The trilogy comes to a thrilling and satisfying conclusion

The Bourne Ultimatum

on August 03, 2007 by Annlee Ellingson
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Jason Bourne (Matt Damon) comes home, as the tagline reads, both literally and figuratively as this third, and likely final, episode in the espionage series returns the amnesiac agent to where it all began—narratively as well as cinematically. With this installment, director Paul Greengrass claims as his own the franchise first helmed by Doug Liman, picking up the action not after a two-year gap, as the second film did, but right after Supremacy 's auto-smashup climax, revisiting that title's epiloguic phone call between Bourne and CIA operative Pamela Landy (Joan Allen) at the start of Ultimatum 's third act.

Greengrass' films are closely linked, with a narrative arc that spans both, as Bourne's quest to avenge the death of his lover Marie (Franka Potente) segues into a search for answers that will put to rest once and for all the global game of cat and mouse in which he has been engaged for three years. The trio of films together, though, also work well as a piece, especially upon the finale's final shot.

Limping out of Moscow, Bourne sees his name in a London newspaper and sets out to track down and protect first the journalist (Paddy Considine) then his confidential source (Colin Stinton) in order to learn what they know about his past. His reappearance on the international security grid, however, attracts the attention of the CIA and particularly Noah Vosen (David Strathairn), head of the covert wing Blackbriar, who determines that the best way to deal with the rogue agent is to eliminate him.

This raises the ire of Landy, brought on board the search due to her familiarity with the target. In gentle acknowledgement of the post-9/11 political environment—between Bourne films, Greengrass helmed United 93 —she questions the black-ops division's tactics: “You start down this path, where does it end?” “It ends when we've won,” Vosen replies. Such oblique, yet loaded, innuendo is also at work in the scenes between Bourne and Nicky Parsons (Julia Stiles), the logistics coordinator who, at first inexplicably, risks her career and her very life to aid Bourne's agenda.

Punctuating these plot machinations are the chase and fight scenes for which the films are known, the highlight in this edition being a footrace on the streets, through the apartments and over the rooftops of the Medina shopping square in Tangier, Morocco. Under Greengrass' signature direction, Oliver Wood's cinematography is disorientingly handheld and quick cut in these segments, limiting the audience's point of view and thereby heightening the paranoia. John Powell's urgent, pulsating score works with these elements to pace the action for maximum suspense and surprise—borrowing a page from T.S. Eliot, this particular encounter ends not with a bang but with a whimper.

In sharp contrast to the summer's other returning action hero, John McClane, who offers his stunts up with a ta-da! and seems to be enjoying the action as much as we do, Bourne moves through these scenes with the efficient cool of a machine. The carnage he triggers, though, is messy and real, all shattered glass and groaning steel.

It's not until this third outing that Bourne's conflict is fully realized. Although the casting of clean-cut, all-American Damon naturally inclines the audience to root for him, the reality that Bourne had been a soulless contract killer is wholly revealed, and his possible complicity in his own indoctrination is also explored. The movies have been about Bourne walking out of that darkness toward the light—a theme that is nicely emphasized in scenes that reiterate previous moments from the series, some with similar results, others with poignantly different ones. Such subtlety has been characteristic of the franchise from the start and rendered it, more than any other, a smart thriller for smart audiences.
Distributor: Universal
Cast: Matt Damon, Julia Stiles, David Strathairn, Scott Glenn, Paddy Considine and Edgar Ramirez with Albert Finney and Joan Allen
Director: Paul Greengrass
Screenwriters: Tony Gilroy and Scott Z. Burns and George Nolfi
Producers: Frank Marshall, Patrick Crowley and Paul L. Sandberg
Genre: Action thriller
Rating: PG-13 for violence and intense sequences of action
Running time: 115 min.
Release date: August 3, 2007
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