In an era of CGI powered tent-pole movies, the Bourne films feel relatively retro with their old fashioned reliance on fist fights, car chases and spy intrigue.
The first two films almost functioned like a post-911 Bond (even if The Bourne Identity was in production before September 2001) and their financial and critical success almost certainly helped inspire the gritty reboot of 007 in Casino Royale.
The first film, directed by Doug Liman, was an impressive modern day update of the Robert Ludlum novel establishing Jason Bourne (Matt Damon) as a CIA trained assassin who has lost his memory after a botched mission.
With the second film however, things got ramped up to a new level with British director Paul Greengrass on board. Continuing the narrative thread of the first film, Greengrass and his team created a riveting thriller that cleverly employed some of the hand-held camera techniques he had used so well in Bloody Sunday.
Now with the third Bourne film, Greengrass has again created that rarest of films – an action movie that engages your pulse and brain at the same time. It is also rare for being a third film that is better than the previous two.
The plot begins in earnest with when an English journalist named Simon Ross (Paddy Considine) uncovers Bourne’s real identity and the existence of a new assassination program. Bourne comes out of hiding to meet with Ross and uncover his past but finds himself a prime target of the new black ops scheme – codenamed Blackbriar.
Not only does this installment neatly dovetail and reference the first two movies, but it also never lets up in the action and suspense. As the action moves from London to Madrid, then on to Morocco and finally New York, the pace intensifies and the set pieces – especially the cat and mouse chase at Waterloo – are handled with tremendous skill and urgency.
Credit must go to Greengrass and his collaborators from Supremacy as Oliver Wood’s cinematography, Christopher Rouse’s editing and Dan Bradley’s 2nd unit work are all first rate. The viewer is thrust head first in to the action but at the same time is treated like they have a brain to digest it all.
The script (which reportedly has a few authors including original scribe Tony Gilroy and Tom Stoppard) has echoes not only of the darker arts of the Bush administration but also seems to reference (albeit obliquely) other contemporary news events such as the killing of Jean Charles De Menezes.
It isn’t an overtly political film by any means but given the director’s background in current affairs (he co-authored Spycatcher in the 80s) the film is infused with a sad awareness of the ruthless world in which Bourne and the real CIA now operate.
But despite all the undercurrents to the film, it also functions as a taut and truly memorable thriller. It is unlikely to match the box office grosses of the likes of Transformers and Spider-Man 3 but make no mistake, this is the best film released a major studio so far this year.
The Bourne Ultimatum opens in the US this Friday and in the UK on Friday 17th August
> Official site for The Bourne Ultimatum
> Read reviews of The Bourne Ultimatum at Metacritic
> Find out more about the series at Wikipedia
> Check out some photos I took whilst the film was shooting in London back in January