Monday, June 12, 2006

The Bourne Ultimatum, by Robert Ludlum

(pb; 1990: third book in the Jason Bourne series)


David Webb is forced to adopt the Jason Bourne persona again, when an incorporated Medusa (an updated version of the clandestine CIA-run tactical team he worked with during the Vietnam War) threatens him and his family. Not only that, he's stalking Carlos the Jackal, the man for whom the Bourne identity was created (in order that Bourne might kill Carlos).

In the four and a half years since The Bourne Supremacy, the Webbs, David and Marie, have had a second child, eight-month old Alison. Her brother, Jamie, is now five.

Also along for the ride, once again, is Alex Conklin, Webb/Bourne's one-time CIA handler, now well-connected friend. Morris Panov, Webb/Bourne's tough-minded psychiatrist, is back, too.

All the Bourne elements are present: the moral/emotional tug of war between David Webb, and his counterpart self, Bourne, as he protects his family against his enemies, known and unknown; fulminant explosions of death and mayhem in international locales; whiplash-fast plot twists; adulterated politics, linked to high finance.

Ludlum introduces a new element to the Bourne series: high-profile bumbling characters. While Ludlum's work is often peppered with an esoteric sense of humor, it's usually subdued, buried beneath his plot skeins. Not so here – The Bourne Ultimatum sports a semi-amusing, almost distracting, subplot involving some East Coast Mafiosi. While it doesn't detract from the novel, it doesn't add anything worthwhile to it, either. (Still, Ludlum deserves kudos for tinkering with his genre formula.)

Another Bourne anomaly is how much “air time” Ilich Ramirez Sanchez (aka, Carlos the Jackal) gets. Like Webb/Bourne, who's fifty and well aware of the disadvantages this poses to him – slower reflexes, increased chance of injury, et cetera – Carlos is feeling his age. Both killers know that their face-off is a now-or-never deal. Unlike Bourne, however, Carlos is panicked that he, even with his wealth, his “army of old [spying] men” and Catholic Church-centered resources, is perceived to have lost his edge: in terms of reputation, Bourne hasn't “lost” it, a fact that appears to be true, given how those around them view them.

The final battle between Carlos and Webb/Bourne, which takes place in Novgorod (an infamous training center for Russian spies where replicas of American cities were built), is a brutal extravaganza, with an appropriate, plot-enveloping finish.

With The Bourne Ultimatum, Bourne concocted an exhilarating series wrap-up, with all the (pertinent) series questions answered. I don't know if he intended this to be the last Bourne novel or not, but Eric Van Lustbader wrote a third sequel, The Bourne Legacy.

The film version of The Bourne Ultimatum is scheduled for an August 3, 2007 stateside release.

Paul Greengrass, who directed The Bourne Supremacy, directed The Bourne Ultimatum, from a screenplay by Tony Gilroy, Scott Z. Burns and George Nolfi.

Matt Damon reprised his role of David Webb/Jason Bourne. Joan Allen reprised her role of Pamela Landy. Julia Stiles reprised her role of Nicolette (aka "Nicky") Parsons. Tom Gallop reprised his role of Tom Cronin.

David Strathairn played Noah Vosen. Paddy Considine played Simon Ross. Scott Glenn played Ezra Kramer. Albert Finney played Dr. Albert Hirsch.

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