Saturday, December 15, 2007

The Bourne Ultimatum: Grade C


The Bourne Ultimatum
Matt Damon, Julia Stiles, David Strathairn, Joan Allen. Director Paul Greengrass.

This third of the Bourne series is actually a Superman movie. Damon doesn’t have the cape and tights (our loss) but otherwise is invulnerable. He drives a car off a building to the concrete below and just hops out (none of the cars in this movie has airbags). He is shot in the leg, limping badly, but still manages to jump from a moving train and outrun the Russian police. He has no trouble beating up 3 or 5 big muscular guys at once. If someone has the drop on him with a gun, he just takes the gun. He does leap tall buildings in a single bound, but can he fly? We’re not sure. We see him jumping 20 foot alleys on rooftops, but we never see how he gets from Turin to Madrid to New York in a single afternoon. Stiles has some minor powers, such as taking a full force bad guy elbow in the face that knocks her across the room but does not damage her cute nose. The evil CIA has omniscient powers, as you would expect, such as being able to control all the CCTV cameras in London from their offices in Virginia, being able to read the handwritten papers on someone’s desk in another country, by technology unknown. The story is literally incredible, an unintentionally humorous parody of the paranoid chase thriller. None of it makes any sense and none of the characters is realistically drawn or motivated. Acting is uniformly wooden, to put it kindly. On the upside, the chases are mostly on foot, unlike other such films that depend on vehicular action.

There are some virtues. One fistfight scene is edited into second and subsecond disconnected segments, giving it a good-looking martial arts grace. I think that is a cinematic innovation for a western fight scene. The filming locations are compelling, with big colors and big sound (especially around 20 Hz where you can feel it in your belly), including all the slamming metallic door sounds you could hope for. Note to sound designer: it has been a very long time since any computer emitted a little tone with each letter appearing on the screen. I analyzed several long chase scenes into cuts lasting an average of 2 seconds with a standard deviation of 1 second. These incredibly short cuts combined with shaky hand-held cameras make a dizzying experience, a strain to watch. Nevertheless, I think editing a 2 hour movie into thousands of disconnected 2 second scenes also counts a cinematic innovation, although to what end I cannot say. Three Days of the Condor (1975) is the same movie at the languid pace of a pre-computer, pre-internet, pre-video game, pre-cell phone, pre-GPS world, yet holds vastly more tension.

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