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Bourne Ultimatum, The

dir: Paul Greengrass
[img_assist|nid=769|title=Just keep moving, just keep moving|desc=|link=none|align=right|width=300|height=375]
Jason Bourne gets the job done.

If you sent him to the supermarket, he would power through the aisles, hip-and-shouldering other customers out of the way, strategically rolling cans of kidney beans under the feet of pensioners and somersaulting over the shelves in his single-minded determination to get to the cat food before anyone can stop him. During his manic dash towards the checkout counter, he would be plotting intercept vectors and ambush choke points whilst mentally calculating the savings he’s making versus the current cost of 1400 other brands of cat food that he memorised prior to entering the store.

If anyone got in his way during his exit strategy towards the carpark, he’d kill them, probably with the cat food, even if it was in those soft foil sachets. The cat food would be unharmed and still tasty when he force-fed it to your cat using a funnel and some improvised explosives.

Contemplating what sex with this brutally effective man-machine would be like is frightening. There’d be foreplay, but it would be so aggressively efficient that all hope of leisurely enjoying the ride would fly out the window along with your pride and panties. And there’d be no faking it or performance issues, oh no. With ruthless determination and unwavering stubbornness, he’d get you over the line, but you’d feel like you were thrown down a flight of stairs afterwards, as you lay there trembling; satisfied but oddly afraid. There would be no cuddling afterwards.

As the advertising for this film informs us, Matt Damon IS Jason Bourne. He’s not just playing a character called Jason Bourne. He IS Jason Bourne. It’s a curious way to market something, because for me it seems to imply that we’re supposed to forget that it’s an action film, and to start thinking of it as reality programming. So that must mean that this shit is real? What about the fact that Jason Bourne isn’t really Jason Bourne; what does that make Matt Damon, in that case?

In the feature-length documentary The Bourne Ultimatum, which bears no relation at all to the Robert Ludlum book of the same name, Jason Bourne (Matt Damon) continues to struggle with amnesia and with the fact that people still want to kill him. A journalist from The Guardian (Paddy Considine) is being handed top secret information about some of the CIA’s nastier programs, and Bourne, who is a killing-machine super spy product of one of these programs, races to London in order to find the journo’s source.

A high up mucky muck in the CIA (David Strathairn) determines that everyone who knows about this super secret program called Blackbriar needs to die. Honestly, it’s unrealistic to assert that some harmless journo type could just be shot in a London station just for crossing the authorities. It’s unbelievable, just ask Jean Charles de Menezes, the Brazilian guy who starred in his own case of mistaken identity a little while ago, who unfortunately isn’t alive to tell the tale.

With a plot that is less complicated than the sheer quantity of locations and characters would imply, what Bourne really wants to do is get some kind of revenge on the people who made him who he is, and, in a murkier fashion, get generalised revenge on the people involved in ending the life of his girlfriend in the second film.

Marie’s (Franka Potente) death has also transformed Bourne in other ways as well. Whereas before he had no problem killing people just for looking at him funny, he actually holds himself back in a lot of circumstances, and only kills when absolutely necessary. The killer aspires, to continue a path set for him in the second film, to keep honouring Marie by killing less people.

It hasn’t made him any less brutal or any less efficient in what he does. When he fights with anyone, it’s still hyperfast and bone-crunching. The crack monkeys with Parkinson’s disease are back, and they have even more shaky cameras strapped to their backs than last time.

The restless camera is used throughout, making even quiet scenes seem edgy and unsettling. It really goes a long way towards making the viewer feel very tense and excitable. Fight scenes are well-choreographed, but this isn’t the ballet. The purpose of the choreography is to show that these guys are good at what they do, but the fights they’re in are a deadly serious and brutal business.

I had major problems with the second movie in this trilogy, in that I wasn’t in the mood for it, and sat too close to the cinema screen whilst watching. By too close, I mean about halfway back. It felt like being trapped in a bad amphetamine comedown for the entire flick’s duration, and being smacked in the head with a crystal meth pipe at the same time.

