If there's an action junkie alive who won't thrill to this display of
fox-and-mouse pursuit through the streets, roofs and alleyways of five
international cities then he or she needs a five-shot of Starbuck's espresso.
The film's great virtue is director Paul Greengrass' staging purely in the
service of screenwriter Tony Gilroy's story with a consistent clarity of
motivation at every turn. There's not a camera blur or pounding note in the
soundtrack that goes to waste. Add to that Matt Damon's calm and assured
underplaying of the central role.
It's not that everyone's after Jason Bourne (Damon); it's that those who are
want him dead and they've got the most advanced surveillance technology with
which to track him down. Still, he's wily enough to stay a step ahead, even
with wounds in various parts of his body and against foreign agents and
killers unleashed by the CIA. Wounds don't affect his mind, a highly trained
mechanism in it own right.
Demonstrating his masterful ability to anticipate his enemies' moves is the
scene in which the surveillance team at CIA headquarters, run by the
uncomprominsing and bloodthirsty Noah Vosen, tracks and captures Simon Ross,
a New York reporter who has just disclosed the most secret and closely
guarded operation, codenamed Blackbriar. No one, outside a small circle of
participants, knows of it, and suddenly details are emerging in a newspaper.
The leak, Ross' source, must be found.
The disclosure attracts Bourne's attention, as well, and he alerts the
newsman to the danger he's in, arranging a meetup at the highly trafficked
Waterloo Station in London. Arriving there, Bourne is immediately aware of
the tactical teams exiting from their vehicles and spreading out in search of
their "target." Bourne purchases a pre-paid cell phone, surreptitiously
drops it in Ross's pocket, and talks him through a string of evasive moves to
thwart all the power and planning of CIA headquarters which redoubles in
energy when they catch sight of their primary quarry, Bourne himself.
Vosen, in conspiratorial league with Ezra Kramer (Scott Glenn) the author of
the clandestine operation that has so harmfully affected Jason Bourne, is
inclined to only one solution for those he considers rogue agents in the
field, which is immediate death. His methods are challenged by another
high-level CIA official, however. Pamela Landy (Joan Allen), an intelligence
expert with a larger scope of understanding, sees Bourne as a victim
rather than a wild, supertrained killer, argues futilely with her
A lone man outfoxing (and outboxing) whatever is thrown at him by the most
powerful spy agency in the world is irresistible, hard-to-beat drama and
there isn't a moment when we're not rooting for the next display of narrow
escape and the dire punishments he inflicts on his powerful adversaries.
When the master agent hooks up again with beautiful CIA field op Nicky
Parsons (Julia Styles) a new chemistry is brought into the mix. When Vosen
realizes she's involved with Bourne, it gives him and his crew a new target
and something more to think about (could she be the leak?). It gives Bourne
something to think about, as well. Barely over grieving for his recently
killed companion, Marie Kreutz (Franke Potente), long silences between Bourne
and Parsons can't help but suggest an attraction struggling for consummation,
excruciatingly frozen in a limbo of doubt and intrigue.
The mano-a-mano combat scenes are choreographed with an intensity and speed
that hasn't been seen since the Aikido exploits of Steven Seagal. Those, and
the most harrowing car and motorcycle stunts, are astutely crafted to
integrate stuntmen and 3-frame clips with blurring continuity and
credibility. As for them being coordinated on the crowded streets in London
and Manhattan, and across rooftops in Tangiers, it speaks to a virtual
miracle of planning and execution that must have involved some pretty (and
costly) political negotiation.
Damon's natural reserve is put to superb use in his
everyman-with-extraordinary-capability portrayal that strikes paydirt as the
epitome of the Bourne persona. But it's only the most active ingredient of a
magical formula that consists of so much supporting chemistry, not the least
of which is Strathairn's disloyal brutishness, Allen's seething fury and
balancing insight, Considine's innocence turned into disbelief and terror,
and considerably more.
Oliver Wood's cinematography is as solid as it is wide-ranging. Selected
over-the-shoulder shots are remarkably stylistic and worthy of mention. In
them, the foreground character is centered or dominant enough to obscure part
of the person whose face we are looking at without going to a closeup. This
is most pronounced in the intensely secret moment when reporter Ross is
receiving the case file on Blackbriar, when the agony of the purveyer is
emphasized by our being able to see little more than his eyes and rippled
brow, expressing the agony of his internal conflict over the act of
disclosure he's about to commit. While the technique works remarkably well
in this instance, it may be a little overused later on. And the shaky
hand-held camera in close-ups elsewhere is sometimes bothersome.
In other examples of high craft, the ripping pace could hardly have been
achieved quite so effectively without the skill of editor Oliver Wood in
particular, who had a very big job on his hands, and the beating rhythms of a
pulse-quickening score by John Powell.
If a fourth episode is made without Damon (as he's declared for the trade
press) it will be a huge loss were the series to go on without the guidance
of the Ludlum trilogy. Unlike my reaction to reading Ludlum's densely
detailed books, the effect each movie episode has had on me is to give me a
taste for more (without the expresso). I walk out of the theatre wishing for
another infusion of excitement with Bourne next week but, in truth, I'll be
happy with a new one anytime it comes. Huge revenues for "the Ultimatum"
might argue in favor of constructing a Bourne 4. All I would ask for is that
this creative team remains, for the most part, intact.
Links to our reviews of the first two in the trilogy:
~~ Jules Brenner
"The Bourne Identity"
"The Bourne Supremacy"
And, did you know that there have been two books written by Eric Van
Lustbader continuing the Bourne adventures?
See reviews of them here:
"The Bourne Legacy"
"The Bourne Betrayal"