The Bourne Ultimatum, Sept. 07


The Bourne movies (especially the last two, under the helm of visceral whiz Paul Greengrass) have entered autopilot in the best possible way—despite the predictability of this third installment (we know that Bourne is going to use a book to beat up a rival assassin who looks like a male model, for instance), the Bourne films are the definitive high-class action thrillers of this decade. Anchored by the melancholic and steely brow of Matt Damon, The Bourne Ultimatum is literally fat free—brisk, vivid, yet strangely elegant.

Like the previous installment, The Bourne Supremacy, Ultimatum wastes no time getting things going. A reporter for The Guardian UK, Simon Ross (Paddy Considine), has begun prodding into Bourne’s past and the “Black Briar” program—a black ops run by the CIA. Bourne makes contact with Ross, but not before the CIA has started tailing him. From there, Bourne gets further entangled with his past, the Treadstone project, and a venal operator named Noah (David Straithairn) who has no qualms bending the rules and offing and anyone getting in his way.

The greatness of The Bourne Ultimatum is how Greengrass splices restraint and economy with gritty and epic action sequences. The film is ultimately little more than a series of action sequences, but they are executed with such verve and even soul that they possess a gravitas absent from most action films. Greengrass, who helmed Supremacy and the great film no one saw last year—United 93—has established himself as a sequencer and stager par excellence. The globe-trotting scenes in Ultimatum seem to happen in real time; even the requisite book fight scene is jittery and alive.

Another element that sets the Bourne movies a notch above is the actors. Damon has the rare gift of being both steely and fragile. Joan Allen reprises her role as the conflicted Pamela Landy. And Straithairn, always a subtle and magnetic actor, oozes a quiet and icky menace.

Though they seem to have wrapped things up in The Bourne Ultimatum, the series is so profitable and popular, I have no doubt that they will continue to produce installments as long as the gang is game. I, for one, have not gotten tired of a control room of scrambling agents reacting to Matt Damon beating someone up with a phone book. A