Ross offers an interesting counterargument on the crucial “Bourne question”:
Okay, but let’s not take this too far. For instance, I would submit that a film like Braveheart (which, like the Bourne movies, I’m very fond of) qualifies as obviously “anti-English” even though it’s technically only critical of the English government and military, or that the infamous Valley of the Wolves is an anti-American movie even though it mainly concerns itself with the wickedness of certain American soldiers (and evil Jewish-American doctors, of course).
All right, I’ll grant Ross that Braveheart really is anti-English (as is almost every historical movie Mel Gibson has ever directed and almost every historical movie he’s starred in) and Valley of the Wolves really is anti-American, but it seems to me that Braveheart, at least, never gives you any reason to think otherwise and indeed encourages you to despise the English as part of some grand Celtic vendetta for past crimes. It is partly the anti-English-ness of Braveheart and partly the nationalist mythology of it that have so disgusted Alex Massie. There will be no argument over Braveheart‘s anti-English quality, since I’m fairly sure that the director would happily agree that it is anti-English, just as The Patriot is very clearly anti-British (despite the moderately positive portrayal of Cornwallis).
Now a very different kind of film made by an Australian would be Breaker Morant, which depicts some of the evils of British policy in the South African War and which has a very clear anti-imperialist message, but which is not anti-British as such. The main character, portrayed mostly favourably, is an English gentleman, and the movie does not show the kommandos in a terribly flattering light. However, because it recognises that the South African War was a “bad cause,” as Woodward’s Morant puts it, it does not vilify the Afrikaners, either. It shows the war to be the cynical and senseless waste that it was. It finds fault with certain individuals and institutions, but it does not condemn the whole of the country.
The two movies Ross mentions were designed to be exactly what Ross says they are, because they are different examples of nationalist filmmaking. Braveheart is anti-English in a classic nationalist myth-making way where the perfidious oppressor nation with no redeeming qualities is ultimately defeated by the heroic champion of independence. Similarly, Alexander Nevsky is intensely anti-German and was made with the intention of vilifying Germans as a group. Valley of the Wolves was designed to be anti-American after a fashion, but mostly by way of providing a villainous adversary to bolster the strong pro-Turkish nationalist themes in it. Your standard nationalist action/war flicks do not allow for a lot of subtlety in the depiction of enemies, which is why virtually every American and British movie made about WWII shows Germans to be a monolithic group of villains.
When someone attempts to break with the standards of the nationalist war flick and introduce complexity and humanity into the depiction of enemies, his film typically does not fare very well with the big action movie crowds. The crowds that turn out for their own versions of Rambo are not interested in making fine distinctions and balanced portrayals, but want very clear-cut affirmations that their people are virtuous and the other guys, whoever they might be, are either nameless, faceless opponents or they are fairly close to evil incarnate.
Ultimatum, on the other hand, insists on conveying the message that Americans are not all like the worst people running Treadstone/Blackbriar, and that even those who have been part of the system and those who have been conditioned and brainwashed into becoming killing machines for the government can change and turn against the corruption of the system. One of the interesting things about the climax of Ultimatum is the complaint that Bourne makes when he said, more or less, “You said I would be saving American lives.” Implicit in this statement is the notion that, had Treadstone actually been used in some way to help save American lives, Bourne wouldn’t have that much of a problem with it. Besides the larger argument that there is something basically wrong with the methods being employed, the movie might also be seen as saying that the agency’s real error is in using these “assets” for the wrong things (e.g., assassinating Russian politicians rather than, say, targeting terrorists). If a movie like that is what passes for “anti-American” these days, I fear that some of us have become hyper-sensitive.