August 13, 2007

The Bourne anachronism

bourneultimatum4.jpg The Bourne Ultimatum solidifies these movies as the most consistently great action series ever made. Anyone want to argue? One could say that the first Die Hard and Indiana Jones movies — and maybe the first and second Aliens — were better than any of the Bournes, but those franchises suffered steep drop-offs on their later outings. The second and third Bourne movies may lack the existential punch of the first, but they are immensely entertaining, exciting and thought-provoking. Taking the average of the entire series, its hard to think of any that match it.

Yet I couldn't help feeling deflated by what was intended as the upbeat ending to the Bourne Ultimatum, an ending that belongs to a now long-gone era in American political life.


The big victory in Ultimatum comes when Bourne helps CIA Deputy Director Pam Landy expose a black ops program that targetted American citizens for assassination. At the end, the TV news buzzes with talks of Senate hearings, arrests, resignations and tremors that reach all the way to the president.

Ah, for the days when blatant violations of America's founding principles could still be bring down the government. The sad truth is, Blackbriar is only incrementally worse, if at all, than what the Bush administration actually gets away with today. What would really happen if Blackbriar were revealed? The Bush administration would deny that it ever happened while simultaneously denouncing any discussion of the program as a threat to national security. It would freeze out Congressional hearings with claims of executive privilege and eventually steamroll wimply Congressional Democrats into making the program legal retroactively. Once that was done, it would make a big show of cracking down on leaks in the intelligence community, and hang Pam Landy out to dry while secretly giving Noah Vosen a promotion and a medal.

Indeed, that would have been a much more powerful and satisfying denouement to the film. The ending wouldn't be a downer, exactly. Bourne would still swim away safely. But it would better suit the dark, paranoid tone of the film — and of our current reality — while driving home the point that as good as he is, Bourne remains the underdog. And it might even have had people leaving the theater with a new perspective on what their country has become.

Posted by Daniel Radosh


Yeah, the beginning, where some American in New York contracts a foreigner to kill a British subject on British soil without even the consultation of Whitehall seemed a pretty chilling comment on today's situation. And I felt the same disappointment that the ending served to ameliorate the audience's uneasiness with these things rather than to heighten the hopeless, paranoid tone that makes 70s movies so much more aesthetically pleasing. Is it just what it takes to make a blockbuster in today's commercial climate or do we need some cleanish break like Watergate to make people like darkness again? (only to be later reassured by some new Star Wars)

ah well, that would have been a nice ending too, but I don't think the fact that it ended on congressional hearings was necessarily a sell out. Audiences today are politically savvy enough to know that the hearings are only the tip of the ice-burg.

After I saw it I was raving about the political content of the film and my Dad said, "calm down, it's not going to change anybodies mind about these things." But I don't think that's really the point. A movie like this is more an indication of the sea-change that is going on in american politics right now. A bunch of hearing in congress and articles in the NYT about torture techniques (just an example) are purely intellectual and after counter arguments and re-buttles from the admin. leave us with murky unanswered questions (is it OK on terrorists?). But the emotional impact of a good piece of art like this cuts right through all that murk and intellectual doubt. (Jeeze, the CIA does have to follow the law more than anyone else, otherwise we'll end up with that whole "Bourne" situation!)

Best action trilogy ever? Yes. I felt the political content of the third one even raised the value of the first two. Kudos to Greengrass.

So the glass is half full? Funny, that's usually my argument. You're the one who's supposed to say I'm an idiot for believing there's a glass at all.

I had a similar reaction to the end of the film; I felt the news footage of congressional hearings should be followed by footage of Limbaugh, Coulter, O'Reilly and the like arguing that the Democrats are weak on terrorism because of their opposition to brainwashed amnesiac super-assassins killing English and American citizens and government employees.

I'm sensing a great YouTube mashup. Anyone got the chops to pull it off?

what I found odd about the movie was that while the explicit political content was fairly anti-authoritarian and concerned about what the government's doing when it tells us it's doing stuff for our own good, the European intellectual journalist figure is promptly killed for failing to just do what the lantern-jawed American ordered him to do, and instead daring to think for himself.

Ha. It's the difference between tactics and strategy.

That whole Waterloo Station sequence was one of the most exciting things I've seen on film in a long time. The shot of the poor guy in the hoodie being dragged off the bus was simultaneously horrifying and hilarious.

Technically, your "spoilers begin here" warning should come one paragraph earlier; you know, before you start describing the ending....

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