Friday, 17 August 2007

The Bourne Perfection

(Warning: Bourne spoilers ahead.)

This week the UK finally got a chance to see the final installment of the Bourne trilogy, and Orc hordes couldn't keep me from seeing it at the first available opportunity. If you're thinking of seeing it, and have access to the first two movies, I advise you make a big deal of it and watch those first, as Paul Greengrass and Tony Gilroy (along with Scott Z. Burns and George Nolfi) have added several visual and narrative cues to make it all feel like a very intense 6 hour movie. That is, scenes from the first two movies that acted as payoffs now in fact seem like set ups for payoffs in this movie. Certainly the cleverly expanded role for Julia Stiles makes the viewer reappraise her character (and her ability as an actress. She does a lot here by doing what seems like very little).

Apologies for any spoilers, but it's hard to gush about the movie without giving something away. The final few moments of the film are immensely satisfying, with Bourne's story coming full circle at last with the revelation of the terrible act he committed in order to end his previous life as David Webb, and the passive act he makes to end "Bourne"'s life. His final mini-speech on the roof to his would-be killer is somewhat heartbreaking and moving; now that he has found a way to move on, perhaps now he has the chance to help others do the same. He's like the Spy Messiah, cleansing the souls of those who followed in his footsteps. That the movie ends the same way the first starts is not just clever storytelling, it's also a way to include that hoary old visual metaphor of immersion in water as rebirth and baptism in a way that makes it fresh. And, at the risk of sounding confrontational, I defy you not to feel the urge to cheer as Bourne springs back to life, with that Moby track bleeping away in the background. I know I did a pathetic little air-punch. What? WHAT?

At some point I'm sure I'll whitter on about how glad I am that storytelling trends are favouring the longform (TV as visual novel, film franchises that require the viewer to have knowledge of the previous installments instead of being able to drop in and out a la old skool Bond), but for now I will say that Bourne Ultimatum represents the best example I can remember of using the resources of the previous installments to create an emotional resonance. As has been noted elsewhere, Julia Stiles' scene in the bathroom, dying her hair in a deliberate echo of the scenes with Franka Potente in The Bourne Identity, worked beautifully.

Also pleasing was the final car chase that seemed about to reverse the outcome of the chase at the end of Supremacy, with Bourne trapped at the business end of an imminently crashing car in the same way as Karl Urban, only to prevail through his quick wits. Not only that, but it proves he is learning not to kill. His involvement in the chase is a consequence of him trying to get away, which may have also been the situation in Supremacy, but in that case he aggressively destroys Karl Urban's SUV and kills him. Here, he allows the chase to end in a crash (or is forced to; I couldn't tell as I was chewing my knuckles with terror), and then spares the life of his pursuer. By this point, he's no longer the assassin he was turned into, but a victim, albeit a victim who will break your bones if you mess with him.

The movie has been well received by the UK critics, but their bias against any kind of genre movies has come through. James Christopher of the Times, Peter Bradshaw of the Guardian, and Anthony Quinn of the Independent all seemed to love it but only gave four stars. I can imagine the use of the Guardian as a plot-point would irritate the other papers, but Bradshaw had no excuse. Funnily enough, he has fun pretending that all Guardian journalists are as tough and glamourous as Paddy Considine's character, which is in direct conflict with what I saw. Greengrass is obviously making fun of his own journalistic background, as well as the reputation of the Guardian. Considine is useless, ignoring Bourne's advice, continually getting himself into trouble, and seeing danger where there is none. Compared to all of the CIA agents, even the less capable ones, he looks like a hapless idiot. Plus, how does Considine elude capture? By hiding in an off-licence. Very nicely played, Mr. Greengrass.

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