*The Bourne Ultimatum (PG-13)
Chapel Hills 15, Cinemark 16, Tinseltown
Jason Bourne (Matt Damon) can never stop moving.
A human weapon left for dead and without a memory in The Bourne Identity, Bourne is driven by two motivations: keeping one step ahead of the government operatives who created him and learning the secret of his past. He's both irresistible force and immovable object; you feel the world shudder as he exerts his will.
You might feel that sensation if Paul Greengrass weren't directing Bourne's adventures but it's certainly compounded by his presence. When he directed The Bourne Supremacy in 2004, Greengrass brought the hallmarks of his documentary film background to the story: handheld cameras and a nerve-wracking, jittery immediacy that's miles removed from the slick espionage thrillers of Cold Wars past.
In the third installment in Bourne's story, The Bourne Ultimatum, Greengrass improves upon a franchise that just keeps getting better. The action starts just where Supremacy ended, with Bourne still on a quest for his history. When a reporter (Paddy Considine) tracks down a source willing to discuss on the Treadstone project that created him, Bourne sees an opportunity to get closer to the truth. But forces within the American intelligence community will do anything to keep that truth hidden.
Joan Allen and Julia Stiles Bourne-sympathizing CIA operatives Pam Landy and Nicky, respectively return to the fold from the previous Bourne films, but the real driving force here is Damon. The role demands someone whose intensity commands the screen even when he's not speaking, and Damon has always played Bourne as though his life really did depend on it. The badass with a grudge may be an action-movie staple, but few have played it with this kind of resigned, single-minded determination.
In many ways, though, the psychology of the central character matters less in this film than it has in any of the others. While we see the flickers of memories that haunt Bourne, Ultimatum feels even more like a gritty Bond film, with an emphasis on action pieces and globe-trotting locations. What Greengrass adds to the film is an improbable combination of pure adrenaline and what-the-hell's-gonna-happen-next consequence. The two central chases are as riveting as anything you'll see on a screen this year; see if you still remember to swallow or breathe at the end of either.
Critics will undoubtedly make comments about Greengrass' direction, referencing quivery hand-held shots that inspire a desire for Dramamine, or mocking the helter-skelter rhythms of his action editing. And yes, occasionally the fights and chases take on a chaotic quality that's far from crystal clear. Yet it all somehow still works, largely because the director has created such a pervasive atmosphere of restlessness and tension that you, the viewer, often find yourself in Bourne's skin.
If there is fault to be found, it's in the resolution of the Bourne mythology. It's here that Greengrass chews over the narrative's morality most obviously. But The Bourne Ultimatum is most riveting when it keeps up its propulsive pace, and allows Greengrass to guide with hand that's steady, even when his cameras aren't. firstname.lastname@example.org
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