THE BOURNE ULTIMATUM : [7/10] : US 07 : Paul GREENGRASS : 115 mins (BBFC)
seen at Empire, Newcastle : 8th August : press show
Judged purely by the standards of the films it's displacing in Britain's multiplexes – Transformers, Harry Potter, Shrek, Die Hard, etc – Paul Greengrass's Bourne Ultimatum is a class apart. Because with even The Simpsons Movie pitched 50/50 at grown-ups and children, Bourne is that welcome and increasingly rare beast: a big-budget Hollywood thriller aimed at adults. The film's plot isn't especially complicated – ex-CIA assassin Jason Bourne (Matt Damon) tries to find out how his former employers turned him into a remorseless killing-machine, while simultaneously evading their increasingly strenuous attempts to bump him off. But viewers do need to pay attention to the story's convolutions, and should ideally be familiar with both Doug Liman's Bourne Identity (2002) and Greengrass's Bourne Supremacy (2004).
Fans of Robert Ludlum's Bourne novels should know that, while Identity can be considered a loose adaptation of the book which shares its title, and Supremacy bears tangential relation its "source", Ultimatum is an even further departure. Any resemblance, as the saying goes, is purely coincidental – though Hispanic super-assassin Paz (Edgar Ramirez), is clearly a nod to Carlos, the real-life Hispanic super-assassin who's the main opponent of Ludlum's Bourne. With only a single dialogue line, however, Paz isn't much of showcase for Ramirez – who made such a game and charismatic English-language debut in Domino. He's in good company: Ultimatum assembles the top-calibre likes of Joan Allen, David Strathairn, Scott Glenn, Albert Finney and Paddy Considine – but doesn't give any of them the chance to really display their capabilities.
Julia Stiles fares a little better as Bourne's colleague Nicky, a role which has expanded over the series until now she's de facto female-lead – providing moral/practical support as Bourne gallops around Moscow, Madrid, London, Tangiers and beyond. Throughout, the script (by Tony Gilroy, Scott Z Burns and George Nolfi), humourless but never dour, includes nods to topical political concerns: "No more red tape," snaps Strathairn's reptilian CIA bigwig when questioned about the ethics of his ruthless methods "You've seen the intel! We need these programs now… It ends when we've won!"
Greengrass keeps the momentum urgently barrelling along, delivering several smash-mouth set-pieces which combine a startling appetite for destruction with a jarringly hyper-kinetic, sensory-overload approach to camerawork and editing. It's an extension of the approach which felt genuinely exhilarating on Supremacy - and which helped elevate Greengrass's shattering United 93 (2006) to masterpiece status. Having raised the creative bar so high, Greengrass's return to Ludlum-land was perhaps always destined to be a let-down.
And it does feel like these enormously skilled film-makers are simultaneously retracing their steps and treading water: an intriguing/wrongfooting structural flourish at the 85-minute mark notwithstanding, much of Bourne III feels like a dutifully formulaic rehash of Bourne II, both in outline and specific details. This ensures that, while it's always a pleasure to revisit this world and its inhabitants, The Bourne Ultimatum, ultimately, is more a case of going through the motions than of ending the trilogy with a proper bang. 13.8.07
WIND CHILL : [5/10] : US 07 : Gregory JACOBS : 91 mins (BBFC)
seen at Empire, Sunderland : 9th August : public show ( £5.50)
Wind Chill is a low-key Christmas-set ghost story, one which builds in promisingly atmospheric and restrained style to half-way before – just like its two main characters – taking a disastrously ill-advised wrong turn. These unnamed protagonists – coyly billed only as Girl (Emily Blunt) and Guy (Ashton Holmes) – are college-students sharing a ride through during the snowy holidays. As they (awkawardly) talk, it becomes clear that Guy is besotted by Girl and, having (correctly) realised she's way out of his geeky league, has orchestrated the ride "home" as a desperate "romantic" ploy. Or should that be "stalker-ish"? As she discovers the truth, Girl becomes increasingly concerned – worries that reach a frantic pitch when a "scenic" detour leads to a high-speed collision that leaves the pair stranded in the icy-nightfall back-of-beyond…
The story behind of Wind Chill is, if anything, more intriguing and (if you're an aspiring film-maker) rather scarier than the movie itself. And the villain is the distributor, Sony offshoot TriStar Pictures, which in April unceremoniously "dumped" it into 42 American multiplexes with near-zero publicity. In this gore-hungry era of Hostel and Saw, such old-school spooky fare (thematically reminiscent of 2003's roadside-phantom B-picture Dead End) might have struggled to find viewers even at Halloween or December – but at Easter it managed only a week in US cinemas, taking a horrifying $32,000. It wasn't given any more of a chance in the UK, lasting about as long in our crowded midsummer multiplex screens as May-morning frost.
Things must have seemed so different back in January 2006, when Wind Chill was announced as the latest production from George Clooney and Steven Soderbergh's Section Eight. The project, from a script by Steven Katz (Shadow of the Vampire) and Joe Gangemi, provided leading-roles for promising young actors from My Summer of Love (2004) and A History of Violence (2005) respectively. In the interim, Blunt splashily consolidated her rising-starlet status with The Devil Wears Prada – which makes it all the more perplexing that Wind Chill should have been so brutally "orphaned".
Whatever the film's deficiencies, it confirms Blunt as a name to watch: her American accent is note-perfect, she handles the uneasy tonal blend of (mild) comedy, (jagged) horror and (offbeat) romance with aplomb, and her characterisation boasts rather more nuance than that inexplicably-overrated Prada turn. She (and Holmes, stuck in a thankless role) deserves rather better than the convolutions of Katz and Gangemi's script, which disappointingly abandons the courage of its convictions when push comes to shove.
After rather high-falutin' talk early on about Nietzsche's "theory of eternal recurrence", the picture abruptly degenerates into a series of gratuitous supernatural set-pieces – hallucinatory episodes which conspire to fatally muddy the picture's denouement. On the plus side, Clint Mansell's score is (as usual with this much-sought-after composer) a consistent, immaculately-executed pleasure - the kind of work that will pop up on temp-tracks, trailers and adverts for years to come, ensuring Wind Chill, ironically enough, an afterlife of sorts. 12.8.07
1. all films seen in the UK, and all timings approximate, unless stated otherwise
2. timings taken from the BBFC website are rounded to the nearest minute (i.e. 100min 29sec = 100min, but 100min 30sec = 101min)
3. an asterisk [*] in the rating indicates that film is not a feature (i.e. 0-39m = short; 40m-63m = medium-length; 64m+ = feature)