#2 in my ranking of the Bourne Franchise.
So, I kind of love this movie, but I can’t help but notice something really odd about its third act. Peeking ahead towards the fifth Bourne movie, they sort of try to address it there before simply giving up, but it introduces a great idea very late and then simply departs the scene. Up to that moment, though, the movie is a propulsive action spectacle with less on its mind than the second movie but done with more skill and panache than the first.
So, the second movie ended with a quickly shot coda weeks before the film’s release to give the film a sunnier ending (a move I disagree with, but I watch Tarkovsky movies for fun so don’t listen to me). This third movie has to completely retcon that because it really wasn’t the greatest idea in the world. In order to get there, though, the movie takes an hour through a new plot of an upgraded Treadstone called Blackbriar (that Ward Abbott actually mentioned at the very end of The Bourne Identity), and it’s just quality spycraft and action stuff.
Bourne, fresh from his emotional victory in Moscow, vows to take the fight to the CIA. In order to do that, he has to follow a new trail of breadcrumbs that starts with a journalist from the London based Guardian newspaper, Simon Ross, who has met a contact from the CIA with inside knowledge of Blackbriar. This is where this movie really shines, in its set pieces. Jason gets Ross to meet him at Waterloo Station while the CIA, led by Noah Vosen, surveilles Ross with every piece of equipment he has at his disposal, including several men on the ground. Jason leads Ross through the station, evading visual contact in a tense, active, and clear set of actions. It’s capped with one of the new Blackbriar agents setting up behind a billboard to snipe both Bourne and Ross. It’s a bravura sequence filmed guerilla style and told in Greengrass’s sure handed visual style that combines frantic close up action with enough establishing shots that the geography never gets hazy.
The action moves to Tangiers as Bourne traces down Ross’s source, a CIA section chief named Neal Daniels. The CIA, with Pamela Landy’s help, figure out where Bourne is going, who the source is, and where Daniels is as he starts to run, knowing that he’s been caught. Bourne picks up Nicky Parsons, the logistics analyst from Paris and the first film, and they work together to track down Daniels and counter the CIA’s action of sending another asset after Daniels and Bourne. This is the next extended thriller sequence, and it ends up being a multi-faceted chase through Tangiers, the roads, over rooftops, and even through buildings which ends with a fistfight in a small bedroom and bathroom. It’s another expertly executed sequence.
And then Bourne goes to New York and the movie starts cutting little corners. It’s not enough to hobble the film by any measure, and some of it gets explained though I don’t really buy it. How does Bourne get into America? He uses one of the passports he’s had from the beginning that originated with Treadstone. Only Pam Landy and her assistant notice, though. Noah Vosen’s team doesn’t get notification about it. It’s thin, but whatever. And then Bourne gets the majority of the deep cover CIA office in New York to leave its office for a chase, and he just walks in. I imagine there’s a deleted scene that shows Bourne stealing someone’s ID badge or something, but it’s not actually there and he just walks into what is probably one of the most heavily surveilled and guarded buildings in New York without setting off a single alarm. Okay, whatever. It’s small stuff, but a disappointment considering the clever ways Bourne had been getting in and out of places the entire series.
Bourne gets what he wants from office which is the location of the original Treadstone training facility (through a code from Landy) and a file of kills Blackbriar had performed, some against American citizens (which is a huge no-no for the CIA in particular). And this is where the movie makes its late introduction of a great concept. Underlying the ideas of the whole series up to this point was that Bourne as he currently stands is only partially guilty for his previous actions. The implication was that he had reverted to the man he was before he signed up for Treadstone, that Treadstone had performed behavior modifications on him that turned him into a killer. However, we discover that Jason made the choice himself to become the killer. That’s a great idea! Perhaps it should have been introduced with more than about twenty minutes left in the movie. You couldn’t just shove it forward and leave everything else the same, but it would have been a great thing to explore. Instead we get a generic, though extremely well executed, plot about exposing CIA malfeasance.
Now, Paul Greengrass thinks he’s the modern Gillo Pontecorvo or Costa-Gavras. That’s most evident in his movies like Bloody Sunday, United 93, and, in particular, Green Zone, but it was here that he began really weaving that impulse into the Bourne adventure (it becomes a much bigger part in Jason Bourne). The CIA spying is a real life concern, much more gussied up and snazzy here than in the previous films. He doesn’t let the concerns overwhelm the story, simply letting the story play out on top, which creates the best mix for this kind of film.
The movie is more purely an action spectacle than The Bourne Supremacy, and in that it excels with one of the best single sequences of the franchise (Waterloo) and a strong final car chase. The plot is relatively clear and Matt Damon anchors it all well.