August 5, 2007 -- This non-stop spy action thriller is the third in what has become a kind of standard in the genre, along with the long-running James Bond series and the Mission Impossible series of spy movies. Of course, the Bourne and Mission Impossible movies are newcomers to the genre compared to the Bond series, which dates back to 1962 and is still going strong. The Bourne series has benefitted from good production values, strong acting and expert direction by some of the top directors around. It is a standard that is hard to maintain. In fact, most sequels are inferior to the original, but the Bourne series has defied that trend with two fine sequels to the “The Bourne Identity,” “The Bourne Supremacy” and now, “The Bourne Ultimatum.”
Jason Bourne, played by Matt Damon, is a spy with amnesia who is trying to regain his identity while being hunted by rogue government agents who are trying to kill him in order to cover up illegal agency activities. This basic setup requires that much of the films are about Bourne being chased and shot at. There are a lot of fights and a lot of chases, along with some brief periods of Bourne seeking the truth and reflecting on his life. One of the best chase sequences happens in Madrid where Bourne and a deadly assassin chase each other and battle each other while being chased by police. The dazzling sequence takes place on streets, in crowds, on rooftops and in hallways and rooms.
The fact that Bourne doesn't know who he is or why he is being chased is the basis for the considerable dramatic tension in the series. These issues come to a head in this latest film which takes place both before and after the events depicted near the end of the second film, “The Bourne Supremacy.” The film begins with a chase in Moscow which takes place chronologically before the end of the second film. We finally catch up to a point in time near end of the second film, which also happens to be near the end of the third film. In effect, the two films take place during overlapping time periods. The second and third Bourne films could be easily edited together to make one very long movie. This sounds more complicated than it really is. Despite the confusing chronology, the story works, giving the viewer a whole new perspective on that cryptic conversation between Bourne and CIA officer Pamela Landy (Joan Allen of “The Upside of Anger”) which took place at the end of the second film. The same phone conversation is replayed near the end of the third film, but this time, it has a whole new meaning. Two characters who appear in all three movies are Bourne and CIA agent Nicky Parsons (Julia Stiles). This time Parsons has a larger role in the film as she becomes Bourne's willing accomplice. Her decision to put her own life in danger to help Bourne is not well explained in the movie, but is believable because of the fine acting performance given by Stiles.
What really strains credulity in the entire series, but especially in this film, is the indestructibility of Bourne. He endures brutal beatings and a couple of violent car crashes with barely a scratch. Some people explained his superhuman durability in the first film by theorizing that Bourne is not entirely human, but some sort of android. Since the first film, however, it has become pretty evident that Bourne, while not normal, is no robot. He bleeds, has regrets, hatreds, compulsions and love. He is human. He is the product of some kind of radical behavior modification, however. This behavior modification is one of the main subjects of this latest film. Bourne, whose real name is David Webb, returns to the training facility where his identity as Jason Bourne was created and where he was brainwashed into forgetting his previous identity.
Any form of intensive training, like military training, for instance, is a kind of brainwashing. What was done to Bourne, however, is depicted as something much more extreme. Bourne has been stripped of his humanity and his original identity. His struggle, throughout the three movies, is to regain his humanity (similar to the struggles depicted in the films “Robocop” and Soldier). That struggle continues. This struggle can be seen as a metaphor for the United States, which stripped itself of its own humanity during the so-called “War on Terrorism.” The rogue CIA unit that is trying to kill Bourne justifies its very existence and its illegal assassinations as being necessary to successfully fight the war on terrorism. The leaders of this agency argue that it is necessary for America to abandon international law and the ideals upon which America was founded in order to defeat the terrorists. Some within the CIA, including Landy and Parsons, think that is too high a price to pay. Some 2,000 years ago the Christian disciple Mark wrote: “For what shall it profit a man, if he shall gain the whole world, and lose his own soul?” This question is at the very heart of this film. It is a question that is not considered often enough. This film rates a B.
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