Reviewed by Henry B. Rosenbush
Updated and Edited, 3.20.2010
If The Bourne Ultimatum, like the Robert Ludlum trilogy, really is the final episode what a climax as it elevates the action-spy subgenre to the next level of entertainment. With the story of who Jason Bourne really is finally revealed and plot strands from the previous two films nicely resolved audiences will be satisfied.
For those uninitiated with the storyline, in The Bourne Identity (2001; Director Doug Liman), a young man is pulled from the Mediterranean Sea with two bullets in his back and a holographic capsule embedded in his hip with bank account information. As the story unfolds, Bourne is suffering from the worst imaginable case of amnesia; he is pursued by an array of international hit men but for reasons he and the audience are unaware except it is initiated by a secret organization within the Central Intelligence Agency.
Bourne is fluent in several languages, capable of martial arts fighting, proficient in all manner of weaponry and can drive better than any pursuers and in any foreign city without benefit of global positioning technology.
While there may be an un-American facet to the films it is clear that the film makers are not fans of the CIA or the U.S. Government. While in the U.S. this may play as less threatening in the Middle Eastern countries where America is reviled it will certainly feed the insatiable hatred. Another interesting sidebar; no matter how many black ops are sent to kill Bourne he succeeds in killing them. Few characters within the CIA framework are likeable, honest or reliable. With the problems that have faced the real CIA in recent decades it is unsurprising that the corruption and incompetence filters into movie plots.
Each successive film allowed Bourne to learn more about his identity; he is and was a highly trained professional killer for the U.S. Government, who originally hunted for failing to assassinate exiled African dictator Wombosi (Adewale Akinnuoky-Agbaje) on a yacht. Bourne didn’t complete the hit because the latter’s children were nearby, but before he could escape he is shot by Wombosi, who himself is later hit by another killer, The Professor.
As portrayed by Matt Damon, Bourne is the quintessential killer but with conscience and remorse for his past as it slowly becomes clear why he is so skillful in escaping his dangerous pursuers.
Bourne is under surveillance at a Zurich bank where he finds a safety deposit box with six passports, a gun and currency from different countries. After a thrilling chase through the American consulate he offers Marie, a girl earlier seen with passport problems, $10,000 (they settle on $20,000) to drive him to Paris. As a German gypsy, Marie (Franke Potente, so excellent in Run Lola Run) chauffeurs him unaware both are targets both police and the aforementioned hit men, including The Professor (Clive Owen), who before dying from a shoot-out late in the film gives Bourne crucial information:
“I work alone, like you. We always work alone. Treadstone – both of us. Look at what they made you give.” His only dialogue comes in this scene and we feel compassion for him knowing he, like Bourne, was somehow transformed into killers.
Suffice to say there are CIA cover-ups, duplicitous bureaucrats and the secret project Treadstone managed from a safe-house in Paris, by the alluring and mysterious Nicky Parsons (Julia Stiles). After a shootout at the safe house, Bourne escapes but not before his main nemesis Ted Conklin (Chris Cooper) is killed by a CIA asset (killer) for his renegade techniques in trying to kill Bourne. The film also starred Brian Cox (Ward Abbott) as a politician, who has sanctioned the hit on Conklin and is the main villain in the second film, The Bourne Supremacy (2004; Director Paul Greengrass).
As the first films end we hear Abbott addressing a subcommittee on project Black Briar, which will be fully resolved in the third film.
In Supremacy, Bourne is a step closer to learning his true identity and the malevolent forces behind Treadstone. Marie returns as Bourne’s love interest which has blossomed from the final scene of Identity. Marie is murdered by an asset trying to kill Bourne, and this action sets in motion a series of more double crosses, especially from Cox, with Joan Allen portraying Pamela Landy, a CIA op as the only person interesting in learning the truth.
The film climaxes with Bourne breaking into the home of the daughter of his first hit to tell her the truth about their death. It is an agonizing, yet profoundly illuminating scene as the girl listens silently to Bourne’s apology.
As with Identity, Supremacy ends with Bourne closer too his personal truth but with pieces of the puzzle left to be solved until the globetrotting adventures of Ultimatum, which will take him to Madrid, Paris, Turin, Germany, England, and Morocco before arriving in New York City for the final face-off with the men responsible for making him the killing machine he has become.
