Saturday, August 13, 2016

The Bourne Ultimatum Movie Review

Matt Damon never smiles in The Bourne Supremacy. I think that’s also true in The Bourne Ultimatum, which is the darker and slightly more sinister installment in the trilogy. It picks up where the previous film left off, after Bourne has tried to achieve some redemption by apologizing to the young woman whose life he altered when he murdered her parents. Most of the movie cleverly, it turns out, takes place between that apology scene and the epilogue of The Bourne Supremacy in which he calls Pam Landy and insinuates that he’s looking at her through her office window.


Tony Gilroy apparently has credit only as his draft script for Ultimatum was scrapped in favor of new material by Scott Z. Burns and George Nolfi, who took that little nugget at the end of the second film which we thought was Bourne’s kiss-off before going into hiding again, and built a whole lead-up to that moment.

As Bourne learns more about who he is, director Paul Greengrass deliberately throws in plenty of parallels and reflections of things that occurred in the other two films. When he is confronted at the end by another assassin played by Edgar Ramirez, he says, “Look at us. Look what they make you give.” This is the same line spoken by Clive Owen in Identity before dying in that field. At the time, Bourne couldn’t comprehend its meaning. Now that he’s reached enlightenment, he knows enough to repeat it, understanding its true meaning.

Ultimatum tackles the political subject matter at the forefront of newspaper narratives at the time: issues of torture, rendition, lack of oversight granting extraordinary powers to the CIA to conduct the war on terror as they saw fit and with expediency. Noah Vosen (David Strathairn) is the new CIA assistant director. He falls on the side of doing whatever it takes to maintain secrets and a fair public image. When Nicky Parsons (Julia Stiles again) helps Bourne escape, Vosen can only assume she’s got nefarious motives. Yet he orders her assassination by their asset based in Morocco. Landy is the voice of restraint, of transparency, of democratic rule of law and some semblance of habeus corpus. Those were challenging questions in 2007. People like Vosen didn’t see themselves as evil, but as protecting the foundations of the freedoms we enjoy, defending us from terror and tyranny even while others decried it as tearing at the very fabric of freedom.

Ultimatum is never about the thrill of violence or any kind of satisfaction in killing. Bourne witnesses killing with impunity, whether it’s The Guardian reporter played by Paddy Considine in London, shot dead in a crowded Waterloo Station to prevent his revealing CIA secrets, or his source, a CIA station chief who is the victim of a car bomb. And when Bourne fights an assassin sent to kill him and Nicky, what starts out as an adrenaline-filled action scene goes on longer than expected and slows down unflinchingly to reveal the gruesome part that movies like this gloss over. When the man lies there dead, Nicky looks on in something between shock and horror. We recall Marie witnessing for the first time Jason beat a man in hand-to-hand combat ending with him jumping out the window to his death. Where other action movies quickly move on, the Bourne movies hold on the gritty emotion that follows a harrowing act of violence.

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