Jaw clenched, brow knotted, body tight as a secret, Matt Damon hurtles through The Bourne Ultimatum like a missile. He’s a man on a mission, our Matt, and so too is his character, Jason Bourne, the near-mystically enhanced superspy who, after losing his memory and all sense of self, has come to realize that he has also lost part of his soul. For Bourne, who rises and rises again in this fantastically kinetic, propulsive film, resurrection is the name of the game, just as it is for franchises. This is the passion of Jason Bourne, with a bullet.
Death becomes him: Damon as Jason Bourne is dark and brooding.
Their sights set far beyond the usual genre coordinates, the three Bourne movies drill into your psyche as well as into your body. They’re unusually smart works of industrial entertainment, with action choreography that’s as well considered as the direction. Doug Liman held the reins on the first movie, with Paul Greengrass taking over for the second and third instalments.
The Bourne Ultimatum picks up where The Bourne Supremacy left off, with this former black-bag specialist for the CIA grimly, inexorably moving towards final resolution. After a brush with happiness with the German woman (Franka Potente) he met in the first movie (The Bourne Identity) and soon lost in the second, he has landed in London. Stripped of his identity, his country and love, Bourne is now very much a man alone, existentially and otherwise. Damon makes him haunted, brooding and dark. He looks like death in more ways than one.
Death becomes the Bourne series, which, in contrast to most big studio action movies, insists that we pay attention and respect to all the flying, back-flipping and failing bodies. But the fun of these films never comes from watching men die. It’s easy to make people watch—just blow up a car, slit someone’s throat. The hard part is making them watch while also making them think about what exactly it is that they’re watching. That’s a bit of a trick, because forcing us to look at the unspeakable risks losing us, though in the Bourne series it has made for necessary surprises such as Potente’s character’s vomiting in the first movie because she has just seen a man fling himself out of a window to his death.
That scene quickly established the underlying seriousness of the series, particularly with respect to violence. There’s a similarly significant scene in the new film, which caps a beyond-belief chase sequence in which Bourne runs and runs and runs, leaping from one sun-blasted roof to the next and diving into open windows as the cops hotfoot after him. He’s trying to chase down a man who’s trying to chase down Bourne’s erstwhile colleague, Nicky Parsons (Julia Stiles). When Bourne comes fist-to-fist with the other man, Greengrass throws the camera, and us along with it, smack in the middle. It’s thrilling at first, and then—as the blows continue to fall, the bodies slow down, and a book is slammed, spine out, into one man’s neck—ghastly.
The Bourne Ultimatum drives its points home forcefully, making you jump in your seat and twitch, but it’s careful not to leave any bruises (It’s film-making with a rubber hose). Greengrass and his superb team do all their dazzling with technique. They take us inside an enormous train station and a cramped room and then, with whipping cameras and shuddering edits, break that space into bits as another bullet finds its mark, another body hits the ground, and the world falls apart just a little bit more. Without fail, Greengrass always picks up those pieces, reshaping them so that Bourne can move to the next location, the next kill, as he gets closer and closer to the mystery of his terrible existence.
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