I read "The Bourne Identity" decades ago, back when there was still a "Carlos, the Jackal" wandering the Earth, discriminately causing focussed havoc and then disapperaring. No one had seen him. He had never been photographed, and his reputation as an international terrorist (back in the day, when it had an odd, ghoulish glamour to it) was known world-wide. I bought the book for the "Carlos" angle, and dove into it eagerly.
I hated it. One of the dullest "thrillers" I've ever read, it seemed like it would never end. I wanted to have amnesia just to forget it after finally making it to the last page. It was made into a Richard Chamberlain mini-series which I never saw, and then into a film back in 2002. At the time of its premiere, there was no feeling that it would amount to anything, after all, it starred Matt Damon as Bourne, and his last couple of movies tanked quickly. There'd been a ton of re-shoots and the opening delayed for six months. All bad signs.
So, when I finally caught up with it, I was surprised to find it a good, credible thriller. How? Tony Gilroy's screenplay threw out the book, and kept the "amnesiac assassin" part. Doug Liman's direction kept the thing moving, the fights were spectacular, and even the tired concepts like a car chase through Paris were done with a great deal of panache. It also had a great supporting cast with Famka Potente, Brian Cox, Chris Cooper, Julia Stiles and Clive Owen. Paul Greengrass followed up with an equally spectacular version of "The Bourne Supremacy" and he's the man in charge of "Ultimatum."
As an exercise in montage, it's absolutely amazing. I rarely saw a shot held for more than five seconds. Greengrass has such a command of what he's shooting and is such a whiz supervising the cut, that you get just enough information to propel you forward--no more, no less--but you never lose a sense of where things are, and the danger the protagonists appear to be in (as opposed to, say, Michael Bay who cuts just as much but never with the discipline of story-telling that Greengrass does). Case in point: there's a long, protracted fight (of course--one of several) in a Tangier apartment. At one point, it heads into the kitchen most of it done in an overhead shot, presumably to hide the stunt-doubles. Now I was watching pretty closely, but, as is inevitable in the kitchen, a knife becomes involved, but I never saw it. I only HEARD it.
Just enough information to advance the plot. It is fascinating to watch.
But despite that, one has to confess that "The Bourne Ultimatum" has little to differentiate it from "The Bourne Supremacy," or "The Bourne Identity", other than there are key plot-points, like "The Story Begins" or "A friend is killed." This one picks up immediately where "Supremacy" ends. Some personal details are cleared up, but it's basically "run to Moscow/London/Tangier/New York and avoid detection/fight/chase." All cleverly done, mind you...but it's barely different from what we've seen before. There is a resolution of sorts, which distinguishes this entry, but that's about it. And, amusingly, the whole thing wraps up with a circular story-telling logic that puts us right back to square one.
"It's over when we've won!" bromides David Strathairn's anti-terrorism "deep cover" head*
With all the room for a sequel that this movie provides, I guess we haven't won yet.
"The Bourne Ultimatum" is the cheapest matinee you can find.
Now, to be perfectly silly, here is the chance that the Producers had to have a hit song by changing the title to "Bourne 3." My lyrics for the Main Title song are as follows (to the tune of "Born Free")
As "3" as a trio
With fights of such brio,
Bourne "3," just like "1" and "2"
The Bourne Ul-ti-ma-tum
Not hard to cre-ate 'em
Just change the cars and locales
'cuz trilogies make dough!
The box-sets are in the store
in time for number "4!"
The last one that I'll see
It just don't intrigue me
Un-less it's freeeee!
* It's another great cast with Joan Allen and Julia Stiles returning--Greengrass makes maximum use of Stiles' lack of expressiveness--Scott Glenn, and Albert Finney, and a seemingly endless supply of stunt actors who look convincing carrying a gun.