'Bourne' again: Part 3 no slouch

Reeling It In

Posted: Thursday, August 09, 2007

"The Bourne Ultimatum"

Universal Pictures

1 hour, 51 minutes

In addition to dabbling in art and movies, in my spare time I help run and co-own a used bookstore. I mention this because when I saw there was another "Bourne" movie coming out, I went over to the Ludlum shelf, pulled a copy of "The Bourne Ultimatum" and flipped it over to check out the synopsis on the back.

"When the international terrorist Carlos the Jackal penetrates his civilian identity, David Webb, professor of Oriental studies, husband and father, must do what he hoped he would never have to do again assume the terrible identity of Jason Bourne. His plan is simple: to infiltrate the politically and economically Medusa group and ..."


A helpful hint to anyone who wants to run out and pick up the novel version of this latest Matt Damon adventure it's completely different. "The Bourne Identity," the first in the series, was loosely based on Robert Ludlum's novel of the same name. Book two, "The Bourne Supremacy," had almost nothing in common with its novel, and now, with "The Bourne Ultimatum," we have an adaptation in name only. Not that this is really a problem, the movies are fun, exciting and engaging, they're just not by Ludlum.

"Ultimatum" begins immediately where "Supremacy" left off. Actually, in a clever bit of plot construction, "Ultimatum" begins, and mostly takes place, slightly before the ending of "Supremacy," which is fun for those who have seen the first two films, but probably frustrating for those who haven't. The film can work as a standalone but is definitely more enjoyable if you are versed in the entire series.

Damon's Bourne is, bit by bit, coming closer to finding the key to his past, and every clue seems to point in one direction: New York. But first, he's got to globe hop for a while, hunting down shadowy ex-agents, meeting victims' families and fighting new and ever more dangerous assassins. When a shady CIA deputy-director, played with mild menace by David Strathairn, rears his head, it becomes clear that maybe Bourne's past is linked to something bigger than just rogue assassin squads.

Project: BlackBriar is at the heart of the entire mystery, and Jason Bourne will stop at nothing to find the key to his past. A word of advice for the CIA, though: "BlackBriar" may be a very cool name for a Top Secret project, but you're not really fooling anyone when you use the word "Black" for a file describing black ops. Try something less obvious like "FuzzyBunny" or "YellowDaisy." I think if they followed this simple advice, they'd have far fewer rogue amenesiatic agents showing up at their door looking for answers.

I enjoy these "Bourne" movies, although I realize they are basically just fluff. Granted, they're more cerebral than a "Bond" or "Die-Hard" flick, but they're fluff, nonetheless. Damon does an excellent job, yet again, as the assassin trying to find his heart of gold, although he is, at times, a bit of a cold fish. Julia Stiles has an enlarged role this time, although they still won't really let her do anything. I contend that she, as Bourne's original contact and handler in Paris, knows more about this whole thing than anyone, but she never gets to say much.

Joan Allen is good in her returning role as CIA section chief Pamela Landy, a tough woman taking charge in what is basically a man's world. And Strathairn always does a good job, though he's maybe not quite menacing enough for the role.

The best part about this film is the consistency director Paul Greengrass is able to maintain through the whole series. Part Three flows naturally from Part Two, with no jarring changes in tone or mood.

Unfortunately, consistency is also one of the worst things about the film, as far as cinematography goes. Greengrass loves a jittery, ever-moving camera, and that's what he gets. One of the biggest complaints I've heard is that people have to literally look away from the screen occasionally, just to get their bearings. Energy and kineticism are one thing, but a movie shouldn't give you a headache. This director is known for the sense of reality his films have, and while that worked well in the searing 9/11 drama "United 93," it's a little less appropriate in a straightforward spy thriller like "Bourne."

That said, the man knows how to tell a story and keep it interesting. This feels like a natural end to a trilogy, but who knows, maybe they'll feel the need to revisit this character. After all, Ludlum has written several more "Bourne" novels, so they'll never be at a loss for a title. Grade: B+

"The Bourne Ultimatum" is rated PG-13 for language and consistent action violence.

Chris Jenness is a freelance graphic designer, artist and movie buff who lives in Nikiski.

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