Jason Bourne (Matt Damon) is a remarkable man. He can drive cars better, run faster and jump farther than a combination of Kyle Petty and Carl Lewis. He can take a punch better than Muhammad Ali and kick martial-art butt as well as Bruce Lee. He's also such an electronics whiz that Bill Gates is holding a Microsoft directorship for the moment he decides to give up the spy life. Movies about Bourne -- The Bourne Identity (2000), The Bourne Supremacy (2004) and now The Bourne Ultimatum -- are video games of peril, mayhem and improbable escape. In each one, bad guys want to kill Bourne and he'd prefer they not. Run, hide, fight, repeat. If this is your idea of pleasing entertainment, then, like the earlier entries, Ultimatum is for you. Nothing makes a lick of sense, but the action never stops.
Adapted from the Robert Ludlum novel, directed by the estimable Paul Greengrass (who made the shattering United 93) and written for the screen by the committee of Tony Gilroy, Scott Z. Burns and George Nolfi, The Bourne Ultimatum finds our hero mad as hell and not willing to take it anymore. His girlfriend is dead, and Bourne is suffering from flashbacks suggesting that he was once in league with her killers. He needs to get those guys, whoever they are. Then, for utter sake of convenience, a British journalist named Simon Ross (Paddy Considine) publishes an article about Bourne in The Guardian. Bourne figures that Ross' source for the story is one of the guys he ought to get. Typically, the flick doesn't stop to provide the source with a motivation for blabbing.
The picture is that vacation you always wanted to take. We start in Moscow, and move rapidly to Paris, London, Madrid, Tangier and New York. Unlike the rest of us, Bourne doesn't seem to need to eat or sleep. And even though he runs and fights a lot, he doesn't bother to change clothes. Can you imagine his fictional cousin James Bond eschewing all passages in tuxedo with martini in hand? The most sophisticated stalkers in world history are on Bourne's tail. From what we can tell, they have cameras everywhere (is this why Bourne never stops to shower?), yet he's always able to move through immigration in country after country without anyone taking notice of his arrival.
Bourne has many remarkable qualities. He is surely the best street jumper that ever lived. A merely competitive street jumper would leap from rooftop to rooftop, a scary enough contest to be sure. Bourne likes to leap over streets from bedroom to living room or from bathroom to kitchen. Windows are no obstacle, and nary a glass shard dare poke his eye nor pierce his skin. In one chase sequence in Tangier, where Bourne is both being chased by a CIA "asset" (aka hired killer) and chasing that killer right back, he street-leaps from room to room at least four times. Maybe it is 400 times; it's hard to keep count. Bourne is also utterly impervious to car crashes. Whether he's smashing into cop cars with force sufficient to send Superman to the hospital or driving off garage rooftops to escape CIA operatives, he survives car wrecks that would kill crash-test dummies.
Nonetheless, Bourne's intellectual skills are more impressive yet. For instance, he's able to walk into London's crowded Waterloo Station at rush hour and spot all 11 bad guys at a single glance. He's got the most impressive architectural memory in the history of moviekind. He knows which stores in which malls have back exits onto the street and which convenience stores have store rooms good for hiding. In Tangier, he knows which alleyway leads to which staircase leads to which rooftop that will enable him to stomp those needing stomping in the nick of time. In Three Days of the Condor, Robert Redford had some of these skills, but as he explained, he had to read books to acquire his knowledge. Bourne seems to have been born knowing everything about everything other than his own true identity.
Unfortunately, a guy on the go like Bourne seldom has time for romance. The picture nonetheless gives us two female characters. Joan Allen is the designated patsy; she'll be blamed if the CIA meanies let Bourne escape for a fourth film. Julia Stiles is an agent without purpose. She gets to cut and dye her hair without changing her appearance at all.
In the end, however, one does have to take notice of the cultural stamp attached to Bourne movies. At the height of the cold war, James Bond fought the Russians, or international thugs who acted like Russians. Bourne has spent the entire Bush administration fighting guys like David Strathairn's Noah Vosen who advocate torture and assassination as tools for American foreign policy. So in the end, however preposterous he is, Bourne actually stands for something good.
- 2006 Universal Pictures
- Jason Bourne (Matt Damon) globetrots through another installment of his lethal identity crisis.