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DVD Review: The Bourne Ultimatum
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Slayve   |  

The Bourne Ultimatum DVDThe Bourne Ultimatum
Directed by Paul Greengrass
Starring Matt Damon, Julia Stiles, David Strathairn
Universal Studios
Available December 11, 2007

Back in 2002, director Doug Liman’s The Bourne Identity became the first great action movie of the new millennium. At the time, it was a revelation: a satisfyingly complex story, an enigmatic lead character, documentary-style cinematography, and some of the most brutally realistic fight scenes ever filmed. It felt fresh and original, and many action movie fans hoped that The Bourne Identity was the harbinger of a new direction for action movies.

Well, the action movie renaissance hasn’t quite gotten off the ground just yet. But five years after The Bourne Identity, director Paul Greengrass brings us the third (and reportedly final) installment of the series, The Bourne Ultimatum. In this film, Greengrass has tightened the “Bourne style” of filmmaking by paring down the story to its most essential elements. Some might criticize the film for having too little story in comparison with the other two films in the series, but I disagree. There is plenty of story in Ultimatum, but it is told as much through action as it is through more traditional styles of exposition.

This is still a sophisticated action movie, but even more so it is a visceral tour de force. It’s hard to believe it’s even possible, but Greengrass has ramped-up the intensity of the action scenes beyond the previous two films. By way of an example, there is a scene in the Waterloo train station in London in which Bourne is meeting a journalist. Bourne knows that the CIA is watching the station in search of him. What is remarkable is the level of tension created in a scene that consists almost entirely of Bourne and the journalist walking briskly through the station trying not to be spotted by the CIA agents. An action scene with no real action? Yes, and it’s all in the pacing and remarkable camera work. But if action of a more violent nature is what you’re after, you should be more than satisfied with the frenetic rooftop chase in Tangiers which culminates in one of the most brutal depictions of hand-to-hand combat ever put on film.

I can’t think of any actor who could play Jason Bourne as well as Matt Damon. On the one hand, he effortlessly fills the action hero role, believably fighting, jumping, and car chasing his heart out. But, more importantly, he is able to fill in the emotional holes left by Bourne’s amnesia, presenting a very human character even though Bourne himself doesn’t even know who he is. The mark of a great action hero is that he’s as believable when he’s chatting with a stranger at a coffee shop as when he’s kicking ass. Damon nails it on both accounts.

Other notable cast members include Julia Stiles in a much more fleshed-out role than the awkwardly edited-in role she had in the first movie. David Strathairn is excellent as a CIA Deputy Director with dubious motives, and Joan Allen turns in another strong performance as the agent in charge of the hunt for Bourne.

The DVD release is technically quite accomplished. The Dolby Digital 5.1 audio sounds great, and the video transfer is up to the challenge of the movie’s quick pans, speeding cars, and even speedier fists.

The DVD extras are all quite good. Director Paul Greengrass gives an audio commentary that shows why he’s such a good director by nimbly moving from on-set anecdotes to the technical details of filmmaking. There is a 20-minute documentary called “Man on the Move,” which follows the filmmakers to sets around the world. It’s mostly a travelogue, but it does give a good sense of the chaos of moving such a large production around the world. More interesting are four short segments that each dissect how a particular scene was shot. The scenes examined are the most technically challenging scenes in the film, including car chases and fight scenes, so these brief glimpses into how they were done are very interesting. Rounding out the extras are about twelve minutes of deleted scenes. For the most part, these are very good scenes that deepen character development. It would have been nice if Greengrass had recorded commentary for them, if only to explain where in the film they would have appeared and why he decided to cut them.

In a summer that saw a very traditional Hollywood action movie, Live Free or Die Hard, The Bourne Ultimatum stands out as an entirely different breed of film. It has a European flavor not just because of its locations, but even more so because of its sensibility. In the Bourne universe, characters are more important than explosions, and that in and of itself is a fairly radical notion in Hollywood. It is heartening that Ultimatum was as wildly successful as it was. Hopefully its success will cause Hollywood to take notice and try to emulate what makes the Bourne films so memorable.

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4 Comments »

  1. I really, really enjoyed this flick. That said, I did have issues with the story. Mainly, that what story was there, was the exact same story from the last movie, with no new details thrown in. The big revelation at the end (which I wont reveal here cuz I hate spoilers) wasn’t really anything that we couldn’t have figured out from the last two movies. It offered no new dimension. Pretty much just more of same.

    Granted, when “same” is as brilliantly made as these films have been, more of same isn’t necessarily a mark against it. I just wanted more story. It left me a little unfulfilled.

    Also, it’s ironic that you described Julia Styles’s role in the first film as awkwardly edited-in, because that’s how I felt about her role in this one. It seemed more like an excuse to cash in on having such a talented actress on the bankrole. Her role in the story, had the potential to be interesting, but it just ended up being filler.

    Of course, THAT said, she does an excellent job in it, and I always wanted to see more of her in the series, so tossing her into this flick wasn’t all bad either. I just wanted it to be more pivotal than the “token damsel in distress” role.

    Basically, this flick was a prime example of lazy story-telling overshadowed by brilliant film-making.

    Comment by NeverWanderer — December 10, 2007 @ 9:07 pm

  2. I will say this– this was the best film of the summer, if not one of the best of the year. Also a very fitting third film for a change. Greengrass has proven himself to be an excellent director.
    Excellent review!!

    Comment by Jerry — December 10, 2007 @ 10:24 pm

  3. NeverWanderer: I say that about Julia Stiles in the first movie because she actually was edited in. She’s in a tiny office for most of the film, she has no scenes with the other actors other than Bourne himself, and although in the later films they hint that she had some connection to the pre-amnesiac Bourne, she had no connection to Bourne or really even the movie itself in the first film. But based on what happens to her character in the second movie, her larger presence in the third movie makes perfect sense, and the hint that she and Bourne were possibly involved at some point solidifies her relevance to the story.

    Comment by Slayve — December 11, 2007 @ 1:21 pm

  4. Ah! See, I didn’t know that about the first flick… but yeah! Her only scene with Bourne is actually a cut-away to her. Hunh! Interesting. I wonder why they decided to do that…

    In either case, though, while I do see how the second and third movies validated her presence in the franchise, it kinda felt like a “Look, kids! It’s Julia Styles! Aaaaaaannnd now she’s gone.” with no real impact made by her in the end. Except for showing just how much he still loves Marie…

    I guess it’s just as easy to criticize as it is to accept, as she definitely has reasons to be there and she certainly didn’t hurt the flick.

    Either way, I agree with your overall opinion of the movie! And Jerry’s. Definitely one of the best of the year.

    Comment by NeverWanderer — December 11, 2007 @ 4:55 pm

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