Bourne Ultimatum, The: Third Chapter of Franchise, Starring Matt Damon

Strong on action and chase scenes, “The Bourne Ultimatum,” the third and reportedly final chapter in the Jason Bourne saga, is just as fast-paced and adrenaline-inducing as the first two segments. Finally a movie for adult viewers: “Bourne Ultimatum” is easily the most mature and exciting picture this summer.

In top form, Matt Damon, who looks more mature, finally losing his boyish face and voice, returns as trained assassin Jason Bourne for the latest showdown, or rather showdowns, since there are plenty of them in this saga.

As promised, “Bourne Ultimatum” offers some necessary answers to urgent identity and mission questions posed in the first installments. By the end of this tale, we do get to know how Jason Bourne the individual youngster became Jason Bourne the impersonal killing machine.

Commercially, “Bourne Ultimatum” should continue the lucky streak of the entire franchise. The first two smash hits have earned more than $500 million at the global box-office, and had sold almost 20 million DVD copies in North America alone since their debut.

Structurally, the film is uneven. In the first hour, “Bourne Ultimatum” is truly globe-trotting, perhaps too much so. After a whole reel or so, the main characters and conflicts are introduced and the story proper kicks in. Unlike most actioners, this is an adult-themed espionage thriller that gets better as it goes along. Final reel, particularly a resonant confrontation between Jason and his creator (Albert Finney), is terrific, both thematically and emotionally.

To refresh your memory, as I had mine, it’s been three years since we last saw Jason Bourne. In “Bourne Identity” (2002), directed by Doug Liman (who’s now the series’ exec-producer), Jason tried to discover who he was. In “Bourne Supremacy” (2004), helmed by Paul Greengrass, who’s also the director of this chapter, Jason exacted revenge for what was done to him. Now Jason is “coming home,” to the U.S., demanding to know who he is.

In the world of pacing and framing, action choreography, chase sequences and intricate plot switchbacks, the “Jason Bourne” series, under both Liman and Greengrass (Oscar-nominated for “United 93” last year) have set new standards, in the process revolutionizing an entire Hollywood genre. Greengrass seems to challenge himself by staging chases scene in crowded public spaces, such as trains stations, airports, markets, and so on. Question is, what will he do next

Cashing in on the increasing stature of Matt Damon, who’s having a banner year with appearances in “The Good Shepard” and “Ocean’s Thirteen,” and a gifted cast of supporting actors, among them newcomer David Srathairn and returning Joan Allen and Julia Stiles, Greengrass understands all too well his viewers’ expectations from a good espionage thriller, namely, that it has both head and heart, emotion and action, which, ultimately “Bourne Ultimatum” has.

This story finds Jason as a bitter, disenchanted man, living without a country or a past. Subjected to brutal training, he doesn’t remember people he can’t identify. He has become a sophisticated human weapon, the toughest target the CIA has ever tracked. Since he was discovered floating in the Mediterranean off the coast of Italy, Jason has been on a desperate quest to learn who he is and discover who taught him how to kill.

After his lover Marie died from an assassin bullet, all Jason wanted was revenge. Once he found it, he craved to disappear and forget the life stolen from him. However, a front-page story in a London newspaper that speculates about his existence ends that hope, and he finds himself once again a target.

Meanwhile, Treadstone, the top-secret black-ops program that had created him, is now defunct. It has been reimagined (if this is the right word) as the joint Department of Defense program Blackbriar, with a new generation of trained killers–hidden from domestic or foreign oversight–at the government’s disposal. Blackbriar is headed by a rigid bureaucrat, Noah Vosen (David Strathairn, cast against his more usual heroic image), who believes in ruthless action solutions to any problemsort of kill first, ask questions next.

Vosen and his crew at the CIA’s extra-legal assassination organization is tracking Jason’s movements with the best and most pervasive surveillance equipment money and knowledge can buy. To them, Jason represents a $30 million threat that must be eliminated. To Jason, they are the only link to a life he has tried in vain to forget.

Remember what the scheming Barbara Stanwyck said to Fred MacMurray in Billy Wilder’s classic noir “Double Indemnity”: “It’s the end of the line.” Jason knows he’s reached that point. Indeed, this time around, Jason stops at nothing at his former masters’ empty promises or with killing those who relentlessly pursue him. The hunted has turned into hunter: With nothing to lose, Jason uses all of his resources, based on training, instincts, and personality, to pursue his own creators.

Whether conscious or not by the filmmakers, the screenplay, again credited to Tony Gilroy, with help from Scott Z. Burns and George Nolfi, bears the same kind of troubled, complex, and symbolic relationship between creator and creation, seen in a wide range of tales, all the way from “Frankenstein” to “Pygmalion.” A killing machine, Jason is determined to retrieve is memory, realizing the heavy price he had paid for his rigid, uncritical commitmentor is it patriotism.

This timely motif becomes most evident in a poignant scene in which Jason encounters a new generation of killing machines. Politically, the movie is at its most critical here, no doubt making allusions to the current administration militant ideology and call to arms on its citizenry vis–vis “unpopular” (and unnecessary) wars.

