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The Bourne Ultimatum: A Paul Greengrass Film

By Janet Walker

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The Bourne Ultimatum, the third installment in Robert Ludlum’s masterful CIA operative novels, has hit the theaters with the force of Mike Tyson punch. A powerful, in your face explosion of special effects, suspenseful nail-biting international intrigue filled with the believable reality of CIA operative Jason Bourne.

Matt Damon, as Jason Bourne in Robert Ludlum's masterful CIA novels.

The film begins exactly where The Bourne Supremacy ended. Still a walking emotionless trained killer, Jason Bourne is suffering from the sudden shock of seeing his girlfriend murdered, the rise of hidden emotions and the necessity to remain on the run while the entire CIA network has set teams throughout Europe to have him shot on sight.  Now, in Moscow, Bourne is running from the tunnel crash that killed a black market arms dealer/KGB agent. Slightly injured, he manages to find an unmanned medical facility that carries the needed medicine necessary to assist him in disarming the Russian guards that are chasing him.

Matt Damon, as Jason Bourne, attempting to save the life of The Guardian reporter, Simon Ross.

The escalation of the Jason Bourne issue becomes apparent, six weeks later, at CIA headquarters in Langley, and includes the introduction of CIA Director, Ezra Kramer played by Scott Glenn. He portrays an old school CIA agent whose motto is, “Hope for the best and plan for the worst.” In CIA language this translates to “ensure that the worst never surfaces, no matter the cost.” This CIA believes that the wps (worst possible scenerio) is still a threat that needs a public and internal fall guy.  Glenn’s performance is authentic and as the film unfolds he is as conflicted as all the characters associated the Bourne issue.

Scott Glenn as dirty tricks CIA Director, Ezra Kramer

The modern day CIA is less mysterious and everything one can conceive as possible usually is in this post 9-11 world where the rise of international terrorism, cell groups next door, fanaticism, and extremism, are all very public. The taunting by these groups, especially in Europe, are common place and have given way to the plausibility of the types of covert operations that have become the Bourne series.  Black-ops, safe houses, full envelope intrusion, ghost contacts, experimental interrogation tactics that include electric sensor shock, CIA covers in every country with full possibility of carrying out assassinations and training death squads of agents are now common place. 

The addition of Glenn and, Oscar nominee, David Strathairn, who portrays CIA Section Chief Noah Vosen, to the cast, creates a believable world of the use of high-level CIA techniques that are associated with a post 9-11 society.  Strathairn’s performance is beyond truthful. It is eerily truthful. Throughout the Bourne trilogy, each installment has had a character whose performance was, we knew innately, the truth of the CIA. David Strathairn’s performance is the truth of modern day CIA operations.  Terrorism is as common domestically as it is internationally and with the on-set of freedoms associated with experimental interrogation these two quality actors portray the bridge of old school CIA meeting the needs of a new world CIA.

Oscar nominee, David Statham as corrupt CIA Section Chief, Noah Folsom.

Joan Allen, reprises her role as tough-as-nails CIA agent Pam Landy. We were introduced to Pam Landy in "The Bourne Supremacy," a headstrong CIA operative, her knowledge of Bourne brings her into the inner circle of “lethal action allowed no permission necessary” branch of the CIA. This creates an internal conflict over use of force versus dedication and the need to silence truth.

Oscar winner, Joan Allen reprising her role as CIA Agent Pam Landy.

Julie Stiles returns as CIA Treadstone operative Nicky Parsons.  She has been transferred to Italy posing as an executive administrative assistant for an American based international firm. The scope of her role as CIA operative has moved from blind obedience to questioning the tactics of her superiors until, in the final installment of the Bourne Trilogy, her conflict, as does Pam Landy’s, reaches a pinnacle.

Julia Stiles reprising her role as CIA Operative Nicky Parsons.

The Bourne Ultimatum is a CIA full circle complete with flash backs of the original Treadstone project’s induction and training director Dr. Albert Hirsch, played by Albert Finney. The reality of the CIA using human operatives as test subjects to further an individual’s experimental program is plausible: An inconvenient truth of the modern day CIA.

The entire film is a fast paced feature of the possibility that murder is one misstep away.  After Russia, the film takes on a different element the element of exposure, sweet exposure: The kind of exposure that only an investigative journalist can understand.

Neal Daniels, played by Colin Stanton, meeting with reporter Simon Ross.

The Guardian's London reporter, Simon Ross, played by Paddy Considine, stumbles onto the Jason Bourne trained CIA killer story and is doggedly pursuing the possibility that the CIA has trained a super killer who has been born again with a conscience. This story has taken him to Italy and a meeting with the CIA’s main European agent.

The Guardian has already printed two installments of a three-part series that were read by Jason Bourne. He immediately sets out to find the reporter and get his source. The revelation of a CIA trained super killer network with high level directive would send shockwaves throughout the CIA hierarchy and result in public scandal and criminal charges.  

Paddy Considine as The Guardian Reporter, Simon Ross at London's Waterloo Station.

This sets up a sequence at London’s Waterloo train station that was brilliant in idea, delivery, direction, performance and editing. It was a scene where everything worked flawlessly. The actors stayed true to the tone of the characters.  The parallel scene unfolding at the CIA sub-station, located in New York City, direct the movements of the London characters through the global availability of technology and advanced hacking techniques.

Matt Damon stays true to an emotionless CIA Operative even while he struggles with his emerging emotions. On screen this translates to one seam of emotions, no delineation in expression. There are moments when he attempts to bring depth to a character that is supposed to be emotionless. Being unable, as an actor, to react and to show emotion, facial expression, requires an even greater challenge to demonstrate emotion. There were moments when he wasn’t able to discover an alternative method to portray the range of emotions associated with the new Jason Bourne struggling with the conflicts of the old Jason Bourne.

Statham, Allen, and Tom Gallop, in the CIA situation room.

The entire sequence in New York where he manages to make it across town, east to west, in fewer than six minutes, drives a car off a building, in reverse, lands upside down, punches out the skylight, and walks away, while stunning in special effects, is not believable. In fact, it seemed impossible that the human body could be subject to the physical assaults of multiple cars crashes, including whiplash and still Jason Bourne, trained super killer, walks away with only a minor scratch.

On the set with The Bourne Ultimatum Director, Paul Greengrass.

The Central Intelligence Agency trains killers. Currently the CIA uses human operatives subject to the constraints of the human body.  It is possible, in the near future, that the Robotics Program in development at the Defense Department’s DARPA Agency will allow for limitedly indestructible robots that could take the physical assaults associated with the multiple car crashes and walk away. At this point the Robotics Program is so advanced that walking away means walking away. Not as a machine with terminator elements in view but more like Jason Bourne, an apparent human walking away to carry out the next assignment.

Jason Bourne chasing his would be assassin across the rooftops in Tangiers.

The European locations are fabulous: A whirlwind ride of modern Paris, Moscow, and London mixing with old world, European charm, in Tangiers and Italy.  Be prepared for a thrill ride of exotic locales, super trained fight scenes, stunning sound and special effects, minute by minute changes, explosions, super trained operatives and then the NYPD.  

In the battle of the summer box office supremacy, The Bourne Ultimatum is a good bet to be rounding out the top three.


Photos courtesy of www.ign.com

Published on Dec 31, 1969

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