Also directed by Greengrass, with Liman producing for the second time, Ultimatum is an exercise in continuous excitement with nary a moment when the camera isn’t restlessly taking the audience on foot chases across roof tops in Medina, Spain, a dangerous car chase through NYC and in hand to hand faced offs. Credit goes again to the myriad technologies used; we see as much surveillance devices as an audience is likely to see in three movies as the CIA tracks – usually unsuccessfully or too late – Bourne’s every move. Location photography is splendid allowing us a travelogue of gorgeous scenery.
Like The Wizard of Oz, there is a man behind the curtain responsible for all the machinations Dr. Albert Hirsch (Brit Albert Finney with a southern drawl). Even the CIA chief, played by Scott Glenn in a cameo, is involved in high treason. Sounds scarily familiar!
Bourne has numerous flashbacks throughout the film showing him being hooded and water tortured repeatedly. As the recent Gitmo water boarding torture controversy has been a hot political topic it plays well here. Since it is successful in the movie perhaps those interrogators have a point in using it on terrorist suspects!
All is revealed in the denouement with Dr. Hirsch including that Bourne originally may have volunteered for Treadstone.
With asset Paz (Edgar Ramirez, so good in Tony Scott’s Domino) killing a Brit reporter but missing Bourne, the urgency to learn his identity leads to another meeting with Nicky who we learn was romantically involved with Bourne during his days in training. Black Briar has replaced the black-ops Treadstone and with another CIA baddie, Noah Vosan (David Strathairn) sending assets to kill Nicky as well. Strathrain is superb as the self-centered Vosan and delivers his lines vehemently. The scene where he tries to bluff Bourne into thinking he is in his office while the hero is actually in the office stealing files is brilliant and a crowd pleaser.
As in the second film, Landy is the key to this mystery as she tries to keep Bourne alive. Questions will not be answered until Ultimatum but the second film did punish the villains, especially Abbott. Joan Allen brings smoothness to her role and fleshes her out nicely in both films. Nicky survives a face-to-face meeting in Supremacy as Bourne learns more information about his past. Her role in the final episode is crucial and the finale with her smiling as we see an ending much like the beginning of the series is faultless.
Production design, cinematography across the globe, editing and scoring are all first-rate. Acting kudos again to Damon, who elevates his character far above a James Bond or John McLane kind of movie hero, and brings verisimilitude to Bourne. Although the film may be the last it ends in such a way that more sequels are possible. However, if Ultimatum is the final Bourne film credit is due to all involved for creating a franchise that provides all the answers posed from each film and does so brilliantly.
A Universal release presented in association with MP Beta Prods. of a Kennedy/Marshall production in association with Ludlum Entertainment. Produced by Frank Marshall, Patrick Crowley, Paul L. Sandberg. Executive producers, Jeffrey M. Weiner, Henry Morrison, Doug Liman. Co-producer, Andrew R. Tennenbaum. Directed by Paul Greengrass. Screenplay, Tony Gilroy, Scott Z. Burns, George Nolfi; screen story, Gilroy, based on the novel by Robert Ludlum. Camera (Deluxe color/Technicolor, widescreen), Oliver Wood; editor, Christopher Rouse; music, John Powell; production designer, Peter Wenham; supervising art director, Alan Gilmore; art directors, Andy Nicholson, Jason Knox-Johnston, Rob Cowper; set decorators, Tina Jones; costume designer, Shay Cunliffe; sound (DTS/DTS/Dolby Digital), Kirk Francis; sound mixers, Scott Millan, Dave Parker; supervising sound editors, Karen Baker Landers, Per Hallberg; visual effects supervisor, Peter Chiang; visual effects, Double Negative; associate producer, Colin O’Hara; assistant director, Christopher Carreras; second unit director/stunt coordinator, Dan Bradley; casting, John Hubbard, Dan Hubbard, Avy Kaufman.
Reviewed at the Rave Theater, Hoover, AL, August 2, 2007. MPAA Rating: PG-13 for Action Violence and Profanity. Running time: 1:55.
Jason Bourne – Matt Damon
Nicky Parsons – Julia Stiles
Noah Vosen – David Strathairn
Ezra Kramer – Scott Glenn
Simon Ross – Paddy Considine
Paz – Edgar Ramirez
Dr. Albert Hirsch – Albert Finney
Pam Landy – Joan Allen
Tom Cronin – Tom Gallop
Wills – Corey Johnson
Martin Kreutz – Daniel Bruhl
Desh – Joey Ansah
Neal Daniels – Colin Stinton