This time around I was determined to give it more of a chance, so I ensured I was sitting up towards the back so as to have more distance and thus more of a chance of enjoying the flick. Truth is, it still feels like a jittery hangover, but this time it wasn’t as painful. Gradually we’re becoming programmed to tolerate this stuff.

It’s not going to go away. That shaky handheld camera stuff is only going to see more usage over time. The thing is that it can be done poorly, and it can be done well. Alphonse Cuaron’s superb flick from last year Children of Men showed me that it can be done exceptionally well, and that it can add a thematic element and visceral impact to a story when well-handled. I guess with the right crack monkey cinematographer, in this case, Oliver Wood, who also shot the previous entries in this trilogy, it can be less hideous than usual.

These flicks lack the casual charm and tongue-in-cheek humour of the James Bond flicks, and don’t have a lot of time for frippery. But what they lack in distractions they make up for with momentum. Keep moving forwards is the motto. Damon plays the role with absolute conviction, making you believe that he really is, I mean really IS this robotic assassin who’s struggling to find his humanity again. It’s not a particularly complex character arc, but it gives the story a little bit more than the average flick of this kind contains.

Everyone attacks their roles with gusto, including returning alumni like Joan Allen and Julia Stiles. The pounding soundtrack is as loud and as aggressive as it has ever been, if not more so, with musical themes being reused to remind us that it’s all part of a hyperactive, noisy whole.

The CIA as depicted is a strange beast. When the villainous, morally bankrupt high-ups choose to protect their tailored suited arses, all the resources of the CIA can become focussed on a person half-way around the world within seconds. Waves of agents and assassins can be dispatched at a moment’s notice with the latest in GPS and communications technologies increasing the speed and lethality of their work by a whopping 64.6 per cent. Thus focussed, with the precision of a laser, you’d think their targets have no chance in hell. This CIA is a formidable opponent to have. Most of the time.

Of course, when you read news stories about the numerous stuff-ups in the CIA’s history, the most glaring examples being its surprise in the face of the September 11 attacks, the fall of the Berlin Wall, or the whole host of intelligence failures catalogued in books like Legacy of Ashes, you wonder how mythical its power truly is.

On the one hand it reinforces the idea that the CIA, now and always, is not to be trifled with, because their technology, their reach and their expertise is terrifying when applied. But it also contends that such power (which falls apart whenever the plot needs the hero to evade capture) is corrupted by those who wish to wield it uncontested and without oversight. And, a sentiment that won’t come as a surprise to anyone who’s ever worked for or known what large government bureaucracies are like, apart from internal empire building at the expense of an organisation’s mission, these kinds of pricks are happy to misapply the resources of the state to protect their arses and to destroy the perceived enemies within.

But the hero fights on, trying to find out how he came to be who he is, and why. The problem with such a search is that the moral culpability for who he is and what he does perhaps originates closer to home than he’d like to admit.

I thoroughly enjoyed this instalment, and would happily recommend it to any fan of the other Bourne films. I’ve always been a sucker for this kind of stuff when it’s well done, and can see past the macho wish-fulfilment bullshit to a story with more resonance in a contemporary world where organisations like this are making decisions and taking actions against people around the world with an imprimatur that is unearned and quite terrifying, despite the pervasive threat of terrorism used to justify the expansions in scope.

Damon gives the character his all, even if the character is a shell of a human being, and he does it with a convincing air of badassness in action scenes as well as quieter dialogue scenes. It’s especially impressive considering how he played the other side of the coin just recently in The Good Shepherd, as a character loosely based on one of the architects of the CIA. He manages to make both diametrically opposed characters seem credible, which is a testament to the range he possesses that many can’t bring themselves to credit him for. Because he IS Matt Damon, after all.

The little touches connecting the films together, including his dialogue with a fellow assassin matching something said to him by another assassin in the first flick, are appreciable and don’t stink of laziness. If this is the end for this series, it manages to end on a high note, which few trilogies ever manage.

8 times killing a character with a book is proof positive that knowledge can be a dangerous weapon in the right hands out of 10

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“My argument is not with you.” count your blessings, chump, The Bourne Ultimatum.

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