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The Bourne Ultimatum

Nicola Mostyn finds out why Bourne is better than Bond

Published on August 21st 2007.

The Bourne Ultimatum

A quick recap: In the first of these films, The Bourne Identity, we met Jason Bourne, fished out of the sea to find that he had amnesia, some nifty combat skills and a price on his head courtesy of his former employers at the CIA.

Next, in The Bourne Supremacy, the former assassin’s efforts to start afresh in India were rudely interrupted when he was once again targeted by the CIA and saw his girlfriend shot, forcing him to make good on his promise to hunt his former bosses down if they bothered him again. (Why does that never work with telesales employees?)

In this third in the series of films based on the Robert Ludlum novels the action continues directly from the second. Bourne is in Moscow. As two policeman advance on him he knocks out the first, grabs his gun and trains it on the second who asks him not to shoot, allowing Bourne to reply: (in the single cheesy line in the film) “my fight isn’t with you.”

And so he’s off, embarking on a world tour at breakneck speed to find the people who made him what he is, chasing from Moscow to Turin to London to Madrid and Tangiers and finally back to New York, the place where Bourne was, we suspect, originally turned from chisel-jawed all-American guy to machine-like mentalist killer.

By picking up the story in the middle of the action The Bourne Ultimatum is able to hurtle along at a furious pace. With story and character already well established, Ultimatum furnishes the audience snappy verbal recaps which effectively chivvy us to catch up with the narrative (and might have some people wishing they’d reacquainted themselves with the first two films on DVD). Meanwhile Bourne cracks on with his bone-crunching violence.

Hints to Bourne’s history are metered out in flashbacks, whilst a plot involving a Guardian journalist who receives some insider intel on the CIA’s secrecy-shrouded ‘Blackbriar’ project helps to re-establish the backstory and also reveals a little more about Bourne’s indoctrination, with the reporter (Paddy Considine) providing a naïve and skittish counterpart to Bourne’s unfaltering dynamism.

Matt Damon is perfect for the role of Bourne, managing to convey a neutral character who exhibits nuances of decent, haunted human being and brutal killing machine without ever losing the audience’s empathy.

As well as Damon’s oddly graceful-but-grisly fighting style, there is also plenty of scary technology to be gawked at. The new enemy, lest we have any doubt, is information and in the movie-parallel universe at least the government can hack your calls, cross-reference the contents of your apartment – hell, they probably know which notch you’ve got your belt buckled on. In our CCTV culture, such scenes make for deliciously disturbing viewing and the subtleties of the clever technology also offer a winning balance to the action.

Director Paul Greengrass, who took over for the second film, continues his trademark shaky camera style and keeps the action relentless, with Bourne resourcefully punching, kicking and slamming his way to the truth using anything and everything that comes to hand (I’ve never seen a tea-towel look so murderous before), whilst the CIA are on his tail, determined to tie up this last ‘loose end’. The tension reaches a crescendo in one of the film’s most compelling moments as Bourne comes face to face (well more like throat to fist) with someone who can actually match him – one of the other Blackbriar ‘assets.’

While fight scenes, assassins and nasty men from the CIA are not exactly thin on the ground in popular culture, The Bourne series is remarkable, not only for combining action, espionage, great writing and an intelligent plot and for pulling off this brilliant edge-of-your-seat finale but also for giving us, in Bourne, a spy who is – whisper it - better than Bond.

The Bourne Ultimatum (12A) is on general release

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