In “The Bourne Ultimatum,” director Paul Greengrass makes the predator-prey pursuit exquisite, selectively applying the almost-in-their-grasp element, kicking in the audience’s adrenaline like a Starbucks triple-shot.
In this third installment of the Bourne series, Jason, an uber-assassin created through an extra-legal goverenment program, is seriously in pursuit of his real identity, which had been brainwashed from his memory during training. He's now determined to uncover the who, why and how of his past life.
Matt Damon, who possesses one of Hollywood’s best smiles, doesn’t flash it once in nearly two hours. So effortlessly does he bring his package of physique, athleticism, and unrelenting countenance to the role, that it’s easy to overlook his performance amidst the unrelenting pace of the story.
Softening this masculine focus is the recasting of Julia Stiles, who, it's implied, may have been involved with Jason prior to his conversion.
Maintaining tension in chase scenes lies in keeping the audience oriented, manipulating the proximity of the hunter and the hunted, tossing in various obstacles along the way. Greengrass accomplishes this, providing a frenetic speed and whip-lash action. Through Paris, Tangiers, London, Moscow and Madrid, Bourne stays a hair's-breadth away from capture, with scenes so arresting there should be subtitles reminding the audience to exhale.
When a pursuer actually gets close enough to lay a hand on Bourne, we get a mano a mano confrontation, the likes of which we have not witnessed in a while – this marriage of choreography, photography, editing, and cross-cultural martial arts, provides the best street fight you’re going to see this summer.
But it’s the ex-assassin’s brains as well as his brawn, his finesse as much as his power, that differentiates this action saga from others. His ability to expose the bad guys as witless and bumbling plays a bigger role than physical confrontations. Jason Bourne’s not a flashy James Bond, but one of us – a lunch-pail guy, who just wants a bit of justice.
There’s no denying that the storyline, given today’s real-life controversies regarding oversight of the intelligence community, resonates with current concerns and headlines.
While this is not an overtly political film, the line when a CIA official reflects as he looks at Bourne's case file, “You couldn’t make this stuff up,” will undoubtedly evoke murmurs and nervous laughter in the audience.
There's a subplot that's also relevant that follows the process inside the Central Intelligence office. When upper-level officials become privy to the illegal and lethal tactics declared suddenly appropriate by superiors, questions of loyalty, responsibility and the risk of insubordination come to the forefront.
The future of the Bourne series would seem to have been settled, as this is the third installment of a trilogy. However, given the box-office success and the loose ends remaining at the end of the picture, we might suspect otherwise. Despite the fact that Bourne originator, Robert Ludlom, passed away several years ago, this would not be an impediment as the scripts bear little resemblance to the books.
So the question is not if Bourne will return, but when.
Lester Gray reviews movies for Examiner.com. Read reviews by all of Examiner's film critics.