As noted, like its predecessors, new segment is globe-trotting, taking Jason from Moscow, Paris, and Madrid to London and Tangier, evading, outsmarting and outmaneuvering Blackbriar operatives, federal agents and local police in a desperate quest to find answers to questions that torment him. Jason’s journey ultimately leads him to where it all began and where it must come to an end, the streets of New York City, a perfect location for such a resolution.

Having directed three features in more or less the same stylerestless camera, nervous movement, unsettling framing, breakneck pacing, Greengrass obviously repeats his strategies and at times they prove overly familiarit’s like a magician who uses the same tricks time and again. That said, whenever the plot slows down for quieter interactional scenes, there’s a sense a relief, you know it’s time to take a deep breathbefore the next thrilling chase begins.

With all the excitement over style, characterization leaves a lot to be desired. The villains of the piece are too obvious (really transparent from the get-go) and their motivation too simplistic. Take the name of Strathairn’s baddy, Noah Vosen! (a la John Huston’s Noah Cross in “Chinatown”)

Unfortunately, the gifted Joan Allen, who as Pamela Gundy was so crucial in the second chapter, has little to do hereuntil the very end, when she engages in a debate with Vosen over Jason’s fate. She wants to keep him alive, while Vosen, frustrated by former flops and mishaps, is all out for blood–quickly.

In general, the women are weak. For a while, it seems that Julia Stiles, as CIA operative Nicky Parsons, will emerge as a major character. She’s encountered by Jason in Madrid and they have a couple of good scenes, with intimations of romance in the works (just watch how Stiles looks at Damon). Which is why we are disappointed when Nicky later disappears into the periphery.

By rough estimates, there are at least five terrific chase scenes, done in a very different style than that used in Alfonso Curaon’s equally exciting set-pieces in “Children of Men.” One of the first one is with a UK journalist (Paddy Considine), who got hold of useful information, in Lonon’s Subway System, in and around the Waterloo Station. Another pulsating chase with a CIA hit man begins in the busy streets of Tangier, continues over roofs and through windows, ending as actioners’ conventions require with a mano-a-mano in a restroom. Special kudos go to brilliant cinematographer Oliver Wood and editor Christopher Rous, and to the brilliant stunt work supervised by Dan Bradley and his large crew.

Strathairn is effective and even subtle, considering what he’s asked to say, as one of the piece’s villains. Allen renders an intelligent performance as an officer committed to and good at her job without losing completely her humanity; it’s not her fault if she’s asked to use a fax machine in one of the film’s few prepsoterous scenes. As a new CIA director, the talented Scott Glenn is wasted in a minor part.

Most impressive of the secondary charcaters is Albert Finney, who does a grand theatrical job, all the way with a Southern accent, who unravels for Jason–and the audiencethe mystery of his identity and past in the last act, which is set in the CIA’s secret Manhattan headquarters.

But the movie belongs to Matt Damon, who again shines in what has become his best-known role. Like the movie itself, Damon finds the right balance between action and emotion, reason and heart. He’s greatly assisted by helmer Greengrass, who employs some film noir stylistic, such as subjective camera, distorted POV, snippets of imagery seen from Jason’s faulty memory, devics that increase our identification with Damon’s cool and timely (anti) hero.

Though several of the creators have indicated this is the last chapter, the final image, just as the one in “Bourne Supremacy,” is so satisfying (there was a huge applause in the press screening) that it leaves the door open for another sequel.

Cast

Jason Bourne (Matt Damon)
Nicky Parsons (Julia Stiles)
Noah Vosen (David Strathairn)
Ezra Kramer (Scott Glenn
Simon Ross (Paddy Considine)
Paz (Edgar Ramirez)
Dr. Albert Hirsch (Albert Finney)
Pam Landy (Joan Allen)
Tom Cronin (Tom Gallop)
Wills (Corey Johnson)
Martin Kreutz (Daniel Bruhl)

Credits

A Universal release in association with MP Beta Productions of a Kennedy/Marshall production in association with Ludlum Entertainment.
Produced by Frank Marshall, Patrick Crowley, Paul L. Sandberg.
Executive producers, Jeffrey M. Weiner, Henry Morrison, Doug Liman.
Co-producer, Andrew R. Tennenbaum.
Directed by Paul Greengrass.
Screenplay, Tony Gilroy, Scott Z. Burns, George Nolfi; screen story, Gilroy, based on the novel by Robert Ludlum.
Camera, Oliver Wood.
Editor, Christopher Rouse.
Music, John Powell.
Production designer, Peter Wenham.
Art directors, Alan Gilmore, Andy Nicholson, Jason Knox-Johnston, Rob Cowper; set decorators, Tina Jones.
Costume designer, Shay Cunliffe.
Sound, Kirk Francis.
Sound mixers, Scott Millan, Dave Parker.
Visual effects supervisor, Peter Chiang.
Visual effects, Double Negative.

MPAA Rating: PG-13.
Running time: 114 Minutes.