director: Paul Greengrass
starring: Matt Damon, Joan Allen, David Strathairn, Julia Stiles, Albert Finney, Scott Glenn
The first two Bourne flicks brought new life to the genre of “taut action thrillers,” placing an emphasis on realism despite managing to “wow” the audience with non-stop action and suspense in the form of frenetic hand-to-hand combat, rooftop acrobatics and heart-pounding car chases. The term “realism” wouldn’t seem synonymous with said brawls or car chases in a Hollywood action flick, but therein lies the reason for the success of these movies–everything is ground in reality. And while you’re liable to see things in The Bourne Ultimatum you’ve never seen before, there never comes a point where you’ll say, “that’s impossible” and chalk it up to Hollywood digital effects or trick camera shots.
Speaking of camera shots, let’s get the one “negative” out of the way: the oft-maligned “shaky-cam,” wherein most of director Paul Greengrass’ shots are handheld. While it gives the director a lot more freedom in terms of shot-making, it also means you’re not going to see steadicam or fixed shots of two characters talking to each other, or smooth panning shots of action sequences. It’s down and dirty, and doesn’t work for everyone. The camera work will undoubtedly turn a lot of people off, but I’m a fan of the technique. It gets the audience right in there with the characters, whether in the midst of a bare-knuckle brawl or a tense conversation between two people. Unfortunately, many people will dislike the film because of it, to their loss.
Car chases are getting better and better. Hard to believe the chase in The French Connection was once considered the best of all time. I suppose that’s because it was the first of its kind, and that it’s slightly before my time, but Connection’s got nothin’ on the films of today, the Bourne films in particular. They’ve created jaw-dropping sequences in each of the three films, Ultimatum raising the stakes to another level once again. Great, great stuff that’s become one of the touchstones of the franchise, along with its cast, crew and score. Identity, Supremacy and Ultimatum all have most of the same crew (with Identity director Doug Liman taking on producer roles in the latter two movies). The music is of particular importance to me, because I think it can greatly enhance an already-good movie and take it to another level. John Powell’s score hasn’t had to develop too much throughout the three films, as it was great to begin with–a welcome companion to the exploits of Jason Bourne.
The plot itself is brought to life with the tremendous supporting cast, with veterans Julia Stiles and Joan Allen joined by newcomers Albert Finney, Scott Glenn, and the oft-overlooked David Strathairn. All exceptional actors; and they breathe life into roles that have little in the way of self-promotion (i.e. rambling monologues in which they can show off their acting chops and stroke their egos). They all know how to deliver understated but impactful performances, all the more important when our main character should be and is the focus of the story. Damon is as good as ever as the brooding Bourne, saying more with actions and looks than he ever does with words–which is a good thing, as his dialogue is light throughout.
As a franchise, Bourne is a powerful one, both in terms of influence and box office. None of them are your typical action flicks, and the Hollywood copycats responsible for most of the stuff recycled into the multiplexes will hopefully take note and try to raise their games before breaking out their cameras (Batman Begins and Casino Royale are two films that share much of the same sensibilities). The Bourne trilogy is, from start to finish, a helluva ride, and judging by Ultimatum’s conclusion, there’s certainly room for another one (after all, there’s a fourth book as well–though the three movies’ development is such that they’re similar to the books in name only). Keep the same crew and sensibility, and I’ll happily jump onboard for The Bourne Legacy in a couple of years.