Director: Paul Greengrass
Cast: Matt Damon, David Strathairn, Joan Allen, Julia Stiles, Scott Glenn, Paddy Considine, Édgar Ramírez, and Albert Finney
Runtime: 111 min.
by Brian Eggert
Original Release Date:
This summer, several franchises have gone the “bigger is better” route, in some cases literally—both Spider-Man 3 and Pirates of the Caribbean: At World's End offered gigantic-sized bad guys for their respective heroes to face-off against. Luckily, The Bourne Ultimatum, the third (and final?) installment of the Jason Bourne series doesn’t feature our hero engaging in hand-to-hand combat with a 50-foot corrupt CIA official. Instead, it keeps its place among the other Bourne movies as another always-satisfying actionized spy yarn, while expanding its scope. As Bourne retraces his steps and pieces together his now-forgotten past, he starts in Russia, but throughout the movie travels to London, Morocco, and finally America. Thank goodness Bourne’s endless supply of passports hasn’t run out. Not that it would matter, since he’s more than your average super-spy—he's the super-spy to end all super-spies. He probably has a jet we’re yet unaware of. Forget James Bond (yes, even the Daniel Craig version), forget Tom Clancy's Jack Ryan. And especially forget Remington Steele. They’ve got nothing on Jason Bourne.
Director Paul Greengrass (The Bourne Supremacy) returns, bringing his over-used penchant for handheld cameras and control room-pacing along with him. In my review forThe Bourne Supremacy, I commented about Greengrass’ obsession with depicting surveillance hubs; he blossoms when filming the hectic pace of CIA techies searching the world’s computers, cameras, and phones for one man. We’re fed a constant stream of overhead maps and computer tracking systems in between a barrage of orders from the supervising official, in this case Pamela Landy (Joan Allen) or CIA director Noah Vosen (David Strathairn). They bark “C’mon people! This is Jason Bourne you’re dealing with!” or “I need so-and-so’s location and I need it five minutes ago!” The dialogue in these scenes is distractingly repetitive, making similar tech-heavy scenes in Enemy of the State sound like Shakespeare.
Surveillance reaches new, creepy heights with this entry. CIA computers pick up Brit Journalist Simon Ross (Paddy Considine) uttering the words “Black Briar” on his cell; this is the codename for an advanced Treadstone operation—in other words, Jason Bourne. From that namedrop, they can assume Ross is being fed information from a CIA official with “beyond Top Secret” designation, supplying Ross' newspaper story with classified facts. Suddenly Jason Bourne is front page news. Bourne’s enemies have always been those corrupt CIA heads, the ones who want Bourne dead as opposed to simply bringing him in alive. (They can’t have their dirty little secrets getting out.) In Identity, Chris Cooper’s character couldn’t wait to plug Bourne; in Supremacy, Brian Cox’s Abbott tried to cover his own dirty tracks by framing our hero. Pamela Landy is too smart to think she can kill him; but Vosen is not.
Strathairn’s usual talent (best used in a one-note, singular kind of role as in Good Night and Good Luck) is subdued into that of a placid, shady company man. He’s an actor incapable of the expressive seediness of Cooper or Cox, but serves his purpose. We only get a faint idea of why Vosen wants Bourne gone, but it's enough to know that he does, as it gives Bourne someone to outsmart. Of course, Vosen reports to someone higher up the ladder, namely a bureaucrat played by Scott Glenn, who I’m sure probably reports to someone else, yet unnamed until they decide to make another movie: The Bourne Something-or-Other.
Matt Damon was in robo-mode for this movie, in almost every sense of the prefix “robo”, save for the cybernetic body. With a lacking romantic interest (Marie was killed in Supremacy), he has no one to interact with for most of the movie; therefore, his character remains emotionless, never opening up as he did in the previous films. Even when given the opportunity for romance with Julia Stiles’ reoccurring agent character Nicky Parsons, our super-spy doesn’t bother. Bourne is Spartan, simply reacting in his expertly violent way to CIA assassins and high-speed pursuits through crowded cities. Somehow he’s become indestructible too, as he survives massive car wrecks and long-jumps from building to building with hardly a scratch. One expects at any moment his thigh will open up and reveal a futurist gun à la Robocop.
Chase scenes are one thing we can count on from the Bourne series, and this movie has plenty of them. From start to finish The Bourne Ultimatum is essentially a long, exciting chase scene with CIA goons always two steps behind our protagonist. One ten-minute sequence has Damon chasing an assassin around Tangier on a motorcycle, taking to his feet through jam-packed streets, then onto rooftops, jumping through windows and over alleyways, and finally resorting to fisticuffs to take his enemy down. It’s a thrilling sequence that, in spite of Greengrass’ insistence on annoyingly shaky camerawork, contains a level of energy that has us cling to the arm of our chair and occasionally letting a “woah” slip.As viewers, even though we’re rooting for him, we’re somewhat detached from Bourne, more so than in the other two movies, which are borderline emotionally vacant. Our connection with the character is never deeper than on a basic level of good guy vs. bad guy. But then again, these movies aren’t about caring for Jason Bourne’s emotional journey into total recall; they’d be better movies if that were the case, but they’re not. The Bourne movies are about well-played action and, perhaps as a distant secondary motivation, making sure the crooked members of our government get their comeuppance. This film meets that standard, aligning perfectly with the other two entries to make a solid trilogy of quality, mindless entertainment.