The Bourne Ultimatum
“Ye shall know the truth and the truth shall set you free.” –St. John 8:32, inscribed at CIA headquarters
There is a misconception out there, among those who read film reviews, that those of us who write them do so with utter dispassion and cold, steely resolve. And while it is true that we feel the need to be analytical and methodical with even those films we find praiseworthy, we are not, thankfully, cinematic automatons. Even we have films that set our pulses racing. Even we yelp in pleasure when carried away on the emotion or intensity of something completely exhilarating.
I guess what I’m tying to say is, I walked into The Bourne Ultimatum more excited than for any film this summer. And I walked out with my heart racing and my expectations dazzled and satiated. In a notorious summer of “threequals,” you won’t find better. The Bourne Ultimatum is exactly the rush you’re hoping it will be.
The Bourne Ultimatum picks up precisely where The Bourne Supremacy left off. Jason Bourne (played by Matt Damon, arguably one of the finest actors of his generation) is in Moscow where he has come to apologize to the daughter of a couple he killed on his first assignment for the black ops program, Treadstone. She is not the last person to whom Jason must seek forgiveness. Like a participant in a 12-step program seeking out those whom he has injured, Bourne’s next visit is to Paris where the brother of his murdered girlfriend must be given the heartrending news.
Determined to retrieve his ever-splintering memory and discover just who it was who made him into a lethal weapon, Bourne finds his quest fueled by a London journalist (Paddy Considine) who has stumbled on details of Bourne’s career without realizing the conspiratorial enormity of his discovery. The revelation sets in motion a cascading domino of hair-raising sequences that lead from London to Spain to Tangier and ultimately home to the streets of New York City.
There are both familiar and new faces along the way. Although Pamela Landy (Joan Allen) told Bourne he had nothing to fear from her, her boss, Noah Vosen (David Strathairn), made no such promise and will kill absolutely anyone to protect the secrets of Treadstone, now given a new lease on life as Operation Blackbriar — the government’s wholly unaccountable anti-terrorism task force. But no matter how sophisticated the CIA’s surveillance equipment or how well trained their assassins, Bourne always seems to be one step ahead of them. It is not that they are bad at their jobs — he is simply better. As hitmen come out of the woodwork to take him down, Bourne must rely once again on his superior training and the help of old allies, namely CIA operative Nicky Parsons (Julia Stiles), who tantalizingly hints at a past together with the amnesiac spy.
According to 12-step programs, restoration cannot occur until forgiveness is granted. In The Bourne Identity, our hero was a man in search of himself, an existential warrior who distressingly remembered how to butcher but could not recall his own name. In The Bourne Supremacy, he was a man coming to terms with a shadowy past that, while he remembered snatches best left forgotten, the man he wanted to become was more important than the man he once was. In this film, that quest finds its ultimate fulfillment — redemption — but not before the contemporary knight in tarnished armor comes face to face with the evil that made him who he is — himself.
It’s not as if the plots to each of the Bourne films are all that different. In fact, the stories are remarkably similar and revolve around several key set pieces that reappear with each film. What is incredible is how the trilogy takes those, and makes from them something fresh and dynamic, something pulsating with energy, unceasing momentum and an almost unbearable tension.
Director Paul Greengrass (who made the finest film of last year, United 93), has crafted an unbelievable powerhouse of a movie, punctuated by spectacular action sequences. There is the nerve-racking game of cat and mouse through a crowded London train station; an extraordinary chase across the rooftops and through the windows of Medina; a grappling, slashing, lighting-fast, brutal, hand-to-hand mêlée; and finally, an edge-of-your-seat car chase down the streets of Manhattan.
The Bourne Ultimatum moves so fast, there’s barely time to breathe. Bourne is always on the move, sometimes the hunter, sometimes the hunted — often both at the same time. Likewise, Greengrass’ camera roars along, inflicted with a sort of mechanical ADD that never allows it to settle or hover in one spot too long. The effect is a visceral, physiological agitation that mirrors the psychological narrative onscreen. Everything in The Bourne Ultimatum is faster, grittier and more brutal — the fights, the crashes and the truth.
Despite the countless number of films in the spy movie genre, James Bond has always been the unassailable gold standard. Then came Jason Bourne. It’s not just any film that can send one of the most popular film franchises of all time scrambling to reimagine itself for the 21st century (the brilliant Casino Royale anyone?). But this unassuming trilogy based on a series of novels written by the late Robert Ludlum did just that.
The final shot of The Bourne Ultimatum leaves Bourne precisely as we first found him six years ago. The film answers a lot of our questions, even as it creates new ones, leaving room for our imagination to fill in the gaps…or a sequel. But when the lights go up, you won’t be thinking about a sequel — you’ll be thinking of the best way back into the theater to see this one for a second time.