I’ve said before in reviews that it’s pretty much impossible to pick a favourite from the initial trilogy of Bourne films, and I stand by that. They’re somehow completely their own thing as separate entries and also a synergistic entity together as well, using Moby’s propulsive song Extreme Ways to jet into each new chapter.
Paul Greengrass’s The Bourne Ultimatum brings Matt Damon’s arc as super-spy spy to a gong show of a close in New York City after breathless jaunts through London and Madrid. By this time Bourne has had so much trauma inflicted on him and lost so much that he’s almost in devil-may-care mode, but something in him senses that despite recalling a whole bunch lost memory, there’s still a few pieces of the puzzle that need to fall into place, starting with the interrogation of an ill fated British reporter (Paddy Considine). This puts corrupt wings of the CIA onto his trail once again, with evil David Strathairn filling in for evil Brian Cox and evil Chris Cooper before him. It’s a vicious cycle of selfish, narcissistic shirt tuckers trying to cover their asses while innocent people all over the globe die needlessly, and Bourne’s mounting anger has never been more understandable than here. Joan Allen returns as stern but sympathetic Pam Landy, Scott Glenn brings leathery charm as the agency’s duplicitous director and watch for Corey Johnson, Daniel Bruhl, Albert Finney and Edgar Ramirez as a rival asset dispatched to hunt him who is the first of his kind to show a glimmer of humanity. Julia Stiles also returns as Nicky Parsons, an integral person in the saga, her work in all three films is underrated as a restless portrait of guilt over past actions and patient resolve to do better with each new decision, I wish she’d get more complex roles like this because she’s so great.
Greengrass got a lot more kinetic and hyped up (the shaky cam is a turn off for some) than Doug Liman did with Identity, the first chapter. The hectic vibe serves to illustrate Bourne’s stormy, frayed mental climate and works for me, as does Damon’s ferocious performance. The stunt work and action set pieces are flat out spectacular, especially the explosive bike derby in Spain and the tense cell phone tag sequence in London’s crowded financial district. Like I said I can’t really pick a favourite, this is as close to a completely cohesive trilogy you can get, but this one was my dad’s top pick of the three so I suppose it has that edge going for it. As far as the other two that exist outside this trilogy… that’s a story for a far less glowing review. Ultimatum, however, is solid gold.
I feel like the one thing to take away from Steven Soderbergh’s Traffic is that the war on drugs isn’t working in any sense. That’s the short answer, but at nearly three hours runtime, Soderbergh isn’t interested in any kind of short answers, let alone clean cut, definitive or resolute ones that help anyone sleep at night. It’s a sprawling, complex international labyrinth of a film that scans every faction from the loftiest echelons of American politics to the poorest slums of Mexico, not necessarily looking for answers but digging up new questions and conundrums. In Washington, the president elects a straightforward family man (Michael Douglas) as the new drug czar and face of the crusade, except that his daughter (Erika Christensen) is knee-deep in hard drug addiction and heading down a dark path. Across the border, a Mexican cop (Benicio Del Toro, fantastic) tries to prevent corruption from eating away at his country and the soul of his partner. Back stateside, two undercover narcs (Luis Guzman and Don Cheadle) prep a captured mid level smuggler (Miguel Ferrer stealing scenes like nobody’s business) to testify against the higher ups. The wife (Catherine Zeta Jones) of an imprisoned kingpin (Steven Bauer, sadly only glimpsed briefly) deals with her husband’s enemies while his slick dick lawyer (Dennis Quaid) eyes her up for the taking. A scary Mexican military General (Tomas Milian) fights drug running for his own mystery goal, and many other stories play out both in the US and Mexico. Soderbergh gets together a treasure chest of cameos and supporting talent that includes the likes of Clifton Collins Jr., Emilio Riveria, Topher Grace, Peter Riegart, James Brolin, Albert Finney, Marisol Padilla Sanchez, Viola Davis, John Slattery, Yul Vasquez, Jack Conley, Benjamin Bratt, Salma Hayek and more. This isn’t a tunnel vision action flick or even your garden variety ensemble crime piece, there’s a distracted, fractured feel to the narrative that no doubt mirrors the very difficult nature of how this all works. Opinions and alliances shift, people die, others prosper and it all kind of seems for nought, except that almighty dollar. Del Toro and Douglas fare best in terms of bearing witness to it all; both are changed men by the time their final scenes roll around and the arcs come full circle. They anchor the vast network of people from respective sides of the border, showing the multilayered damage that such a problem, and the ‘war’ against it unleashes. Endlessly fascinating film.
Those learning the craft of film-making nowadays shall have little to no experience with cutting film the old fashioned way. True – it was timing consuming, sometimes messy and fraught with peril – depending on your mastery. It was, however, also romantic. The trims at your feet, the smell of celluloid, the tactile nature of editing a movie . . . one splice at a time.
Mick’s a gentleman, aside from being and exceptional craftsman, and please do check out all the great work he is doing over at his family owned and operated venture Sprocket Rocket Soho. Mick is continuing to contribute, educate and bring together all those with a passion for telling stories via the moving image.