A stinging rebuke against Cheney-esque black ops and torture tactics, Universal Pictures' The Bourne Ultimatum is more than just a heart-stopping international espionage thriller: It is Hollywood's most direct attack against the Bush Regime since George Clooney's one-two punch of Good Night and Good Luck and Syriana. If those more "sophisticated" dramas preached to the choir about our deteriorating civil liberties and oil-fueled overseas obsessions, the third film in the mega-successful Bourne action franchise offers up a picture of corrupt clandestine leadership for all to see -- where every Matt Damon fan can also enjoy high-powered American government officials as arch-villains committing treasonous and reckless activities without oversight.
But is the film really a liberal fantasy, where the bad CIA leaders get punished for their penchant for waterboarding, "experimental interrogations," "rendition" and the manipulation of American soldiers' minds with intimidation and humiliation? It sure seems so, as bullish Rumsfeld-like strategies are depicted as inept, while the sensitive, sympathetic touch of Joan Allen's CIA head Pamela Landy is shown as the most effective way to combat renegade forces. If conservatives like to label Tinseltown as leftwing, The Bourne Ultimatum should do little to assuage their concerns.
Then again, perhaps the film allows us to have our blood-soaked cake and eat it, too. Matt Damon's Jason Bourne is a guilt-ridden CIA assassin, who glowers and suffers every time he swiftly strikes a rival down. But as audiences, we still bask in his every murder. Even though Bourne hates being a killing machine, I suspect audiences like it very much. After all, that's the chief source of the movie's thrills. I'd bet director Paul Greengrass (who showed some sensitivity towards depicting the 9/11 terrorists as human beings in United 93) intentionally tried to offer some moral complexity to a scene where Bourne strangles to death an obviously Arab enemy assassin. But how many people will pick up on that? Or will they just whoop and holler with the rising body count?