Written by Tony Gilroy, Scott Z. Burns and George Nolfi
Directed by Paul Greengrass
Agent: Uh, sir, he drove off the roof.
Noah Vosen: What?
Agent: He drove off the roof.
Central Intelligence agent, Pamela Landy (Joan Allen), has found herself once again in a tiny room, surrounded by a team of people, all scrambling to track the notoriously elusive, Jason Bourne (Matt Damon). At this stage, bringing Bourne in is not just her job but an obsession, one that has gone far past the point of hunt and capture and developed into a need to understand the man himself. In Paul Greengrass’s THE BOURNE ULTIMATUM, we are right there with her every step of the way. Only it’s a much more enjoyable experience for us than for poor Pam. We have the added advantage of being able to see both sides of this chase from where we sit. From this vantage point, we see the C.I.A. constantly miscalculating Bourne’s next move and, in what is perhaps their biggest misconception, mistaking Bourne for some sort of super human, incapable of infallibility. Jason Bourne is just a man. Yes, he’s an incredible specimen with quick reflexes, heightened intuition and kick-ass moves but he too is just trying to figure out the mystery of where he came from and who he is. How can the C.I.A. pretend to know Bourne when Bourne does not even know himself? The Bourne paradox is what makes Jason Bourne one of film’s most intriguing action heroes and THE BOURNE ULTIMATUM is a perfect answer to years of unanswered questions.
To recap, we first caught a glimpse of Jason Bourne in THE BOURNE IDENTITY (directed by Doug Liman). He had no idea who he was and it was exhilarating to watch him awaken to his special brand of fighting style, while still infuriating to watch his struggle to understand how he came to be so skilled. THE BOURNE SUPREMACY followed with a new director (Greengrass) and a depressing change in tone after the death of his girlfriend, Marie (Franka Potente), at the film’s onset. The film could not help but be a more sobering experience after that. THE BOURNE ULTIMATUM changes Bourne’s direction from less running away to more running towards. Tying all three films together is the constantly improving performance by Damon as Bourne. Damon brings a sleek brand of class to his characters in most of his films and he treats Bourne with a stealth speed and fiercely internalized stoicism. You might say he was born to play Bourne. His tormented mind has gone from wonder and awe in the unraveling of his rediscovered personality to a dark brooding. He has understood that getting close to others gets them killed and has cut himself off as much as possible to both avoid future tragedy and maintain his focus on the goal.
Another man who found a stronger focus this time around is director, Greengrass. His direction for SUPREMACY was at times difficult to follow. Not only was the story not told as succinctly as in Liman’s IDENTITY but Greengrass’s now signature extreme-shaky aesthetic and jump-cut obsession made it visually jarring as well. After snagging an Oscar nomination for his direction of UNITED 93 last year, he has learned a stronger command of his unsteady film approach. The result is a visually more engaging experience that ushers in a different kind of American cinema. The British director follows the action through numerous international locations, from running across rooftops and hopping through windows in Tangiers to zipping in and out of the crowds in a busy London bus station. The world flavour only further serves to highlight the film’s direct criticism of American home security practices post September 11th. Greengrass’s portrayal of the C.I.A. is one hyped up on power and the authority to kill anyone whenever necessary and that power reeks of paranoia. Making the C.I.A. the enemy makes our hero’s actions, choosing to spare life whenever possible, all that much more commendable. American cinema that makes Americans look bad is always refreshing. They’re not all bad but it’s obnoxious to pretend they aren’t somewhat bad.
The Bourne series should be commended for successfully accomplishing what so many others have recently failed at. It is a consistently enjoyable trilogy that never takes itself too seriously and has purpose in each installment that justifies the necessity of three films to tell a complete story, rather than just being an excuse to rake in more cash. They are all three intelligent and compelling works, with THE BOURNE ULTIMATUM serving as a smooth, sophisticated closer that is only disappointing because it draws the entire ordeal to a close. I would love to see the series live on but it will lack the one driving force that has made it so compelling for so long now. Now that Jason Bourne knows where it all began, he will no longer be in constant, compulsive pursuit of the ultimate puzzle, understanding himself. Is there any more gripping a pursuit to be had?