The Bourne Ultimatum (US, 2007)

Turning back on America?

Turning back on America?

The original Bourne trilogy was unusual in that it got better with each film. Paul Greengrass directed the last two in a style that epitomises, what David Bordwell calls, ‘intensified continuity’. While the visceral action sequences were certainly eye-catching, its take on America, in the post-9/11 era, was particularly critical. Although, as is common in Hollywood, the corruption of the NSA was explained by ‘bad apples’, who are last seen being arrested, the dramatisation of the anti-terrorism agency as morally corrupt still had resonance.

What’s even more striking, six years later, is actually how corrupt the American intelligence agencies are; courtesy of Edward Snowden. Was I surprised by his revelations? Not particularly, my Management Information Systems lecturer ‘wondered’ (in 1983) why so much money was being spent on voice recognition software and he didn’t believe it was for Siri. However, what is shocking is the apparent apathetic response, even in the ‘land of the free’, of the general public who seem happy to be monitored. Democracy is revealed to be a sham by its reliance on surveilling its own people to ‘protect’ us from those who would enslave us.

Back to the film: the brilliant set-piece, at Waterloo station, dramatises this real-time surveillance and has a real frisson as we see an American ordering the assassination of a British citizen on British soil during the London rush hour. A very special relationship.

Paul Greengrass, who made his name with documentaries, uses intensified continuity to actual do what it says on the tin: intensify. The rapid editing isn’t a way of disguising the paucity of image but a dramatic device to add urgency to the action. Careful graphic matches ensure we can follow action even at the helter-skelter pace. The fight sequence, in Tangier, is also brilliantly shot.

Matt Damon is perfect as the personality-less protagonist and David Strathairn brings as much moral turpitude to his role as he did rectitude to Goodnight and Good Luck (US, 2005). A fabulous thriller.

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