The Bourne Ultimatum, Paul Greengrass (2007)

I imagine this must be what it feels like to have a cardiac arrest. Everything shaking and stumbling and speedy and loud. By normal action picture standards, this movie’s writing, plotting, editing, and cinematography are all sterling, and it’s also nice to get glimpses of so many pleasing locations, including Tangiers, Madrid, and Riga (performing a star turn as Turin, Italy). But for real, I was hyperventilating, and I had my fingers stuck in my ears about a third of the time, having forgotten my earplugs. And is it so much to ask for the camera to stop moving for one. freaking. second?

In between directing this Bourne and the last one, Greengrass directed the very affecting United 93. I’ve decided to think that it made a difference in how he approached this movie, even though it almost certainly didn’t. Still, though, it must be said that sprinkled in amongst the car chases and shootouts, this movie has–as a little bonus for the shamefaced culture vultures looking for a way to justify their attendance at a blockbuster by cooking up a little “reading” of the “film”–a dash of politics. The issue at hand is whether it’s OK for the government of a good country to do evil things in order to protect its citizens from yet deeper evil, and, obviously, this is a question much in play in our country today. The film’s ostensible answer is that no, it’s not OK do to harm in the name of preventing harm, but this message is essentially repudiated even as it’s delivered. We are told the government was wrong to rob young David Webb of his life and identity and turn him into Jason Bourne, a fit, trim, polite, handsome super-assassin who can speak eighty-seven languages, go weeks without sleep, food, or water, and immobilize roomfuls of ninjas with an olive pit and a cell phone.

But of course the whole reason we go to the movie is to marvel at exactly that brilliant Frankenstein in action. No one would go to see “The Webb Supremacy,” in which Webb wins the golf tournament run by his local Elks Lodge, or “The Webb Ultimatum,” in which Webb insists that his kids get no dessert until they finish their fish sticks.

I’m not sure I dare make a corollary to Abu Ghraib there, or that I even know what I’m talking about.

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