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Bourne again: Matt Damon completes spy trilogy

James Costa | Friday, August 31, 2007

In a recent interview promoting “The Bourne Ultimatum,” Matt Damon was asked who would win in a fight: Jason Bourne or James Bond? Very dryly, Damon replied that it’d be hard to compete with the gadgets and gizmos of Bond.

In that response, however, Damon unintentionally defined the exact appeal of Jason Bourne, and why so many of us have already paid more than an hour’s wage to watch his exploits on screen one more time.

It’s pretty simple. Jason Bourne is a man tormented by his inability to realize an identity that has already been defined for him in previous days and years. Thrown into a life of shadows, he must contend with ruthless and violent forces beyond his control as he goes about reclaiming the life that was taken from him.

Loosely based on the Robert Ludlum novel of the same name, the film is a sequel to “The Bourne Supremacy” and the third flick of the Bourne Trilogy. It stars Damon as amnesiac CIA assassin Bourne with returning cast members Julia Stiles and Scott Glenn reprising their roles from the previous two Bourne films. The film continues the tale of Bourne after he lives through the unsettling “Bourne Supremacy” car chase in Moscow. Keeping with the international flair of the Bourne franchise, the film moves through the locales of Paris, London, Madrid, Tangier and New York City as Bourne searches for his natural identity.

Differing from the spy swagger and pomp of James Bond is Jason Bourne’s pounding silence throughout the film. Commenting on the decrease in spoken dialogue, Damon says, “We realized that Bourne is a lot more effective when he’s not talking, so we cut a lot of the original dialogue in the script.” In short, the cuts worked. Bourne’s silence highlights the perils of mind and body he faces as he struggles towards the film’s climax. In place of verbal confrontation and vocal eruption is a far more menacing and gripping experience of true determination plagued by fear.

Of course, the film is wild as hell. Viewers can’t forget that Bourne is a finely tuned killing machine caught in a battle of fierce rebellion against the CIA operatives who so ably created him. Unfortunately for them, he’s remembered enough over the last two movies to realize that he is neither who he thought he was nor the man the CIA thought it created. With this knowledge, Bourne is finally nearing the end of his journey toward redemption.

The film’s treatment of Bourne as a man whose humanity is coupled with his deadly side resonates strongly with the film’s prevailing theme – the tense and anguished difficulty in surviving while retaining control of one’s actions. Perhaps the most refreshing aspect of the film is its reliance on real human beings. Not to criticize “Harry Potter,” “Cars” or any other movie that heavily relies on computer animation, but audiences can appreciate that the images in the “Bourne” films aren’t computer-generated. Especially in today’s ever-unstable social climate, the film also hits a strong nerve with its sharp and topical realism. The cinematography is also shaky and unstable, an effect resulting from the extensive use of hand-held cameras.

In Jason Bourne, there is a universal element of the everyman, someone wondering who he is and who he might be – if only he could simply run away from it all, just for a chance to get back to where he should be.