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Latest Bourne Offers an Uncomfortable Ultimatum

  • Christian Hamaker Contributing Writer
  • Updated Oct 22, 2009
Latest <i>Bourne</i> Offers an Uncomfortable Ultimatum

DVD Release Date:  December 11, 2007
Theatrical Release Date:  August 3, 2007
Rating:  PG-13 (for violence and intense sequences of action)
Genre:  Action
Run Time:  111 min.
Director:  Paul Greengrass
Actors:  Matt Damon, Julia Stiles, David Strathairn, Scott Glenn, Paddy Considine, Albert Finney, Joan Allen, Colin Stinton

The Bourne Ultimatum, the third film in a series about a trained killer trying to reclaim his previously erased identity, tops its predecessors with amazing set-piece action sequences and expert editing and camerawork. It's a kinetic rush that barely gives viewers time to breathe, much less think.

But think we must, as the central mystery of the three films—who is Jason Bourne, and how did he become a killing machine?—is, at last, resolved, while communicating an uncomfortable message about current events in the post-9/11 world: Those who "volunteer" to "kill the bad guys" are the victims of power-mad warmongers unconcerned about the humanity of their charges.

Jason Bourne (Matt Damon) is once again on the run, struggling with cloudy flashbacks about the origins of his role as a trained killer. Beginning in Moscow, the film follows Bourne's attempts to locate and question those who turned him into a human weapon.

When Bourne reads a newspaper article about himself, he contacts the reporter, Simon Ross (Paddy Considine), and arranges a meeting at a train station, hoping to learn more about his background, which has been leaked to the reporter by CIA official Neal Daniels (Colin Stinton). But Bourne isn't the only one tipped off by the article. The CIA, headed by Noah Vosen (David Strathairn), also tracks the reporter's every move, and gives the command to "take them both out."

The convergence of Bourne, Ross and CIA operatives guided by Vosen is the film's first major set-piece, and it's a dandy, showcasing director Paul Greengrass' growing penchant for sequences that involve rapid editing, jittery camerawork and crowd choreography.

Bourne escapes the milieu with the reporter's information, and with the help of former coworker Nicky Parsons (Julia Stiles) avoids subsequent attempts on his life. One spectacular escape follows Bourne, Parsons and a killer across rooftops, ending with a death that is chilling in its brutality, but also a matter of self-defense and protection of others.

A subsequent car chase resets the bar for movie chases, delivering spectacular thrills before the film's finale, in which CIA employee Pamela Landy (Joan Allen)—seeking to undermine Vosen—assists Bourne after he arrives in New York. It's there that Bourne will find out who he really is, and confront the main architect of the Bourne persona, Dr. Albert Hirsch (Albert Finney).

As good as the film is as an action vehicle, it also critiques policies advanced since September 11, 2001, and is thus associated with the current U.S. administration (although the name "Bush" is never heard) and its battles with the CIA. In the film, the CIA's Vosen approves of open-ended "black op's" programs designed to lessen the "real danger" faced by the United States. Asked when those programs will end, he says, "It ends when we've won," echoing the Bush administration's oft-repeated view of the current war on terrorism.

"This isn't what I signed up for," Landy says later—effectively blowing the whistle on the secret programs by helping Bourne. Her sympathetic portrayal contrasts with Vosen's steely cold villain.

Most disappointing is the implied parallel between Bourne, who volunteered to become an assassin, and those who volunteer to protect America today—our servicemen and women. "You wanted to serve," Hirsch tells Bourne. "You'd do anything it takes to save American lives."

"Look at what they make you give," Bourne responds—an acknowledgement that he's lost his humanity along the way. But what does that say about those who currently volunteer to serve and protect Americans? Are they being dehumanized through combat? The film's answer seems clear—and presumptuous.

It's no secret that spy thrillers often implicate the government, so in that sense, The Bourne Ultimatum is nothing new. But the political commentary, while cohesive with the storyline, pulls down the film with a heavy weight of topicality and accusations that echo the Joe Wilson/Valerie Plame scandal. The dwindling number of supporters of the current administration's policies may be put off by the ending, but those opposed will be cheering as they watch the fictional parallels of real-life political enemies hand-cuffed and brought to justice.

The movie's ultimatum is this: If you want the best action movie of the year, you'll have to take the overt political commentary.

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  • Language/Profanity:  Lord's name taken in vain multiple times; several profanities.
  • Drugs/Alcohol:  None.
  • Sex/Nudity:  Some kissing.
  • Violence:  Bourne steals medicine and injects himself; flashbacks show a man being hooded and interrogated; punching; breaking of limbs; a man dies in hand-to-hand combat; guns are aimed and fired at people; cars drive off a bridge, off a parking deck, the wrong way down the highway, etc.; a woman drowns.