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Video Reviews

MPAA Rating
Credits
Genre
Drama, Mystery/Suspense, Action/Adventure
Cast
Matt Damon as Jason Bourne; Julia Stiles as Nicky Parsons; Joan Allen as Pamela Landy; David Strathairn as Noah Vosen; Albert Finney as Dr. Albert Hirsch
Director
Paul Greengrass (United 93, The Bourne Supremacy)
Distributor
Universal Pictures
Reviewer
Paul Asay
The Bourne Ultimatum

The Bourne Ultimatum

Jason Bourne isn't one for nostalgia.

He doesn't have time for it, for one thing—with evildoers and police officers all over him like static cling. Also, for him, memory lane is full of boarded-up shops and vacant lots. All he knows is that, somewhere along the line, the U.S. government made a killer out of him—a precisely tuned assassin who makes James Bond look like a pencil-pushing desk jockey. And it bums him out.

No surprise, then, that Bourne finds himself in another film in which he's always on the run, chasing his past while eluding a throng of tech-savvy bad guys who would rather Bourne (and all the secrets locked in his brain) do them the favor of kicking the bucket. Bourne isn't happy to oblige. He wants his memory back—and he wants the people who took it to pay.

His first step in this third movie is tracking down a British reporter who seems to know far more about Bourne's past than Bourne himself does. Bourne finds him. But so do government agents, and all Bourne's left to work with is the man's notebook. Using it to help him piece together the puzzle that has become his life, Bourne travels to Spain, Tangier and, eventually, the United States, where he tangles with assassins, Big Brother and his own twisted creator.

Positive Elements

Sure, Mr. Bourne may be an assassin. But he feels really, really bad about it. The fact that he knows about 20 different languages and can beat the living daylights out of pretty near anyone is no consolation to him for the fact that he is, in some respects, a monster.

"I can see their faces," he mourns. "Everyone I ever killed. I just don't know their names."

Whether it's those haunting faces that deserve the credit, or his own bludgeoned conscience trying to re-emerge, Bourne shows restraint and remorse throughout the film. While the government calls its specially trained assassins "assets," Bourne is able to see the humanity even in his would-be killers. In fact, he lets one asset go, only to have to face him again later. He kills another in Tangier, and mournfully looks at his blood-stained hands afterwards. In contrast to the already referenced 007, who can glibly run his personal body count into the dozens on any given day, Bourne's tally in Ultimatum is prim. And when he does kill, it's a matter of survival, not vengeance.

Bourne gets help from unexpected quarters, and his allies display staggering levels of sacrifice. A CIA operative helps him escape from a prickly situation in Madrid, punting her career and endangering her life to do so. Another insider also tosses away her career to help Bourne find some long-sought answers. When Bourne tells her "they" (meaning the CIA) will kill her for it, she says she helped Bourne because "this wasn't what I signed on for." She wanted to clean up the CIA and get the United States back on higher moral ground.

As if to return the favors, Bourne himself races into the teeth of danger to save an ally.

Sexual Content

Bourne has a vivid flashback to a passionate and sweaty kiss he shared with an old girlfriend—who died in a previous film. (The girl's clothes are practically falling off her during the smooch.) Bourne also remembers trying to resuscitate her underwater, again with a "kiss."

Violent Content

Ultimatum is a frenetic and violent—but not particularly bloody—film. There are fights, car chases and killings, and they're thrown to the audience at such a breakneck pace that it can be hard to follow at times.

Though Bourne tries to avoid killing people, he has no moral qualms about beating them up. Bad guys in the line of fire and cops who get in the way all get the same treatment, most often winding up unconscious on the floor.

Bourne's real threats come from his fellow assets. He deals with one in a harrowing car chase in New York that leaves Bourne's stolen police car in tatters and dozens of innocent commuters with costly body damage to their vehicles. The asset, though, takes the worst of it: After the chase, Bourne crawls out of his car, points a gun into a van holding the bleeding and nearly unconscious assassin before lowering the weapon and running away.

A helter-skelter fight with another assassin is a flurry of hits, kicks and painful-looking moves. The conflict only concludes when Bourne strangles the man to death. Elsewhere, a man gets hit with a sniper shot, and audiences see him dramatically slump to the ground—albeit from some distance away. (A closer look reveals a pool of blood pooling under his head.) Another is killed by a roadside bomb.

Perhaps the most shocking act of violence comes in flashback mode. Bourne, under the influence of brainwashing techniques and sleep deprivation, is goaded by the doctor in charge of the program into killing his first target. Bourne asks the doctor who the target is and what he's done. Doesn't matter, the doctor says, and then reminds Bourne that he volunteered for the work. "You're not a liar, are you?" the doctor asks. "Or are you just too weak to see it through?" Suddenly, Bourne takes the gun and pulls the trigger, shooting and killing a man with a black bag over his head.

Crude or Profane Language

The s-word is spoken three times. "H---" and "d--n" make appearances about 10 times total. More problematic is the script's use of God's and Jesus' names as expletives (three uses of "g--d--n," a half-dozen or more of "Jesus" or "Christ").

Drug and Alcohol Content

The film opens with a bleeding and limping Bourne dragging himself into a hospital storage area, where he injects himself with some form of medication and fixes himself up as best he can. A glass of beer shows up in a restaurant.

Other Negative Elements

You could call Bourne the untreated kleptomaniac of the super-spy world. He pilfers drugs, notebooks, clothes, aerosol cans, mopeds, motorcycles, police cars and super-secret CIA documents with nary a look back.

Conclusion

Like most well-constructed films, The Bourne Ultimatum is an onion: It features layer upon layer of intrigue, dilemma and conflict.

On the surface, it's a thinking man's popcorn muncher, where the nonstop action takes a back seat to the cat-and-mouse game between Bourne and his assailants. Ultimatum, Supremacy and Identity aren't as much about how Bourne will out-muscle the meanies (though he does an awful lot of that), but how he'll out-think them. Sometimes it doesn't appear to be too hard—the average IQ of a Bourne opponent seems to fluctuate between 60 and 150, depending on the needs of the plot—but this is a film about moves and countermoves, nonetheless, and Bourne serves as the buffed-up chess master.

One layer down, the film can be read as a critique of governmental excess, and it points a not-so-subtle finger at the current administration. Ultimatum's villains are, essentially, bureaucrats, doing underhanded and despicable things under the noses of the press and the people in the name of national security. The CIA bugs the phones of journalists and co-workers; leaders betray subordinates to preserve both the work and their own plausible deniability. And these bureaucrats are willing to kill to preserve their secrets. Only a handful of saintly and gutsy whistleblowers stand in their way.

Peel back a couple more layers, and this is a riff on Mary Shelley's classic Frankenstein and its age-old themes of science twisting nature (or, in this case, our God-given natures) into something nearly diabolical.

"I've tried to apologize for what I've done, who I am," Bourne says. "None of it makes it any better."

Bourne, like Frankenstein's monster (in the 1930s movies, at least), mourns his own monstrosity and finds a sliver of humanity within him still—a spark of a soul that portends something better. And while that layer of the onion is sometimes spoiled by cursing and violence and uncertain ethics, the spark is still there.

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