Saturday, February 09, 2008

How The Bourne Ultimatum was saved

Matt Damon doesn't exactly exude Jason Bourne as he much as he subsumes that identity. Damon plays him as a man completely calm on the outside but bustling on the inside, assessing situations, devising plans and executing them with split-second perfection.

The Bourne trilogy has been that rarity in Hollywood - an action franchise that feels fresh with every movie and has managed to stay a critical and commercial favorite. And I'll start by saying that the final installment - The Bourne Ultimatum - is a highly enjoyable movie but it comes wrapped up in a rather weak script.

In Ultimatum, Bourne ruthlessly executes maneuvers with pin-point precision. Entire teams of highly trained individuals are tossed around like confetti. No one is his equal. He also maintains a high degree of luck in getting crystal clear cell phone connections on the first try, everything he tries works to perfection.

The people who are chasing him - in this case the CIA, with whom Bourne is trying to settle an old score and subsequently learn the secret of his identity - seem to be a mindless lot. And they make a mockery of modern day technology by flouting any number of rules of what is possible to do with tracking technology today. Lame character motivations and previously played situations abound.

Fortunately, there are precisely three things the script gets right - which end up saving Ultimatum from a crash and burn.

First, the writers (Gilroy, Burns, Nolfi) pace the script with a relentlessness that mirrors Bourne's own. As every action movie must, this one earns its creds with some well concieved chase sequences, the best among them being one in which Bourne jumps from building to building across the narrow streets Tangier in an effort to save a colleague.

Director Paul Greengrass - whose work on the second Bourne movie and United 93 has established him as a major Hollywood talent - creates a practicality and discardable brutality in the sequences that make them stand out. Often a split-second scene is all you'll get to figure out what is going on. Even in quieter scenes, Greengrass overlaps a parallel scene - he doesn't let the movie slow down at all.

Second, the writers do an excellent job of maintaining the integrity of Bourne's character. The temptation to humanize Bourne and create a unique angle to the storytelling in the termination of the trilogy must have been great. But Bourne is given the same glacial emotions and instinctive reactions that established his character previously. Damon, thankfully, doesn't try to give us insights into what Bourne might be thinking, keeping his character aloof and mysterious and yet connecting with the audience enough to remind us he's the good guy.

And finally, the writers create a gut-wrenching final resolution that captures the rising discontent with the use of brute force in the post-911 landscape. There isn't much I can say about this without giving the ending away so lets focus for a second on what Greengrass has done with the other actors in the movie.

All this chasing around leaves the director with little time to develop the rest of the story fully. Often he has a quick scene between two characters to establish a back story and create palpable tension. To carry his movie through those scenes he has no choice but to employ some veteran actors who can do heavy lifting in quick time.

Happily he has brought together a terrific cornucopia of supporting talent - Joan Allen (who retains that helmet head hair and her whip smart deamanor from the sequel), Paddy Considine (brilliant in In America, and giving the movie some initial emotional heft), David Straithairn and Albert Finney. Even Julia Stiles is inspired into giving a nuanced and perfectly pitched performance.

Also:

10 comments:

Mind Rush said...

Aspi great review, esp. the analysis of why the film works. The film had me on the edge of my seat.

One imp. message of the film (I thought) was that our memories make us who we are. They create the scaffolding of meaning for our existence. The film underscores the importance of remembering.

Mind Rush said...

Lekin, one question for Driftji...I notice that you reserve your subtitles or thought bubbles for desi actors and celebs only. How come? Please make fun of the phoren folk too, naa??

Aspi said...

Mind Rush, its a fair question. I only make fun of genius people who I love much - like Himesh Reshammiya or Bappi Lahiri or Paula Abdul (although she hasn't been featured on this blog yet).

headmistress said...

I really loved Bourne Ultimatum, though I have not paid much attention to the trilogy over all. But it was a pretty excellent thriller. Glad you mentioned Paddy Considine and In America, absolutely loved that, and he's a rare gem. What Iiked most about this was the fact that it kept a more muted tone, letting the narrative rise through the characters rather than pumping things too obviously and dramatically. And the chase scene in Marrakech was fantastic - tense, convoluted and understated - just right.

although I didn't much like Matt Damon's snide arrogance when this film came out, when he said that the Bourne films were a more of an intellectual take on the thriller genre, unlike Bond... I'm not a Bond buff but I love Daniel Craig as Bond, and I'm damn near wetting myself waiting for Quantum of Solace... (even the title has me quivering...)

and yes, that pic is gagging for a caption. He is so obviously wondering if he's left the gas on at home, if so, what scale of explosion will it result in, and which of his enemies will be conveniently in the vicinity at the time.
either that or he's thinking if the milk's still on the boil.

headmistress said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
Kamal said...

This is the one of the most intelligent action drama's every produced.
Definitely one for the re-runs, we'll be watching the trilogy for a very long time….over and over.
These movies has set a benchmark where the action and drama is actually believable.

Kamal

Aspi said...

Bourne is definitely more accessible a character than Bond. But Bond is his own genre. And I did quite like Daniel Craig as well. That reminds me: I had written a piece on that movie but never published it. I'll have to wait till the new one comes out to do dig it up.

M said...

i liked the bourne identity a LOT, second one put me to sleep

i'll get this dvd if i get a chance sometime..

i never liked bond movies but i rly rly loved Casino Royale

Daniel Craig was awesome! he's super hot for an old dude.. and Eva Green, i love her so much. She was/is awesome! they made the movie, my cousin found the russian baddie superhot apparently she's wack

i can't wait for the next one, apparently eva will appear in flashbacks

anu g said...

Adesh meets Matt Damon.
http://www.santabanta.com/cinema.asp?pid=18933

http://indiatravelbyshiv.blogspot.com said...

I really loved Bourne Ultimatum, though I have not paid much attention to the trilogy over all. But it was a pretty excellent thriller. Glad you mentioned Paddy Considine and In America, absolutely loved that, and he's a rare gem. What Iiked most about this was the fact that it kept a more muted tone, letting the narrative rise through the characters rather than pumping things too obviously and dramatically.
http://indiatravelbyshiv.blogspot.com