The Bourne Ultimatum
I hate Shaky-cam, I like Paul Greengrass, I like Matt Damon, and I liked the story hidden beneath the blur of the first two Bourne films, so what was there to do but go and see the third.
While most are hailing it as the greatest of the series, I totally disagree and think it is the weakest. I'm glad Bourne's done, and I wish it were more final.
The recent news that the Bourne action designer has moved to Bond is also being taken by most as an admission of defeat by the Bond Producers and a great boost for the Bond franchise. I see it a different way, I think that the Bourne action designer must be happy and that the Bond producers are giving him a chance for his action sequences to actually be seen.
Let me skip to the end if I may, I was waiting on my fiancée to depart from the ladies powder room (she doesn't powder) and the very nice manager of the fantastic Dominion cinema asked me if I enjoyed the film. I was caught off guard and replied “No”, which actually surprised me a little as I wasn't yet sure how I felt about it.
Apparently I didn't like it, and during that little discussion of the shaky-cam and the hard to follow action, he said something along the lines of what you had to do was just disengage and let it happen.
That struck a chord with me. There is a great core of an idea behind the Bourne films, and the idea of a frantic plot is conveyed through short and rapid cuts, angle changes, and non-stop movement. Yet really, it's not that complicated a tale, in fact the idea is to sit there and let the entertainment wash over you, and that's a shame.
So, to the film. The first thing I have to talk about is that fateful shaky-cam, because it is pretty damned annoying. In Ramchandra's review of the film he said that the shaky-cam was much less than the previous films, well there are a couple of scenes where the camera doesn't shake, most notably the helicopter shots where you think that the camera should be going mad, everywhere else it is as bad as the second film.
The shaky-cam meant you lose so much from the film, the impact of action sequences, the understanding and tension of chase sequences, and just who is who. Some prime examples of missed moments through the filming technique are the action scene of leaping a motorbike at and over a six foot wall. Sounds impressive, not when it's cut so tightly, swapping between angles and zooms, and shaking like it was. I saw bike, broken pavement, lifted brick, bike, wall, bike on top of wall, spinning tyre.
Another action moment is the jeep versus the police car. In the trailer, for some reason, I could make out the sequence of events much easier, on the big screen there was no way I could follow what was happening. Let me point out too that I was not close to the screen by a long shot, I was way back in the cinema and could easily see it all without moving my head.
However I caught glimpses of the two cars hitting each other, then the police car was side on, then something happened and there was a crash that stopped everything moving. That seemed to me something like police car, jeep, hit, swap places, hit, swap places, hit, police car spun, up on concrete, crash. Then there was the moment where half way through that sequence I realised who it was driving the jeep!
Another example is the rooftop chase sequence in Tangiers. I felt myself actually disengage from the film during this sequence, it was just something I couldn't follow. Not only is it too difficult to follow that Bourne is chasing after the woman, but it is so incredibly difficult to follow and feel any tension from the fact that he's being chased by the police.
Subtleties such as the grabbing of the two towels before leaping over the glass covered wall are far too fast to get a handle on. Really this scene feels like Bourne is running over rooftops somewhere, and somewhere else she's being chased too. Then we see shots of her in the corrider, panic face, turn, shake door handle, panic, turn, shake another, Bourne jumps over rooftop wall, man with gun turns...
It was during these scenes that I made a comparison of this film to a novel with verbs and nouns, nothing more. That's exactly how it feels. Face, panic, turn, jump, glass smash, fall, shot, punches...and so on.
I think there were also less hand to hand combat sequences in this film, I can only clearly remember one hand to hand fight sequence and that was between the two assets, Bourne being one. Again, following the action was nigh on impossible.
Rather than pull the camera back and show the talents of the two men involved in the fight, shots are cut incredibly short, they push right in and concentrate on very tight frames, and they keep that shaky-cam action going.
The result is a vague idea of what is happening that you tend to catch up with after the fighting is over without any tension or suspense being built during it.
Getting away from that for the moment, the other thing that stuck out for me is how much seemed similar to things that had happened before. In a way I felt that this was covering the same ground as we'd previously seen in the series.
There were events such as the watching of the CIA Agents from across the street, the talking car crash in the tunnel and the use of the seatbelt, the reuse of the reversing car trick – and the first time we saw this was another stunt which had its impact hugely dulled by the harsh style.
Okay, I've made my points and explained what I didn't like about it, but what did I think was good? Well some of the character interplay, mainly with David Strathairn's character of the CIA Deputy Director Noah Vosen was very strong, and not just for Strathairn himself, but for the other actors involved. His dealings with Joan Allen's character Pamela Landy and Bourne were very well played out.
The strength of the story through all three films was good, although here I felt it did start to falter a little. The driving force for him to get to the root of everything didn't have the same pull for me that the previous two films did. With those it felt like there was no going back for the character and he just couldn't do anything but comply.
Here his motives felt weaker, and the driving force to make him single mindedly hunt down his goal could have so easily been transferred to Nicky played by Julia Styles or Pamela Landy, but instead the opportunity is missed.
The pace is unrelenting, that is a positive that comes from the style that Paul Greengrass has for the Bourne series, and the action is strong – although again I wish we were to see more of it as it happens.
Overall I think it is the weaker of the Bourne series, and it continues the style that you either love, don't really notice, or hate. Too much shaky-cam and over edited mean that the action is hard to follow and this sometimes bleeds into the storyline.
I feel it also lacks the drive of some of the other films for Bourne's motives, but it rounds off the series nicely. The ending, although groan worthy, is open enough to provide a possible future return, but where it stands right now it supports Matt Damon's comments that Bourne won't be back for a good while, if ever.