Bourne Ultimatum, The (United States, 2007)

A movie review by James Berardinelli

If nothing else, The Bourne Ultimatum represents the best of 2007's inordinately high number of so-called "threequels." Hopefully, that's not damning with faint praise. The Bourne Ultimatum, the third in the movie trilogy loosely based on Robert Ludlum's novels, is superior to its immediate predecessor but not quite as good as the original. The action is this movie is top-notch (despite the spastic camera) - full of suspense and kinetic energy - but the film doesn't have as much heart or emotional depth as The Bourne Identity. As with The Bourne Supremacy, this movie diverts so far from its "source material" that the only things retained from Ludlum's novel are the title and some of the character names. (Shades of how the James Bond movie producers approached many of Ian Fleming's books.) Ludlum's version of The Bourne Ultimatum is completely different from the one penned by Tony Gilroy and directed by Paul Greengrass.

The film moves so fast there's almost no time to breathe. Although the plot may at first seem convoluted, it's actually fairly straightforward. Jason Bourne (Matt Damon), as part of his ongoing quest to discover his true identity, once again becomes a danger to the CIA. So the department's black ops division, led by Noah Vosen (David Strathairn), targets him for elimination. Also conspiring against him is the agency's director, Ezra Kramer (Scott Glenn), but Bourne has allies as well: agents Pamela Landy (Joan Allen) and Nicky Parsons (Julia Stiles) endanger their careers and lives to help him.

The Bourne Ultimatum globe hops with the best of its genre: Moscow, Paris, London, Madrid, Tangier, New York. Bourne is always on the move, sometimes acting as the hunter and sometimes being the quarry (and often both at the same time). One could argue it's a little exhausting, but the action is consistently excellent - if only the same thing could be same could be said of the manner in which Greengrass has chosen to film it. Looking back on The Bourne Identity, it's easy to be impressed by the clarity with which Doug Liman directed the action sequences. Greengrass, on the other hand, prefers fast cuts and an unsteady camera. Even during static shots (such as a simple conversation with close-ups), it's as if the cameraman has Parkinson's. Things aren't as bad here as in 28 Weeks Later, but there are brief instances when the inability to figure out what's going on diminishes the effectiveness of the action. Still, it's hard to deny that Greengrass' approach generates intensity.

There are two standout sequences. Tension is enhanced in both because not only is Bourne trying to outthink and outflank the bad guys, but he's also responsible for protecting someone else. In the first one, he and a reporter for The Guardian, Simon Ross (Paddy Considine), are trapped by enemy operatives in London's Waterloo Station. The second involves a chase through the roads and across the rooftops of Tangier as Bourne attempts to intercept a key contact who has knowledge of his past while keeping himself and Nicky alive.

Matt Damon once again plays Bourne perfectly - it's a largely impassive, kick-ass performance that draws the viewer in. Bourne doesn't delight in killing, but he doesn't shy away from it, either. There's a kinship one can sense between him and the newest James Bond. Julia Stiles and Joan Allen get a chance to show softer sides of their hard-edged characters. In the past, both played Bourne's adversaries; here, they're his allies. David Strathairn, the excellent character actor who is favored by John Sayles, oozes white collar menace. Albert Finney's inclusion in the cast may confuse viewers with imperfect memories because he looks a lot like Brian Cox, who was in the other two movies.

When it comes to action, The Bourne Ultimatum trumps the summer's other offerings. While its stunts are no less preposterous than those in Live Free or Die Hard (in fact, both films feature "flying" cars), what The Bourne Ultimatum offers is grittier and more visceral. And, while there are fewer special effects here, The Bourne Ultimatum provides a lot more suspense and tension than Transformers could hope for. As to whether this is the last cinematic chapter in Jason Bourne's life, one suspects that depends on the box office receipts. Certainly, the door is left open for more adventures.

Bourne Ultimatum, The (United States, 2007)

Run Time: 1:51
U.S. Release Date: 2007-08-03
MPAA Rating: "PG-13" (Violence, Profanity)
Subtitles: none
Theatrical Aspect Ratio: 2.35:1