The Bourne Ultimatum, the third but probably not last film based on Robert Ludlums bestselling book, picks up weeks after the events of the second film, The Bourne Supremacy. Jason Bourne (Matt Damon) is still on the run, and still reeling from the death of his girlfriend, Marie.
Plagued with fragmented flashbacks of his mysterious past, Bourne dedicates himself to discovering who is responsible for forcing him into his Bourne identity.
His search begins with Simon Ross (Paddy Considine), a U.K. journalist who has been writing articles about Bourne and Treadstone, the covert program that birthed him. As Ross leads Bourne to uncover more clues, he attracts the attention of the CIA. Some like Agent Noah Vosen (David Strathairn) want to kill him, while others like investigator Pamela Landry (Joan Allen) want to help him. All end up following Bourne as he tracks his past from Moscow to London to Morocco and then, finally, to where it all began in New York City.
If you think of the first film, Identity, as the meaty, establishing first act, and Supremacy as the captivating, revenge-fueled second act, then Ultimatum must be the nonstop third act thriller that brings it all home: a stripped-down, action-thriller-chase film that never relents until the final credits.
Greengrass style here makes Bournes spy abilities (and therefore Damons impressive acting abilities) the primary special effect in the film. Greengrass frames Damon in brilliant bursts of realistic action filmed with violently shaky handycam close-ups and rapid fire cuts. Most of the time this style works, as evidenced by a New York car chase that is deliciously nerve-wracking.
Sometimes the style gets to be too much, and you wish you had taken some Dramamine beforehand. At one point, during a motor-scooter chase in Morocco, the continually shaking hand becomes so jarring that the threat of motion sickness plucks you right out of the moment. You are suddenly aware of just how thin Bournes world has become.
When we first met Bourne, we had the benefit of doing so through the eyes of his soon-to-be girlfriend, Marie. Her presence prompted a connective human element that sustained the first, and indirectly influenced the second.
Without her, Bourne is little more than a highly skilled action hero. In most cases, Greengrass, along with screenwriters Tony Gilroy and Scott Burns, manages to keep the action level high enough to circumvent this fact. But when Greengrass overplays the camera, the cracks in Bournes two dimensions suddenly appear.
Fortunately, those moments are few and far between and do little to detract from what is done so well, making Ultimatum easily one of the best thrillers of the year.
Curiously enough, with the inclusion of a particular scene, Ultimatum also manages to make the definitive statement that Bourne is, dare I say, better than Bond at least as he is now, since the pre-reboot Bonds were far more concerned with pulp than reality.
If you remember, Casino Royale sought to make a statement on Bonds turn to gritty realism with a black-and-white opening sequence designed to show the bleak, grim reality of a spys life.
In Ultimatum, Bourne scoffs at such a statement with a scene in a Moroccan bathroom that is so intense, grisly and brutal that it leaves no question as to who the tougher of the two is. Sorry, Daniel Craig, but now someone really does do it better.
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