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  The Bourne Ultimatum

Starring: Matt Damon, Joan Allen, Julia Stiles, David Strathairn, Paddy Considine

Directed by: Paul Greengrass

Produced by: Frank Marshall, Patrick Crowley, Paul L. Sandberg

Written by: Tony Gilroy, Scott Z. Burns, George Nolfi

Distributor: Universal Pictures


     It is often said that the concept of mise en scène is a part of filmmaking in order to bring the viewer to deeper understand the characters and events of a given picture. For the most part, I tend to agree with this philosophy: the goal of a team of film-artists should be to delve inside of the personalities and themes that their work tackles.

     With said principle in mind, it would be very easy for me to call The Bourne Ultimatum an insult on the respected conventions of narrative filmmaking. However, doing so would be a complete oversight on my behalf. Yes, it’s true: director Paul Greengrass and cinematographer Oliver Wood use the picture as an excuse to deliberately show off, implementing a shaky camera and relentless visual tricks at every chance they get. And, yes, there’s no real reason for any of this as far as protagonist Jason Bourne (Matt Damon) and his corrupt government opposition are concerned in terms of the narrative. However, the viewer must realize that this showiness is the whole point of the exercise: Greengrass never wishes that the audience view Bourne as the main character of the film. Essentially, the movie is not so much about its external plot as it really is about the way in which it is made: Greengrass and Wood’s wacky culmination of angles and shots is the cast of characters here. Damon’s Jason Bourne, with all of his ass-kicking power and command over the screen, is mostly just along for the wild cinematic ride.

     If one is to accept the central gimmick that The Bourne Ultimatum is more of a technical experience than it is a narrative experience—I had no problem doing so—the picture works amazingly well. Considered from a nuts-and-bolts perspective, this is one of the best action films of the past five years; I was overwhelmed by even thinking about the continuity involved in piecing together all of Wood’s trademark handheld shots. The pacing throughout is taut and incredible; Greengrass and editor Christopher Rouse assert themselves as masters of their respective crafts as they seamlessly move the action from one location to the next in record-time. Their work allows The Bourne Ultimatum to be as breathtakingly entertaining as it is technically marvelous.

     Despite the tremendous degree to which The Bourne Ultimatum’s technical prowess impressed me and as much as I am willing to defend the picture for its daring rejection of common narrative conventions, I still admit to being disappointed by the shallowness of its human characters. Sure, developing said characters in order to provide the film greater emotional heft admittedly would’ve been a futile exercise for Greengrass: it would’ve slowed down the pacing and made things seem forced. Still, The Bourne Ultimatum is slightly flawed due to the fact that it feels like a bit of a cop-out given its abandonment of the emotional core of its line-up of familiar faces that was developed in its two predecessors. Perhaps the picture is flawed for the better of the sum of its parts, but this never excuses its lack of an ability to jar the viewer on more than just a purely sensory level.

     Even if it may not be as substantial as it could’ve been, The Bourne Ultimatum is nevertheless a sweeping mélange of technical mastery. I suspect that, in future years, it will become mandatory-viewing in all introductory-level cinematography courses. In the picture’s virtuoso style, viewers will find endless amounts of entertainment and heart-stopping adrenaline, free of any flabby excess that should’ve been edited out on the cutting-room floor. The Bourne Ultimatum is a tight, hour-and-fifty-minute alternative to the recent overlong and bloated antics of Pirates of the Caribbean: At World’s End and Transformers. Without reservation, I’d go as far as to say that it’s easily the best action film of the summer.

-Danny Baldwin, Bucket Reviews

Review Published on: 8.8.2007

Screened on: 8.6.2007 at the Edwards San Marcos 18 in San Marcos, CA.


The Bourne Ultimatum is rated PG-13 and runs 111 minutes.

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