Alex Massie

How anti-American is Jason Bourne?

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Chris Orr decries Mickey Kaus's decrying of The Bourne Ultimatum as "anti-American". Chris is right to observe that the film's good guys are also American government officers and that Joan Allen's character says of water-boarding etc that "This isn't us" but ultimately (ha!) I can't quite agree with his conclusion. I thought it a rather searing indictment of the United States, albeit for rather different reasons.

As my friends know I'm generally a pretty pro-America kind of chap. Some of my best friends are American, don't you know. Even so, there are limits.

What The Bourne Ultimatum did capture was an arrogance that gives the United States a permanent right to do as it pleases anywhere in the world. In this movie this even includes a CIA assassination squad bumping off a British citizen at a mainline London railway station. I confess to being infuriated by this sequence  and the mindset behind it: We're the USA, It's Our World, You Just Live In It. Fiction, of course...

As the murder of Alexander Litvinenko demonstrated, this is what the Russians do; the Americans are supposed to be better than that. It's not greatly reassuring that the good guys prevail in the end; the grimly striking parts of the movie all concern the bad guys. Watching these sequences, I developed a rather acute sympathy for all those countries in which the CIA has interfered and bumped off people whose continued existence it finds inconvenient.

Now, yes, this is the work of the bad guys in The Bourne Ultimatum but surely it's more significant that the bad guys are the people running the agency and the good fellows are relatively junior officers? (True, this is also just adhering to established movie conventions; heroic bosses not being such entertaining or compelling drama). Joan Allen may say "This isn't us" but much of the movie's audience is going to think, "No, this shouldn't be you but it is what you are or have become."

PS: The other irritating thing? Why does Jason Bourne tell the bad guys where he is, not once, but twice? Only a moron would do so, yet the whole point of JB is that he's the best he is. It makes no sense for him to help his enemies like this. Consequently the final 20 minutes of action is fake: an interesting exercise in technical proficiency and it's fun to see how close JB will come to being caught, but it's all even more phoney than usual since it relies on JB making two stupid out-of-character and gratuitous mistakes. Stupid.

Written byAlex Massie

Alex Massie is Scotland Editor of The Spectator. He also writes a column for The Times and is a regular contributor to the Scottish Daily Mail, The Scotsman and other publications.

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