Review: The Bourne Ultimatum (2007)

The Bourne Ultimatum

The Bourne Ultimatum

Rating



Director

Paul Greengrass

Screenplay

Tony Gilroy, Scott Z. Burns, George Nolfi

Length

111 min.

Starring

Matt Damon, Julia Stiles, David Strathairn, Scott Glenn, Paddy Considine, Edgar Ramirez, Albert Finney, Joan Allen

MPAA Rating

PG-13 (For violence and intense sequences of action)

Buy/Rent Movie

Soundtrack

Poster

Source Material

Review

If it’s not James Bond, it doesn’t become a franchise. That was the typical mindset regarding spy films before Jason Bourne became a box office draw with his 2002 debut in Bourne Identity and 2004 follow-up Bourne Supremacy. Director Paul Greengrass (United 93, Bloody Sunday) returns with his frenetic style as the series makes its supposed final foray into the genre.

Returning as the amnesia-plagued super soldier, Matt Damon, continues to deliver a capable performance as he tirelessly searches for clues about his own identity. He’s been fighting for some time to remember but in Bourne Ultimatum the trailers suggest he’ll finally find the resolution he desires. Confirming that tack would ruin many aspects of the film, but suffice it to say, we have a decent amount of fun following the action hoping to find out.

Outside of flashback, only one actor rejoins Damon for a full ride. Julia Stiles’ presence in the first film seems a distant memory, but here she becomes more involved in the action and proves her character has some merit after all (her presence in the second film didn’t feel as important as it does here). However, her burgeoning relationship with Jason Bourne takes a back seat to the constantly-moving pic, but leaves off promising a more detailed involvement for future films, which is more than hinted at with the final scenes.

The film’s other performances vary in their depth, but that may due in part to Tony Gilroy’s action-minded, character-unfocused screenplay. Joan Allen gives a performance that we’ve long missed from her. Having been a career Oscar nominee for a time, pivotal roles dried up for her and she consistently vanished from year-end consideration. With this perf, many may be reminded who easily she can turn a modestly-shallow character into a believable one. The same can’t be said for David Strathairn whose predictably-villainous character fails to attain any memorable depth. He has the capability to deliver, but script confines prevented him from getting sinister enough.

Since his first of five Oscar nominations for 1963’s Tom Jones, Albert Finney has consistently provided some very interesting and memorable characters. This time, however, he blends in so much with the background that at times he’s easily mistaken for Brian Cox’s dead character from the first two films. Admittedly, his appearance is very limited, but even in the final frames of the film, he barely delivers more than a perfunctory performance.

Greengrass has a distinctive style and said he had planned to make Ultimatum something more than the genre had ever seen. Whether he was referring to the action genre or the spy genre, I think he overstated his claim. James Bond focused on style over action substance for most of his screen career. Only when Timothy Dalton joined the franchise did the grit seep into the genre, only to be excised for five films where glamour triumphed in the Pierce Brosnan era. Then Daniel Craig, with director Martin Campbell, came along and we got the Bond we always wanted: dark, gritty and real. It was a formula that also helped revitalize a different franchise when Christopher Nolan brought us Batman Begins. Those pics felt different and new. Ultimatum feels like every other action film with an over-emphasis on hand-held camera work.

While Greengrass didn’t deliver on his promise, the film is still quite enjoyable. Following the story is a lot easier than in many similar films, but following the action isn’t always. Editors Richard Pearson and Christopher Rouse do fantastic jobs chopping together the amazing action sequences, but the constant barrage of action fails to give the audience a chance to relax, which makes for a tense, but frustrating experience.

The first two Bourne films have now fused themselves together in my mind. They were so similar in plot and style that remembering what happened in each becomes difficult. That may have been the intention. Those two movies focused on the memory confusion of Jason Bourne. The third film works hard to distinguish itself and thematically unravel Bourne’s identity. But if and when the fourth film arrives, can one avoid blending all three together? It may be difficult, but there’s enough distinctiveness that Ultimatum should be able to retain its identity.

Review Written

September 5, 2007

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