The Corner

Baffling Admiration

I’m coming in way late to this debate, but the admiration expressed by other Cornerites for the Bourne Ultimatum baffles me. Not only is it a shriekingly anti-American movie–, to be fair, its admirers generally concede that–but its anti-Americanism is flagrantly derivative. Though dressed up with topical allusions to Abu Graib and rendition, its basic plot of a rogue CIA unit of assassins that has to be covered up by assassinating the two or three decent CIA employees is a lift from the “Day of the Condor.” And that was 1973? 1974?

The “exciting” special-effects-action-movie-filler that impressed others left me bored and eventually desperate. Could I stand to watch Bourne jump through another window, leap over another roof, run through another Casbah alley, give or take another twenty blows to the head and solar plexus, evade another thousand bullets (fired at almost point blank range) with laughable ease, crash another car, or rush through the living room of another startled family? Who cares about this sort of thing? If Bourne is as invincible as Achilles, there’s no reason to worry about the attacks on him. Unless the bullet hits his amnesia (which is Bourne’s equivalent of Achilles’ heel, his one weak spot), he can’t be harmed. It’s just acrobatics. So go to a circus instead.

It’s ludicrous for anyone to imagine that this athletic display is a some kind of counter-cultural response to James Bond. Goodness knows, the Bond quips were hardly Wildean epigrams, but at least they constituted a script. Bourne’s entire dialogue could be written on the back of an envelope. Matt Damon could have been replaced by Marcel Marceau if he were not dead–and that qualification may be needless–without any loss of comprehension. If you want to see a decent thriller with political overtones, go to The Kingdom. This account of an FBI investigation into a Khobar Towers-type massacre of American expats in Saudi Arabia is realistic, consistently gripping, and politically sane. It also has superb performances by Jamie Foxx (as the lead FBI man) and by Ashraf Barhom as a Saudi detective. There is a little more “special effects action” than I would ideally like–the good guys shoot down ten too many jihadists in the penultimate scene. And the investigation succeeds too quickly–but that’s a traditional movie convention. Some critics appear to have disliked the movie because it WASN’T anti-American, comparing it unfavorably with the daft “Syriana.” Or maybe their cultural sensitivies were offended when the Saudi detective objects to the profanities used by the FBI agents. Don’t believe them. It’s a good night out. If it’s not on at a theater near you, watch “North by NorthWest” again–it’s got a script with wittier quips than Bond’s.


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