Sunday, April 13, 2008

The Bourne Ultimatum

The first two Bourne films were action-suspense films with a modest intellectual dimension. They were studies in the character of a man who did not know who he was—he couldn't remember his origins, who he worked for, why he existed. He had no links to anyone in the world. He had forgotten everything. There was a strong existential quality to the first film, The Bourne Identity (2002), where a man without a name or identity begins to forge one for himself. Gradually he began to uncover clues about himself. He also becomes aware that someone is trying to kill him. This film and its sequel The Bourne Supremacy (2004) were entertaining. The production values were high, the editing fast-paced. Underlying all three films is the premise that any security agency can become overwhelmed by its own mission, by its need for security and secrecy, so that at some point it crosses the line between the rational and irrational, between the moral and immoral. To justify and preserve its existence, it becomes the kind of institution it was intended to destroy.

The Bourne Ultimatum (2007) is the third and final film in this series. The plot is the same as in the earlier films: Jason Bourne is trying to discover who he is and to take vengeance on the C. I. A. unit that is trying to kill him, that killed his girlfriend, that made him into the man he is. At some point Bourne has realized that he is an agent of the C. I. A. and that his assignment is to kill enemies of the state. In the absence of much of a plot, The Bourne Ultimatum substitutes an over-abundance of action—assassins, car chases, foot chases, bombings, leaping from one roof to another, hand-to-hand combat, running up and down stairs, up and down streets, and so on. A throbbing percussive soundtrack drives the film on. Jason meets a C. I. A. agent who should have turned him in but who decides to help him instead. She turns out to be a former lover whom Jason cannot remember. This is the only new twist in the plot, and not one that goes anywhere in particular. Despite the fact that this film is full of action and suspense it eventually becomes monotonous, and the climax seems unlikely, contrived, and a letdown. The aspects of character and theme that made the first film interesting are largely absent here. Matt Damon seems largely inexpressive in his role, and his former girlfriend, played by Julia Stiles, is only slightly more interesting.

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