Thursday, 11 August 2022

Exciting chases, stunts are 'Bourne' again


Though the action is nowhere near Asia this time, “The Bourne Ultimatum” seems to be channeling the spirit of Hong Kong Cinema, where a film auteur like John Woo cranked out high-octane action thrillers in which fists and bullets would fly fast and furious.

This third film in the “Bourne” trilogy could reasonably be described as a mixture of martial arts fury, James Bond coolness and “Die Hard” mayhem. It’s a spectacular achievement of immeasurably thrilling nonstop action in which a well-trained secret operative with amnesia and a hair-trigger temperament goes on a globe-trotting journey of self-discovery with frequent stops in foreign lands.

With a minimal amount of understanding of basic plot points, “The Bourne Ultimatum” stands on its own for delivering excitement, though greater appreciation of the film is gained by familiarity with both “The Bourne Identity” and “The Bourne Supremacy.”

As rogue agent Jason Bourne (Matt Damon) gives an even tougher portrait of a spy than Daniel Craig could bring to the last James Bond film. That’s no insignificant achievement. One would suspect that a trained assassin has an impenetrable toughness, but Bourne’s rough edge may come from not knowing with any clarity how to distinguish between friends and foes. The “Bourne” trilogy revels in its hero’s murky past, made all the more mystifying by his amnesia.

Much of Bourne’s hardened, brutal behavior comes from his distress at not knowing his own true identity and his unquenchable thirst for revenge for the death of his girlfriend. When the film begins, Bourne is getting chased once again by agents in Moscow, and as usual he makes a narrow escape, only to end up in London.

His desire to disappear without a trace is rudely upended when a front-page story in a London newspaper speculates about his existence as an operative in a covert program named Blackbriar. Arranging a meeting with British newsman Simon Ross (Paddy Considine) turns into a deadly affair at the busy London Waterloo train station.

It becomes quickly clear that Bourne, once trained as a super-assassin by top secret CIA black-ops program, has some Agency types gunning for his termination with prejudice. Shadowy conspiracies are ginned up from the defunct Treadstone operation, and Bourne is caught in the middle of a turf battle that soon rages between the deceitful black-ops chief Noah Vosen (David Straithairn) and CIA internal investigator Pamela Lundy (Joan Allen).

Vosen and his crew are only interested in killing Bourne as a final solution to covering up the errant Treadstone program, while Lundy is more intent on getting Bourne to come in from the shadows, where he may cast a bright light on corrupt Agency behavior.

Bourne’s instinct for survival is well-honed by his past training, and as a result he is stronger and smarter than his pursuers, which happen to be secret operatives, federal agents and the local police in every city he visits in a desperate quest to find answers to questions that still haunt him.

While even the CIA director Ezra Kramer (Scott Glenn) conspires against him, Bourne picks up a few friends in the field, including conflicted CIA agent Nicky Parsons (Julia Stiles), who once before endangered her career to help him. Her assistance is invaluable in Madrid, where Bourne engages two agents in deadly hand-to-hand combat. Then they slip off to Tangier, hot on the trail of the Madrid CIA chief who’s transporting secret documents.

The chase sequence in Tangier is particularly spectacular, involving a motorcycle chase up and down narrow streets as well as steep sidewalk steps. But the action is most impressively stunning as Bourne leaps dangerously from rooftop to rooftop to evade a Moroccan assassin.

As with the previous films, there are several exciting car chases, with none more amazing than the one in New York City when Bourne comes home to confront the bad guys. Each “Bourne” film strives to top the previous one for the level of excitement in its car chases.

The action is relentlessly breathless and there is no respite from the thrills until the end credits roll. “The Bourne Ultimatum” is the biggest rollercoaster ride of the summer.

Tim Riley writes film reviews for Lake County News.


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