In "The Bourne Ultimatum," director Paul Greengrass has crafted an intense thriller and fitting conclusion to the Bourne trilogy. Easily the best in the genre since 2006's "Casino Royale," "Ultimatum" pushes the action to the limits of conventional filmmaking.
The movie begins, oddly enough, during the end of "The Bourne Supremacy," with an injured Jason Bourne (Matt Damon) chased by police in a crowded Russian train station. During the chase, Bourne has the first of many flashbacks, revealing piece by piece just how he became the killing machine audiences have been following for 5 years.
This sets the tone for the rest of the film, which is basically just one long chase scene broken up by flashbacks and quiet moments of reflection. More so than in the previous two films, Bourne is the pursuer, a man searching for his true origins.
This pursuit leads Bourne to a London reporter who has written several articles about the mysterious assassin. The CIA is also after the reporter, who foolishly discussed Blackbriar, the name of a covert government program, on his cell phone. Both Bourne and the government could care less about the reporter, but instead want the name of his source. This leads to an intense and spectacularly choreographed cat and mouse game between Bourne, CIA agents and an assassin in a crowded marketplace.
The exchange leaves both sides with only clues to the source's whereabouts. These leads take Bourne around the globe to exotic locals including Spain, Tangiers and finally back to where it all started in New York.
Damon plays Bourne perfectly, giving a minimalist performance with just the right balance of cold calculation and humanity. He is believable both in the tense fight sequences and in the film's few quiet, thoughtful scenes. To say Bourne is a man of few words would be an understatement, so Damon has to convey the characters emotion through subtle looks and actions.
The rest of the cast, as always, is superb. Joan Allen returns as Pamela Landy, Bourne's compassionate CIA pursuer from "Supremacy." Also retuning is Julia Stiles as Nicky Parsons, Bourne's old handler and the only other character to appear in all three films.
In a way, Nicky replaces Marie, Bourne's murdered love interest from the first two installments. Their relationship is finally explored and a past affair is hinted at, but never fully revealed. Most of Damon's few lines of dialogue are reserved for scenes with Stiles.
New to the cast is the welcome edition of David Strathairn as Noah Vosen, Bourne's lead hunter and head of the Blackbriar program. Strathairn is great as a man who easily justifies his horrific actions by deeming them to be in the country's best interests.
The action is intense to the breaking point. A chase across Tangiers' rooftops and an eventual fistfight between Bourne and an assassin is perhaps the most exciting and tense scene in any film this year.
Greengrass' frantic camera movement works to create a sense of urgency and tension, but almost pushes too far. Even during the films quiet scenes, the camera is constantly shaking in anticipation for the moment the action picks back up. At one hour and 51 minutes, "Ultimatum" is just long enough for Greengrass' visual style. This has been true for the entire franchise which, at a total of 315 minutes, is slightly longer than the final two installments of "Pirates of the Caribbean."
Unlike some other franchises, the Bourne films are a true trilogy that tells one cohesive story, so those who did not like, or who have not seen the first two installments, need not bother. Fans of the series should be thoroughly satisfied by the intense action and performances in the supposed final chapter in the Bourne saga.
"The Bourne Ultimatum" is rated Rated PG-13 for violence and intense sequences of action.