The London premiere of the latest in the Bourne trilogy was maybe even more rain-sprinkled than star-studded. Only an hour or two afterwards, I settled down into my cinema seat half a mile away to catch up with the thrilling life of Jason Bourne.
I remember really enjoying the first two films in the franchise, but at the start of last night’s two hour epic, I couldn’t remember much about them. But a bit like Bourne, it was all coming back to me by the end. The Bourne Identity enticed me into reading the original Robert Ludlum novel, eventually wading through all three - which you can even buy as one bumper book. (Unlike the films, the books get more and more convoluted—and longer—as they progress.) And I’ve just discovered that Ludlum’s estate gave Eric Van Lustbader permission to write more Bourne sequels. Something to add to the Amazon wish list!
The film follows Bourne as he circles in on his own identity, and the people responsible for the mess that his life has become since leaving David Webb behind. Directed by Paul Greengrass (who co-authored the not-quite-banned Spycatcher with Peter Wright back in the 1980s, and closer to home helped write the screenplay for Omagh and Bloody Sunday), there’s lots of his trademark hand-held camera shots, with quick cut editing and blurry action sequences that help justify the film’s 12A certificate (rather than getting a 15). And in an AiB tradition that had been waning recently, there are a few references to torture for good measure.
While the TV series Spooks has never shied away from gritty violence, it does maintain a polished veneer. Bourne is a much rawer and less refined drama. It’s a scary thought to wonder whether there are people around the globe whose lives aren’t so far away from the world that Bourne inhabits.
The characters are clever and consistent, the chases (whether on bike, car or foot) are superb. Although the Eurostar will shortly transfer north of the Thames to St Pancreas station, The Bourne Ultimatum will give Waterloo Station a place in cinema history. And while the film mightn’t boost applications to MI5, it won’t be attracting too many to work as journalists at the Guardian either!
Despite the pace and voracity of action in the film, there are lighter moments which raise a few chuckles and remove the tightness in your chest. There was even a spontaneous round of applause from people around me when an assassin was subdued.
“Let go of yourself, give yourself to this programme”
Words exhorted by Dr Albert Hirsch (played by Albert Finney) who oversaw the psychological conditioning that converted David Webb to Jason Bourne. Words that have quasi-religious overtones, giving the Treadstone/Blackfriar project a cultish quality.
In a review, Frank Lovece noted that that in this “dazzling third act ... amnesiac assassin Jason Bourne ... [crosses] enough ethical and international borders to go down to Hell on frequent-flyer miles”. I’m not so sure about ethical - as there’s a morality to Bourne’s approach, and a reluctance to inflict needless pain (or kill), but his carbon tax will certainly bankrupt him.
A sign of a great film is the effort (and money) that is thrown at the closing credits. In the case of Bourne Ultimatum, I wonder if someone is trying to get the Oscar for best credits? Not quite the Pink Panther, but certainly not bland.
Overall it’s an excellent film. Continuous action, yet not vulgarly violent. If you have even half a stomach, go and see it.
(But due to the shiny defect in the middle of the cinema screen, and the ill-focussed picture, I don’t recommend that you pop into Screen 1 at Tottenham Court Road Odeon.)
And I should point out that several police cars were harmed in the making of this film.