Bourne to be shaken, not stirred

Eugh. Okay. I apologise for that double-whammy of a pun. But I promise, it’s appropriate. Sort of.

I like the Bourne movies. I like how they’re set in the real world, in places I recognise and may even have been to. I like how they’re not about over-the-top villains out to rule the world – or otherwise destroy it. I also like Jason Bourne’s resourcefulness, his efficiency, and Matt Damon makes the character and his action man exploits feel credible.

I also like shaky cam. I thought it was effective in the first two Bourne movies, and when it’s done well it gives films an immediacy and a documentary feel that fits certain stories very well. In my opinion, Battlestar Galactica makes it work really well, for instance.

Yesterday I saw The Bourne Ultimatum at the cinema, and fifteen minutes into the film I started to develop a slight headache. At first I thought that the shaky cam was more pronounced than in the earlier films in the series, but then I realised that I’d seen those on DVD only. Now, I’ve got a fairly big, 42″ television, but it’s still different. The entire screen is in your field of vision. It’s much less dizzying. And that’s when I started to understand why many people compained about the shaky camera work. It’s quite a strain, on your eyes, your neck and your brain. I’m sure that if I’d just seen the film on TV to begin with, I again would have thought: “What on earth are these people complaining about?”

It took me perhaps an hour to get used to the cinematography, but I persisted, mainly because the film never lets up. The story isn’t highly original – basically it’s the first two movies all over, with some of the names and faces changed – but it bursts with kinetic energy, and it is choreographed brilliantly. There’s an early sequence at Waterloo station that is almost balletic in its elegance.

Unfortunately, the film has lost some of what made its predecessors better in the end. For one thing, Bourne is less vulnerable. He survives when he shouldn’t, or at least he shouldn’t be able to get up and go after the bad guy. In the first two films Bourne felt more real because you could always just about believe that this highly trained ex-agent could escape from this or that predicament, but you weren’t 100% certain he’d make it. This time he crosses the line into Superman-dom too often.

The other thing is that Bourne is emotionally less vulnerable. Bourne – the character and the films – has never been about emotions, yet there was the additional impulse that Franka Potente’s Marie gave the story. The main character was made more human due to her, and her death – one of the few shocking demises in US action cinema – did pretty much drive the second movie. It gave Jason Bourne a tangible reason to pursue his goal. THere’s a scene early in the third film, in which Daniel Brühl (of Goodbye Lenin fame) plays Marie’s brother. Unfortunately it is so subdued, it feels like it’s only paying lip-service to Marie, like no one’s heart was really in it. The scene might have been more effective if Brühl’s character had been introduced in one of the earlier films, but with no run-up there’s also practically no pay-off. The scene feels like it should be in the DVD’s “Deleted Scenes” section.

P.S.: The Bourne Ultimatum ends with a remix of Moby’s “Extreme Ways”. The original’s much better, though. Enjoy!