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Sunday, August 05, 2007

The Bourne Ultimatum

I was Bourne Again for the third time this weekend at the Essex Cinemas and by that I a not referring to the church services offered there each Sunday by the Essex Alliance Church. As much as some of you may think I should be shackled and dragged into a church for some kind of exorcism, I prefer to think of the movies as my own form of “religious experience” and Hugh Jackman as my personal savior. Okay, I can already feel some of you saying “She’s going straight to hell!” Well, I’ll save you a seat because I’ sure you’ll need one for being so judgmental, but it’s just the way I feel.

Actually, I don’t believe in hell unless you can count my disastrous first marriage to Dennis McBride, and, no not the famous yoyo king Dennis McBride, though this one was and still is quite a yoyo. But I digress. Real hell would be if those of us who enjoyed The Bourne Identity and The Bourne Supremacy were left never getting any resolution to the mystery of who rogue CIA agent Jason Bourne really is, a question that has haunted amnesiac Matt Damon’s title character through both previous films. Fortunately, we now have
The Bourne Ultimatum, an exceptional third act that answers the pivotal question but also brings so much more to the table.

I’ve always been fond of Matt Damon since his early Good Will Hunting and Dogma days, but he has matured now into both a truly handsome man and a terrific actor, taking the character of Jason
Bourne and making him seem mature, sympathetic, heroic, and inherently good despite the fact that we know he is capable of snapping a man’s neck at a moment’s notice and not look back. It’s not often you can root for a guy who you know has killed at least a dozen or more men in the past three years and still think of him as the “good guy” of the piece, but Damon has the smile and the sadness in his eyes to make you want to care about him and believe he really does want to do what’s right.

As in The Bourne Supremacy, Pamela Landy (Joan Allen; The Upside of Anger) is tracking him down from her post at the CIA. Unfortunately for her, because Bourne escaped her grasp in the last chapter she is now reduced to riding shotgun to the unscrupulous Noah Vosen (David Strathairn; Fracture), who almost gleefully makes his contempt for both her and Bourne obvious. He doesn’t care that Bourne has no memory. He considers him a national security risk and wants him dead at all costs while Pam only wants Bourne to come in to the CIA for debriefing and some retraining that would answer his questions along the way.

Strathairn is a delicious villain as he has proven to be in lots of movies. His articulate and professional demeanor provides the perfect façade for the driven but crazed fascist that hides inside. Think of him as a funhouse Dick Cheney, but with better hair and more class. His complete
disregard for the protocols or scruples involved with heading up a mission, yet alone a program within the secret agency is indefensible until we understand that he is not alone in wanting to eliminate Bourne for all the wrong reasons. Yep, there’s a George W. loitering behind Strathairn’s Cheney in the guise of Ezra Kramer (Scott Glenn; Freedom Writers), the slow-talking, Southern fried CIA Director who doesn’t want even his own players to know about some of the doings within their own agency.

In some ways then Bourne and Pamela find themselves in similar situations. Because it becomes obvious that Pamela has developed a certain professional admiration for Bourne since watching his strategic moves and witnessing his ability to escape even the agency’s own best assassins sent to kill him, she becomes suspect in her own right. Then when Bourne contacts her directly and seems to find her trustworthy, it only strengthens Vosen’s belief that Pamela is suspicious somehow, and so she finds herself, like Bourne, wondering what it is that her higher-ups are so determined to keep her him from knowing.

By the end of the film you will feel like you’ve been on a whirlwind world tour, albeit it a bloody and battered version. Bourne fights for his life in places as far-flung as Moscow, Tangier, Madrid, Paris, London, and New York, where each provides a backdrop to its’ own magnificent showdown of one kind or another. You’ll want to cross your legs and hold off running to the loo if so inclined when Bourne hits the ground running in New York City. I guarantee you that this car chase and battle between Bourne and the would-be assassin, ironically named Paz (Edgar Ramirez; Elipsis), is crammed full the absolute best car stunts ever seen in one film. The City hasn’t had a car chase like this since 1971’s The French Connection, and that one didn’t have nearly the twisted metal carnage that this one does.

The threads that have been woven through all three films are tied together nicely, but for those who haven’t seen the previous movies, don’t worry! You won’t be left out in the cold, suffering from “Harry Potter Syndrome.” Since Bourne doesn’t know who he is, it’s imperative to him to reiterate the pieces of the puzzle the he faces, and from the beginning we realize that the key to everything lies in an organization called Blackbriar and a training program called Treadstone. With those bits and a contact in the form of
an investigative reporter named Simon Ross (Paddy Considine; Hot Fuzz), the game is afoot, and the high energy ride slows down only occasionally, usually when former hostage and long-time supporter Nicky Parsons (Julia Stiles; The Omen) shows up. While her role is functionally necessary, there is just something about Stiles that sucks the oxygen out of the room. It may be fine in an eighteenth century drawing room period picture, but in an action film Stiles seems miscast even though she’s made an appearance in all three Bourne films. I guess even the best of the best has to have a dent here and there.

I loved
The Bourne Ultimatum. The only disappointment I had was when we finally found out just who Jason Bourne really is. I was so hoping against hope that the person saying the name would tell us “Your real name is Bond. James Bond.” Now THAT would have made for the most perfect movie ever.

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