The Bourne Ultimatum (Paul Greengrass, 2007)

27Mar10

We live in a frightening world. In The Bourne Ultimatum, when a Guardian journalist meets a CIA operative and is given information on a secret project being managed under the name of ‘blackbriar,’ the reporter’s use of the word on his cell phone triggers a rapid response from the men working in Langley, Virginia and New York City. Not only do they immediately have a full profile up on this man’s background in seconds, they also have real-time CCTV streams of his movements at work, access to his credit card statements and recordings of his phone calls. When Jason Bourne reads of his findings and wants the source, the two agree to meet at Waterloo Station in London. Naturally, they are watched all the way, and in the end the reporter, Ross, is taken out by a sniper rifle. The CIA’s operative chief of blackbriar had put an asset on standby all morning, and given him the green light once the Waterloo surveillance cameras were looking the other way. Bourne escapes, with sufficient information from the notes in Ross’ pocket to start a thrilling journey, as he races from London to Madrid to Tangiers, and then to Manhattan, always in search of the truth, and having to deal with a fair amount of CIA obstructionism along the way.

The Waterloo cat-and-mouse saga turns out to only be the start. When Bourne reaches Tangiers, the action reaches a whole new level: he revs along the narrow Moroccan backstreets on a moped, desperate to find the CIA’s asset that was first sent to terminate the blackbriar source, and then to murder him. He jumps across rooftops and crashes through windows, eventually confronting the man in question. They fight it out quite majestically, reminiscent of the martial arts, before Bourne opts for efficacy and strangles his opponent to death.

We are moved swiftly on to the streets of New York, and now Bourne is reversing off the side of multistory carparks and driving down 7th Avenue in a chaotic manner to say the least. This is how The Bourne Ultimatum feels for the majority of its 100 minutes: manic, and refusing to stop for breath. Matt Damon’s superhuman character dashes from city to city, and takes trouble with him to everywhere he stops.

There is, ultimately, a resolution to the trilogy, in Bourne’s newfound memories, return to the CIA training department and uncovering of his old employee’s corruption. It turns out blackbriar was a project intended to short-circuit the need for the permission to kill coming from Washington. They created their own authority to murder instead, and Bourne makes sure the world knows about it.

These short glimpses of serious story and more-than-one-line dialogue is where the film wanes slightly, however. Ross’ fear looks phoney. Bourne’s trainer is stereotypically deep-voiced and mind-twisting. Blackbriar’s operator is annoyingly trigger happy, and the CIA’s hero and rebel in the form of Pamela Landy is terribly conveniently placed.

The Ultimatum‘s better moments come when we see evidence of Greengrass’ attention to detail with regards to the action scenes and Bourne’s intelligence. It is a joy to watch him assess the situation at Waterloo and know within a minute where to walk to avoid being caught on camera; his use of the fan to mask his position and his calling of the Spanish police to cause havoc for the CIA’s forces in Madrid is pure genius. As is how we watch him grab linen hung out to dry as he runs across the Moroccan rooftops. The reason for this soon becomes clear: shards of glass cover the tops of the walls occasionally. The police can’t keep up with him when they reach this point.

This is all very carefully executed, and makes The Bourne Ultimatum feel a very clever film to watch. Just sit back, and enjoy watching Bourne as he goes about his work.

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