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The allure of Paul Greengrass's hyper-kinetic cinematography is the supposed "truth" of his imagery. In Greengrass's 2002 film Bloody Sunday the director portrayed with visceral energy, and political flair, the real-life violence of January 30th, 1972. In last year's United 93 he used the same hand-held technique to give a harrowing edge to a documentary-like account of the final hours of a tragic September 11th flight. We were sitting in the plane and pacing the flight towers as each tense decision was made - it was as therapeutic as it was thrilling.
In his two contributions to the Bourne series, a gritty, murky espionage trilogy adapted from the Robert Ludlum novels, Greengrass has used that trademark visual style to capture the consistently disoriented mind state of jilted CIA agent Jason Bourne (the always straight-faced Matt Damon). Each twitchy flashback or reflexive display of superhuman strength is accompanied by equally frenetic camera work. But the story, like his other projects, has also always been about "truth," whether through the protagonist's search for his own identity or a shady government organization's attempts to conceal it. Thus each epilepsy-inducing "realistic" chase sequence seems to literally take us one-step closer to some level of understanding.
When we last saw Bourne, he was hot on the tail of those sneaky government folks, filled with even more vengeful inspiration following the murder of his lover (the sorely missed Franka Potente) at the hands of Russian security operatives in the early going of The Bourne Supremacy. Throughout the course of the remaining film, the constantly brooding hero solves many a quandary, enacting his own sort of revenge, but the majority of his past and future is still left shrouded in mystery.
Those unanswered questions are what keep us hot on the edge of our seats as the opening credits roll for Ultimatum, and Greengrass wastes no time ratcheting up the suspense, throwing us into a whirlwind globe-trotting first ten minutes that finds Bourne beating bad guys, outwitting foes and struggling with fleeting memories. His primary nemesis in the film is smug CIA honcho Noah Vosen (David Straitharn), who has undermined the investigation of the more sympathetic Pamela Landy (Joan Allen) at the behest of upper-level officials looking to sweep a bungled super-assassin intelligence program under the rug. As the pieces come together in Bourne's head, Vosen and company desperately seek to eliminate him and his former CIA handler Nicky Parsons (played by a blander-than-Bourne Julia Stiles).
The situation makes for some adrenaline-filled sequences of highly skilled filmmaking - from a classic car chase to a near balletic one-on-one fight scene in Morocco. There are also plenty of those equally thrilling moments when Bourne outfoxes a slew of highly-intelligent CIA people, and then rubs it in their faces (for instance: "I'm standing in your office stealing classified information while you rush around town looking for me, ha!"). When the storm clears our hero has finally learned how he got to be such a badass, and it turns out it isn't the conscience-clearing story he wanted to hear. It also turns out to be nothing more than the fairly typical government-experiment-gone-bad yarn we always feared it would be.
With The Bourne Ultimatum Greengrass puts together an action-movie feast for the ages; it's not only the best stand-alone film in the series but may very well be the most satisfying pure summer blockbuster in years. Yet therein lies the film's principle dilemma; we are presented here with the cold, hard facts about Jason Bourne, which makes this spy thriller feel just as mindlessly entertaining as any old Mission Impossible film. Which isn't necessarily a bad thing, but isn't saying much either. The truth hurts. SEE ALSO: www.thebourneultimatum.com
Imran Siddiquee is a freelance writer pursuing self-expression in all its forms. This includes the occasional contribution to LAS as well as writing blogs, essays, short stories, an unpublished novel and some screenplays. He also creates horribly amateur music with his brother Yusuf.
See other articles by Imran Siddiquee.
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