In 2002 we were introduced to Jason Bourne, a man who doesn't know who he is and is determined to find out. At the end, he has found love and seems content enough to just disappear, to fade away. In 2004, an incident in Berlin is pinned on Bourne as a convenient scapegoat, as assassins are sent to track him down in a remote town in India. This just makes the uber-skilled Bourne upset, which leads him back into the crosshairs of the CIA black-ops group that is intent on bringing him in.
By this time, Bourne is becoming more and more determined to figure out who he is and take the fight to those who were there at the start. Now, in 2007, Bourne returns home in the third pulse-pounding film where we are destined to learn the secrets that were brought to light way back in The Bourne Identity.
If there is one thing that you can be guaranteed with a Bourne film, it is high action, and a plot that seems inconsequential in the face of said action. Yes, the story is compelling on its own, but without the highly skilled, well played, and varied action, it would seem a rather thin frame on which to hang a movie. For three movies, Jason Bourne has sought to find who he is and who created him. For three movies, Jason Bourne has outsmarted his enemies at every turn. For three movies, Jason Bourne has led movie audiences through some of the most thrilling action to hit the big screen. With the conclusion of The Bourne Ultimatum, is the cycle complete? Possibly. This chapter of the Bourne saga is more or less closed, but I would not be surprised if we are treated to further Bourne adventures. There are likely still a good number of people that would like to put a bullet in him, or use him as a scapegoat for some other nefarious evildoings. But I'm getting ahead of myself.
The dawning of The Bourne Ultimatum is folded into the conclusion of The Bourne Supremacy. Bourne is searching for his identity. Plagued by flashbacks to the start of the Treadstone project which gave him his start, he heads off in search of his name. Meanwhile, the CIA is trying to clean up some loose ends, which include the elimination of Bourne. Also at the top of the to do list is Treadstone, which has been supplanted by Blackbriar, and the existence of the black ops program has been exposed through articles in the London paper, The Guardian.
The articles have caught the attention of CIA Assistant Director Noah Vosen (David Strathairn), who, along with Pamela Landy (the returning Joan Allen), is determined to find the leak. Somebody has leaked this sensitive information, which has also caught the attention of Jason Bourne. I dare not go further down the path of plot description, for fear of giving away anything. Suffice to say, the path of evidence leads Bourne through London, Madrid, Turin, Moscow, Paris, Tangier, and ultimately New York.
The Bourne Ultimatum is constructed with a series of dizzying chases and fights, each one ups the ante and proves to be as effective at forwarding the story as scenes of pure exposition. Fist fights, shoot-outs, foot chases, car chases are all used to put Bourne's abilities on display, and to get him to the required plot positions. One thing that has become eminently clear through the films is that they are not edited for clarity of motion. These fights are not pieced together to see fighting technique or style. They are cut together in haphazard fashion with dizzying use of handheld camera to put us right in the midst of the fight. The action is tough to follow, but it is to show the intimate immediacy of the action — it is chaotic and it is meant to be. All this coming from someone who likes to see his fights and has criticized the use of shaky-cam in the past; in some instances it works, and I have found it to work perfectly in the construct of the Bourne series.
There are a couple of reasons that I have found these films to be so good. The main reason is Matt Damon who has made Bourne his signature role. The guy can flat out act, and he is bringing his acting ability into the action arena and the union is a very good fit. He brings a dogged determination to the role that is competent, impressive, but not flashy, all elements which really bring the character home. There are moments in Ultimatum that bring a a real humanity to the character, including meeting with the brother of Marie (Franke Potente) who was killed in the last film, as well as his discussions with Pamela Landy. The other big reason goes back to the action; it is thrilling, explosive, and based primarily on practical effects. It is so refreshing to see an action thriller deliver the goods without relying on CG effects. There is much more of a tangible feel to it, it is a beautiful thing.
Paul Greengrass returns to direct the third film, following his success with the second film. He brings his patented shaky-cam style and gives a thriller that has a good look, and a nicely personal feel. There is something about his docu-style that works so well in this context. It also does not hurt that the majority of the creative team has remained intact throughout the series, including the director of photography, screenwriter, composer, and editor Christopher Rouse.
Bottom line. The series has kept up a high level of quality throughout. The Bourne Ultimatum is a thrill ride that doesn't let up. Matt Damon leads a fine cast of supporting players. There is no denying the quality of the film, from the high production values, to the little scene locations in Western films, and action that keeps you on the edge of your seat. This is definitely a fully satisfying movie.