My blog has moved!

You should be automatically redirected in 6 seconds. If not, visit
and update your bookmarks.

Monday, 3 September 2007

The Bourne Ultimatum

I'm happy to say that seeing the final Bourne film some weeks after its release in no way dulled its brilliance, despite higher stakes of anticipation. The film resets the standard for action movies just as its predecessors did, most probably because its director, Paul Greengrass, (of United 93 fame) again brings his signature intelligence and political sensitivity to a genre that usually lacks both.

The movie's adrenaline-rush pacing, furiously choreographed fight scenes and extended car/motorcycle/pedestrian chases through various cities across the globe are fun in themselves; like most action heroes, the world is Bourne's playground but refreshingly it seems that Eurostar and a surprisingly old-fashioned looking ferry are his favoured, eco-friendly modes of transport. The episodic structure that's typical of action movies is here given urgency and humour through the ingenious subterfuge and double-bluffing manouevres that characterize the trilogy and make Jason Bourne our epoch's best hero. In one scene, as Bourne prepares for the arrival of two assassins by doing something incomprehensible with a desk fan and a light, I was reminded of the delicious trickery of Macauley Culkin in Home Alone; something of the same mischief plays in the Bourne films, and makes the otherwise fairly tragic arc of Bourne's journey much sweeter to swallow.

The role has made Matt Damon Hollywood's most bankable actor, apparently worth $27 for every one dollar he earns. It makes sense. Somehow Damon's curiously immobile visage, punctuated by that constant little furrow on his forehead, inspires a range of emotions; pity (the poor boy is still suffering from those headache-inspiring flashbacks that make him a possible twin of Harry Potter), raw desire (Julia Stiles' character Nicky Parsons has a tough time holding back from throwing her arms round his oft-wounded torso and one can relate) and a kind of parental concern (how many assassination attempts can he survive in his quest to find the truth about his past? and more to the point, what is he going to do once he has found the truth? won't he have a big black hole in his life? will he get therapy for this? has he even started dealing with the death of that nice German girl from Run Lola Run who he lost at the start of the second film??)

These are all relatively unimportant points compared with

1) the satisfying portrayal of female characters in the film
2) the political undertones which become relatively overt in the movie's final showdown.

Both factors bring the Bourne films decades past the Bond movies in tone, and reflect the scriptural choices that resulted from the trilogy's early deviation from its source material, the Bourne books by Robert Ludlum. As Damon said in an interview before the Bourne Ultimatum began pre-production, ""We've gone so far from the book. Ludlum wrote it as a trilogy and we've really kind-of ignored that plot because it's very Cold War. And so, in the updating process, we kind-of threw out most of what he had so we're kind of on our own to find a third one."

In fact this throwing out of the baby with the bath-water was almost certainly a good thing, allowing Jason Bourne to evolve from a Cold War-bound family man into a uniquely contemporary hero. His relationships with the two female protagonists in the Bourne Ultimatum offer a welcome respite from the swimsuit models that populate so many other action films. Nicky Parsons and Pamela Landy are both three dimensional characters with minds and plotlines or their own. Also gratifying is the fact that Bourne's heroism asks for nothing in return. So putting his own life at unnecessary risk in order to save Nicky from a hitman doesn't mean he then gets to take her to bed, in fact, quite the opposite, as we see him virtually pushing her onto a spectacularly unglamorous bus to start an anonymous life elsewhere without so much as a kiss goodbye. Meanwhile, the beautiful 51-year old actress Joan Allen as troubled CIA-exec Landy effortlessly equals Damon’s on-screen intellectual charisma, making the film much more of an ensemble piece than its title would suggest.

The politics of the film are to my mind its most intriguing aspect; but as I am still musing on them (and this post is already rather long) I will leave them for another day. I will just say that Greengrass is said to be currently working on a screenplay adaptation of Rajiv Chandrasekaran's critical book about the American occupation of Baghdad, 'Imperial Life in the Emerald City'. And Matt Damon is signed on to star so it’s good news all round.

No comments: