The Bourne Ultimatum

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The Bourne Ultimatum
Review (8.5/10)
(By Erin Cullin)

Matt Damon is Bourne again.

Yes, I know that is a silly pun (and hopefully not an offensive one), but when one looks at the effect that his star-making turn as Jason Bourne has had on his career, it is clear that, silly or not, this statement is true.

After winning the Oscar in 1998 for writing the screenplay for Good Will Hunting, Matt Damon and Ben Affleck were the Golden Boys of Hollywood. They were young, good-looking and talented. They had their choice of film roles. They were two of the world's most eligible bachelors.

Now, we all know what happened to Ben Affleck. He developed a finely tuned radar for choosing what can only be described as some of the worst dreck that Hollywood has churned out in the last decade. "Pearl Harbor", "Paycheque", "Daredevil" and, of course, "Gigli". Then there was the whole Jennifer Lopez debacle. Although he is slowly emerging from the hole that he dug for himself (his portrayal of George Reeve in last year's "Hollywoodland" garnered him a well-deserved Golden Globe nomination), it is going to be years before any studio is going to give him the chance to carry another film. I will be curious to see how he fares in the director's chair when "Gone Baby Gone" is released in October (Clint Eastwood was nominated for an Oscar for his adaptation of Dennis Lehane's last novel, "Mystic River"). Affleck also wrote the film's screenplay, and, if the screenplay is any indication, this film is going to be one to watch. But, I digress.

For a brief period in time, Matt Damon seemed to be taking career advice from his buddy Ben Affleck. He, too, starred in a succession of box office bombs ("All the Pretty Horses", "The Legend of Bagger Vance", "Rounders"). Then there was that whole dumping Minnie Driver on Oprah thing. But, all of that changed in June 2002 with the release of "The Bourne Identity". Much like his title character, Jason Bourne, Matt Damon underwent a transformation - except instead of becoming an assassin, he became one of the most bankable actors in Hollywood.

The latest film in the Bourne series, the Bourne Ultimatum, opens where the Bourne Supremacy ended. Having successfully evaded the bad guys in Moscow, Bourne travels to Paris to tell his girlfriend's brother that she was the victim of an attempt on his life. While in Paris, he comes across an article written about him in the British newspaper, The Guardian. He travels to London to speak to the article's writer, a move which brings him back onto the radar of the CIA. As Bourne and others of his ilk are the CIA's dirty little secret, they begin to take steps to cover their tracks by ordering the assassination of Bourne and those who would seek to expose the Treadstone operation that trained him. Following Treadstone's trail to Madrid, Tangier and ultimately, New York City Bourne stands, at last, face to face with his makers. Who will prevail - the student or his teachers?

The Bourne Ultimatum is the third film in a series based upon the novels of the same name written by Robert Ludlum. For those of you who have read the novels, you will know that the films are "loosely" based on them (to the extent that "loosely" means that the films and the books share the same title, some of the character names remain the same and the storyline was otherwise essentially abandoned). Although some artistic licence was taken, I do not think that Robert Ludlum would be rolling around in his grave at the portrayal of his most famous fictional character. The Bourne Ultimatum was the final book in the series written by Ludlum (there were two unfortunate sequels written after Ludlum's death by Eric Van Lustbader), and, based upon comments made by Damon during recent press interviews, I expect that this will be the last film in the series.

The Bourne Ultimatum is one of the most gripping action films in recent memory. The audience is placed firmly into the shoes of Jason Bourne, and is not permitted to venture from the edge of its seats for one minute of the film's almost two-hour running time. It was an exhilarating ride.

While the acting in this film was excellent, what really distinguished the film was its directing, cinematography and action scene choreography. This film is directed by Paul Greengrass, a director who, after spending most of his career in television, managed to break into mainstream film with The Bourne Supremacy in 2004. He followed that in 2005 with United 93, a film which garnered him an Oscar nomination. With the Bourne Ultimatum, Greengrass has established himself as one of the best action film directors working in Hollywood today.

Greengrass' signature handheld camera work distinguishes The Bourne Ultimatum from other action films. This unique style causes the audience to feel that it is in the scenes with Jason Bourne, thereby creating a sense of adrenalin-rushing urgency as one watches the film. The action sequences are some of the best that I have ever seen on film. Although you know on some level that that they are not plausible, the action scenes are so realistic and Damon is so credible in them that you cannot help but wonder if the impossible is, in fact, possible.

The film's solid structure is supported by outstanding performances by its cast. As Bourne, Damon evolves from the bewildered, frightened but lethal amnesiac of the first film into a hardened, focussed, deadly force in this film. Julia Stiles, Joan Allen and David Strathairn are well-cast and deliver excellent supporting performances.

One word of warning about this film. Perhaps my ears are just becoming more sensitive in my old age, but I have never seen a movie that was this loud. If really loud noise is something that bothers you (think live fireworks loud), then you may want to wait for this one on DVD so that you can adjust your volume accordingly.

The Bourne Ultimatum is an oasis in a sea of contrived, overreaching action films. It is a smart, sleek thriller that will have you holding your breath from beginning to end. In Bourne, Matt Damon created a character that resurrected his career. Hopefully, he has learned his lesson. Because, after all, you can only be Bourne once.


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