August 2, 2007

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The Bourne Ultimatum (PG-13)
Matt Damon returns for another fugitive’s tour of Europe complete with running from assassins and keeping one step ahead of the bad guys (who are, as always, a shadowy segment of the American government) in The Bourne Ultimatum, part three in the spy-without-a-memory series.

Other Bourne books are out there, so only Matt Damon and the final box office tally will say if there will be another Damon-fronted Bourne project. Somehow, calling something this popular a trilogy when there is still more potential source material seems premature.

Jason Bourne (Damon), or whoever he is, is still pissed about the death of his girlfriend and the distrubance of his happy in-hiding existence back at the beginning of movie two and he decides to go back to the beginning of his career as a forgetful assassin and find the people who have obscured his identity and saddled him with all the guilt.

His decision to get investigative coincides with a breach in the wall of secrecy surrounding the project of which he was a deadly part. A British reporter prints a story about Jason’s black ops program and Bourne seeks him out for information. At the same time, the U.S. government, as personified by Noah Vosen (David Strathairn), is also trying to find the British reporter to suss out the identity of his source and kill them both (because killing people is really Noah’s one and only solution to any problem). During this game of Catch the Soon-to-be-Dead Reporter, Noah gets a security-camera-lens full of Bourne and decides to go after the erstwhile agent as well.

From here the plot spins merrily around, popping out new moments of surprise and suspense. Pamela Landy (Joan Allen), the senior government agent from the first two movies, and Nicky Parsons (Julia Stiles), the young analyst, show up again playing more or less 20something and 40something versions of the same character. They are the only people who can see the grays in this otherwise black and white, kill or be almost-killed-several-times world.

The Bourne Ultimatum presents all kinds of evidence that it is a serious spy thriller — big words are used, people have serious faces and dark clothes, the motivating principle is “contain the threats,” not “take over the world.” But despite these more grown-up accessories (and its talented cast), The Bourne Ulimatium is still an action movie at heart. It’s a thinking man’s Live Free or Die Hard, with amoral bureaucrats replacing a hissing Timothy Olyphant as the big bad, and edge-of-the-mouth smiles and significant glances replacing the eye-roll-accompanied smirks and “yippee-ki-yay”ing of the Bruce Willis movie. The explosions and car chases are still there, and there’s still plenty of ludicrousness about the plot and the technical details of the spy-vs.-spy hijinks.

Paul Greengrass knows how to direct this kind of cut-the-blue-wire stuff in such a way that the tension is at full volume without becoming hysterical. Maybe I’ve just grown accustomed to it over the years, but the shaky-cam here doesn’t interfere with the storytelling the way it sometimes did in the first few movies, nor do you feel the need to take Dramamine during every chase scene. Here, it does feel a little more “documentary” — or maybe just more The Shield — and I quickly felt sucked in to the action, not bounced around inside of it.

The Bourne Ultimatum is not as big, as ka-boomy as Live Free or Die Hard, its lone-man-chasing-his-computer-savvy-enemy predecessor this summer, but it’s absolutely as much fun. It pulls you in, takes you on its bumpy ride of major European cities and then brings it all home for a big New York-set, guns-a-blazing exposition-tastic finale. And even though the ending spends a lot of time on issues I stopped caring about two movies ago and even though not all of the explanitory folderol doesn’t make all that much sense, the big finish doesn’tget in the way of all the escapist pleasure The Bourne Ultimatum has to offer. B+

Rated PG-13 for violence and intense sequences of action. Directed by Paul Greengrass and written by Tony Gilroy, Scott Z. Burns and George Nolfi (from the Robert Ludlum novel), The Bourne Ultimatum is an hour and 51 minutes long and will open in wide release on Friday, Aug. 3. It is distributed by Universal Pictures.