) at its heart, this is a chase movie - so my complaint is a minor one.

The story is a little predictable in places, but in a good way. If you've seen the first two installments, you know what this one is going to be about. Jason Bourne is going home, he's going to get answers, certain people are going to pay. The director, Paul Greenglass (The Bourne Supremacy) doesn't try to hide this, in fact he makes it clear right from the beginning. He also expects his audience to think for themselves. He wants you to figure things out, and he's happy to give you the satisfaction of those Ha! I knew that was going to happen! moments. But, there are also plenty of little twists to keep you entertained and guessing, and Greenglass does a masterful job of building suspense along the way.

One of the things I enjoy so much about these movies, is that they are filled with strong smart women. I like strong, smart women. Franke Potente's role in the The Bourne Identity is terrific, and Julia Stiles and Joan Allen continue that tradition in The Bourne Ultimatum. Stiles' character, Nicky Parsons, has grown from a supporting role in the first movie, to a strong main character in the last one, and Stiles does an excellent job with the role. Greenglass never allows Parsons to devolve into the Bond Girl window dressing so stereotypical of this genre, and Stiles makes you want to know more about her. If they do make a forth movie, I hope we get to explore a bit more of her history with Bourne.

Joan Allen, as CIA Senior Agent Pamela Landy, is also uniformly terrific. Landy's character is smart, driven, idealistic, and intelligent. She's the kind of person you hope really exists in the bowels of the CIA. There's a nice scene overlap between Ultimatum and Supremacy, which centers around Landy and Bourne. It was a neat twist, without the artifice of retconning.

And, of course, there's Matt Damon, as Jason Bourne himself. Damon is one of the great actors of the modern genre. He consistently and credibly pulls off the understated everyman. He makes Bourne a human and believable character, an idealist, intelligent and conflicted, on a quest to find out who he really is. Though the movie contains a great deal of violent action, Greenglass never allows it to become gratuitous. Bourne the assassin goes out of his way to avoid conflict, but when when violence is forced upon him he performs without hesitation.

A few minor quibbles: CIA Director Kramer, played by the fantastic Scott Glenn, is a cardboard cutout. His motives are never more than sketchy. However, what little screen time he has, Glenn makes the most of (and in Greenglass' defense, it would be very easy for the powerful Glenn to overshadow the story, and the emphasis in supposed to be on Bourne so maybe this is why Kramer is kept in the shadowy periphery). CIA Deputy Director Vosen is just a little too graspingly self-serving, just a little too obvious - though David Strathairn does a credible job with the character. The various 'assets,' CIA assassins, are just a little too machine like, though one of them does display human compassion and a sense of honor late in the film. No human, not matter how well trained, could take the punishment Bourne does - but hey it wouldn't be much of an action movie if the main character spent two months in traction recovering from a pair of broken legs and a dislocated shoulder.

One major quibble: The camera work. Greenglass loves to use the Ridley Scott technique, i.e. he films his action sequences using a hand held camera with the steadcam stabilization turned off. This is supposed to give the viewer a sense of looking through the character's eyes. Done well, it in essence projects the moviegoer straight into the middle of the action. And Greenglass does it better than most. The problem is that this technique only works for the viewer under the exact right conditions, in a theater sitting dead center, midway to the back. In the front row, close to the screen, it's nauseating. At home on a medium sized tube TV, it's jarring and jittering and reminds of me of broadcast TV when the vertical frame lock is lost and the picture rolls and flips up and down - which is to say that it is annoying as all hell and makes me want to smack the side of the TV, hard, just to get it to stop. On my big 72" widescreen, it's not too bad, but it's still distracting and there was far too much of it in this movie.

All in all, The Bourne Ultimatum was well worth the wait. It's a terrific popcorn flick, and it does what a movie is supposed to do - it entertains. And as an added bonus, it's smart, intelligent, and exercises your mind. Go get your copy today.


  1. Damon is one of the great actors of the modern genre.

    Plus he's Hot. And in a good way, too, not in a Coyote Stupid way.

  2. Yes, Janiece, I realize that most women would watch Matt Damon, even if the sound was turned off. Bastard.

    Truthfully, I like the guy, I think he's an excellent actor. Besides Bourne, my favorite role of his is as the angel Loki, in Kevin Smith's Dogma.

  3. We just bought "The Bourne Identity" last weekend. When the first came out, I read the spoilers and thought, "nope, don't need to see it." But my wife wanted to, so I relented and bought her the DVD as an early Xmas present. I was very impressed and entertained.

    Much of it is pseudo-coldwar paranoia stuff, but the acting is right on, and they make things go boom very well. The part that got me sitting up was when the police try to roust him out of the park. I don't know who Damon studied, be he got that look right (it sent shivers) when he catches the billy-club and everything stops for a second. His whole body language changes (like it does as he hunts down assassin #2 outside the country estate) as you see the "click" go off between his eyes. That click that he just correographed all the movements to work through the two targets. And they are targets now, not policemen.

    So I guess I now need to get the other two movies, and read the books.

    Although, for Matt Damon, every time I see him I flash back to Will & Grace where he plays a straight guy acting gay to tour Europe with a Gay Chorus, "I get to tour Europe, get a per diem, and I have a winning smile" (with obligatory sparkle put in as he flashes the cheesy grin).

  4. I love that scene overlap between the two movies. As a storyteller, I admire that they didn't take the easy way, which is to pick up the thread linearly at the end of #2. And the fact that it's well done is even better.

    I do agree Damon is easy on the eyes. The fact that he seems like a really nice guy adds to his appeal. Women are wierd like that.

  5. I love Dogma. One of my favorite all time movies.

    Not to hijack this thread, but guess what the boy asked for as a Christmas gift for his new hooptie? A Buddy Christ for the dashboard.


    I'm so proud.

  6. Yeah, Dogma is in my top ten too.

    I'm usually not a fan of juvenile humor for some reason, I love Kevin Smith movies - I find Jay and Silent Bob Strike Back hysterical, and I can't explain it.


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