Reviews by Jason Pirodsky
I realized about halfway through The Bourne Ultimatum that I don´t really care about Jason Bourne, or his quest for his real identity, or his real name. As Leonard Maltin put it in his review of The Bourne Supremacy, “we´re rooting for Jason not because he´s our hero, but by default.” And yet, realizing this didn´t stop me from immensely enjoying the picture, as a gloriously blatant excuse for an adrenaline rush – scenes throughout that are so tense and well-directed I was recalling classic car chases from The French Connection and Bullitt and hand-to-hand combat from the Lone Wolf and Cub series. This is likely the best of the Bourne movies, cold and heartless like its subject but so intense and exciting that we often don´t have time to care. It´ll leave you breathless.
There´s little plotwise that differs from the previous film; we pick up with Bourne in Moscow (curiously, not quite the end of Supremacy, which we get to later), still searching for his true identity. We follow him to Paris, London, Madrid, Tangier, and finally New York as he trails his former superiors and is trailed by a variety of assassins sent to kill him. Other films might give you an airport scene or two, or at least a brief takeoff/landing shot to clue you in on the globetrotting. Not here: we´re thrust into action scene after action scene in country after country with nothing but an on-screen title to help us with the geography (oh, and excellent cinematography that perfectly captures each city while integrating it with the action). The film simply never lets up, and director Paul Greengrass deserves all the credit; he´s taken standard spy movie material and injected it with the kind of pulsating tension you´ll only find in ticking-clock movies like Speed. It´s amazing, really – there´s no rush here (we can only assume the film takes place over a number weeks or months), I don´t even care about main thrust of the story, and yet I´m on the edge on my seat throughout, the movie washing over me in what can truly be called an experience. Bravo.
Pic is technically flawless, with Greengrass´ style lending some credibility to otherwise preposterous action set pieces. Acting is, well, entirely effective, though it can be said that none of the actors gets a chance to shine. Damon is a force in the lead, however, lending true weight to his action hero in a similar fashion to Bruce Willis in the Die Hard films; we feel each hit he takes. The highlight of the film: a lengthy chase scene in Tangier, starting off on motorcycle, evolving to rooftops, and culminating in a wonderful fight scene that has Bourne and an assassin inventively using a variety of household products to bash each other to pieces with. Note: the shaky hand-held camerawork and rapid-fire editing may prove too much for some (and has induced vomiting in at least one case).
A deadpan, quietly effective performance by Marianne Faithfull greatly lifts Sam Garbarski’s Irina Palm, a Kaurismaki-like drama with darkly comedic elements. Maggie (Faithfull) needs to raise money for a last-ditch operation for her dying grandson. Out of options, with no decipherable skills at her age, she eventually wanders into Sexy World after spotting an advertisement looking for ‘hostesses’. Here she meets Mikky (Miki Manojlovic), a sex club owner who is quite surprised by Maggie and offers her a job: working behind a glory hole, giving anonmous handjobs to male customers. Soon, her talents are discovered, and she’s the star of the club working under the name of Irina Palm. Maggie’s journey into the sex business is nothing less than fascinating (and handled with much more restraint than one might expect), and Faithfull is likewise fascinating to watch, conveying a multitude of emotion with a minimum of dialogue. Family drama, with Maggie’s son discovering where she’s getting her money, is far more conventional, and a subplot with Maggie’s ‘cultured’ friends is even less satisfying. Overall, a surprisingly respectful and entertaining film, highlighted by a fascinating look into a little-seen world, with a compelling lead performance.