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2006 films

The Bourne Ultimatum
a review by Tom Condon, OP

Synopsis: All he wanted was to disappear. Instead, Jason Bourne (Matt Damon) is now hunted by the people who made him what he is. Having lost his memory and the one person he loved, he is undeterred by the barrage of bullets and a new generation of highly-trained killers. Bourne has only one objective: to go back to the beginning and find out who he was.

The Bourne Ultimatum is the third film in the series based on the best selling novels of Robert Ludlum.  Jason Bourne (Matt Damon) is an American CIA agent who has lost his memory and, over the course of the films, tries to establish and  find his identity.  As you can well imagine, there are many obstacles along the way.

I did not see the first film in the series (The Bourne Identity), but did see the second (The Bourne Supremacy).  The movies have become known for their fast paced intensity.  When I saw The Bourne Supremacy in 2004, I thought it was the most exciting movie I had seen in many years.

The Bourne Ultimatum will not disappoint.  The pace is so dizzying, seat belts should be issued at the ticket counter!  The story takes the viewer from Moscow to London, Madrid, Tangier, and finally to New York.  Director Paul Greengrass, who directed Supremacy as well as the excellent United 93, directs action sequences worthy of Hitchcock.  There are spectacular sequences staged in a train station in London, in and above the crowded streets of Tangier, and finally through the heavy traffic of New York City.  I can’t begin to imagine how Greengrass staged these remarkably suspenseful and intense sequences. 

It might be difficult for someone to follow Ultimatum if he or she had not seen at least one of the previous films.  Even though I’d seen the second installment, I wondered where Ultimatum was headed early in the film.  Is this going to be merely a very well made action/suspense film?  If so, there’s nothing wrong with that.  However, I suspected that something more was at stake than an adreline rush.

I was right.  It soon became evident that this is much more than a well crafted thriller.  It’s ultimately about the dehumanizing process involved in the making of a killer.  In disturbing flashbacks, reminiscent of the great 1960’s thriller The Manchurian Candidate, we find that Bourne has undergone torture and brainwashing to rob him of his identity and turn him into a killing machine named Jason Bourne.  What’s so chilling about this instance is that it’s not the Chinese who are turning a man into a soul-less killer, but Americans.  We begin to understand that Jason’s goal is to recapture his identity and his humanity.  He understands who he has become, but not how or why.

It’s great to see that a mainstream summer action movie can also raise disturbing moral issues.  The torture sequences certainly bring the horrors of Abu Ghraib to mind.  Even though this is a work of fiction, there are clear implications that the creation of Jason Bourne by the CIA was no accident.  How many others out there have lost their souls so that they can kill, without question or conscience, for their country?  As he becomes aware of his loss of identity, Bourne realizes that he has lost the capacity for personal relationship.  He must send away the only woman he cares for, out of regard for her own safety.

The Bourne Ultimatum is violent and intense, but not in the “gross out” manner that marks so many other current films, with blood and body parts flying everywhere.  It’s also pretty grim.  I was impressed that Ultimatum doesn’t include the comedic elements that so many other action films.  Unlike the James Bond series, the Jason Bourne films give no indication that killing is glamorous fun, with gadgets, martinis, and beautiful women all close at hand.  The violence in Ultimatum is not made to look attractive or enjoyable at all.  As Bourne remarks after killing an assassin, “I can see all the faces of the men I’ve killed.  But I don’t know any of their names.”

Greengrass has assembled an excellent cast.  In addition to the fine lead performance by Matt Damon as the killer trying to recapture his humanity, there are excellent supporting performances by Joan Allen, David Strathairn, Julia Stiles, and, in a brief but chilling role, Albert Finney.

In a season of big-budget mindless movies, The Bourne Ultimatum stands out as one that can entertain, but also make you think.  I know I’ll be thinking about it long after the summer comes to an end.

Tom Condon, OP    



























The USCCB Office for Film & Broadcasting classification is A-III -- adults. The Motion Picture Association of America rating is PG-13 -- parents strongly cautioned. Some material may be inappropriate for children under 13.

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