Tuesday, August 07, 2007

Movie Review - The Bourne Ultimatum

* As usual, I begin by stating that my only qualifications as a reviewer extend no further than my love of television and film. I'm not an academic, when it comes to this particular topic. I just talk about what I like and what I don't like. *

The Story.
"The third installment in the Bourne movie franchise, 'The Bourne Ultimatum' lets us observe the amnesia-plagued, former spy's quest for real answers about how and why became such an incredibly capable super-(though not super-powered) assassin. "

In the first movie, after a failing to assassinate a target, Jason Bourne was injured, lost much of his conscious memory, and found himself able to fight, track, and infiltrate with unbelievable skill and efficiency. With the CIA trying to kill him for mysterious reasons, Bourne encounters a civilian woman who eventually became his love interest and helped him tie up some loose ends and secure a bit of peace.

In the second movie, Bourne's relatively peaceful life with his girlfriend came to an end, when she was murdered by operatives who were trying to frame and then kill Bourne, himself. This sets Bourne on a path back to the CIA and back into the brutal life he barely remembers, but keeps trying to escape.

The most recent installment, The Bourne Ultimatum, shows just how badly Jason Bourne wants answers about his past and has us wondering how much his deceased girlfriend's values will temper his rage and determination. The CIA tries to tie up some loose ends that happen to contain the answers Bourne has been looking for. It's just a question of who will get to them first and who'll survive the journey.

The Acting.
Matt Damon remains remarkably effective at portraying a character whose drive, aptitude, and failed attempts to find peace make him nearly robotic in his precision, while struggling to retain portions of his dwindling humanity. Damon's ability slip become enveloped in this role once again accomplishes the semi-rare feat of dimming the star so that the character can shine. I couldn't ask for more from this actor.

The other actors are all very capable, but none stands out too much one way or the other. Their supporting characters do just what they're meant to do: they keep Bourne's character facing credible threats to his goals and to his life.

This is true despite the huge character flaws that are hard to identify as scripting flaws or deliberate portrayals of how easily ambition can lead to corruption and self-destruction.

I'm afraid this is where the movie falls short the most. In each installment, we've seen CIA operatives trying to eliminate Bourne as a threat, despite the fact that he is no threat to them, as long as they leave him alone.

As I said above, this could just a representation of how pursuing our own ends takes on a whole new meaning. Ultimately though, it comes across as tired and it diminishes our respect for the intelligence and capabilities of Bourne's antagonists. The value of such a capable "hero" is neutralized when the "villains" can't seem to stop making the same mistakes over and over, again.

Luckily, there are a few interesting character moments and a number of impressive fight scenes and car crashes to distract us. Unluckily, these distractions aren't enough to pass Bourne's amnesia to the audience and make us forget the pay-off we expect before the closing credits.

Frequently, the filmmakers give us a glimpse of character and story potential, but never bother to explore that potential to a satisfying end. What was the bond between Jason Bourne and character x and what role did s/he play? How was Bourne transformed into the super-soldier he's become? Why was Bourne such a suitable candidate for the experimental training and conditioning program? What made character y switch sides? Why is the CIA so talented and yet so inept?

We get answers to some of these questions, but not the right ones and not enough to make the Bourne Ultimatum live up to its tremendous potential and hype. After three installments, I'm guessing this is as good as it's ever going to get.

Sadly, that leaves me hoping that this will the last installment.

Yes, with reservations.

Despite its flaws, The Bourne Ultimatum remains an enjoyable film, but at the end, I felt like something was missing. Kinda like when you're hungry, but instead of a meal, you eat a bunch of potato chips and junk food. Your hunger is abated, for the time-being, but you're not truly satisfied.

The Bourne Ultimatum didn't offer enough substance to fully live up to its promise, but it'd already set the bar so high that it's almost understandable that it exceeded the reach of the filmmakers.

Or maybe they were too busy leaving room for yet another sequel.

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