August 2022

The Bourne Ultimatum (2007)

DIRECTOR: Paul Greengrass


Matt Damon, Joan Allen, Julia Stiles, David Strathairn, Scott Glenn, Paddy Considine, Albert Finney, Edgar Ramirez, Daniel Brühl, Joey Ansah


Treadstone, the shadowy government agency which recruited Jason Bourne (Matt Damon), appears to be dismantled, and the men behind it dead, but Bourne isn’t finished. He’s still determined to fill the last gaps in his past, and finds himself a target once again when he’s drawn to a story uncovered by British reporter Simon Ross (Paddy Considine) about Blackbriar, a supposed follow-up program to Treadstone. Others are also interested in Ross’ story, particularly Noah Vosen (David Strathairn), a black ops director who wants to keep his shadow agency’s existence a secret. Bourne’s old adversary-turned-ally Pamela Landy (Joan Allen) is brought on board to wrap up unfinished business, but as with Brian Cox’s Ward Abbott, her team-up with Vosen proves an uneasy one- especially when she learns that Vosen, with the green light from CIA Director Ezra Kramer (Scott Glenn), is ready and willing to eliminate anyone he even suspects of being connected to Bourne. And Bourne has another ally in the form of Nicky Parsons (Julia Stiles), who surprisingly begins helping him, and by so doing not only endangers her career, but puts herself in Vosen’s crosshairs.

The Bourne Ultimatum moves with a relentless pace even in comparison to the previous films. Familiarity with the first two movies is a must. Ultimatum hits the ground running right where Supremacy left off, and never stops rolling until the end credits. Someone with no knowledge of what happened leading up to Ultimatum who sits down to watch this installment is going to become confused very quickly, and the movie’s frantic pace isn’t going to give them any chance to try to orient themselves. While, like the other Bourne films, Ultimatum never threatens to slip into boredom for a second, a drawback that surfaced in Supremacy continues and is in fact greatly increased here- shaky camera work. Director Paul Greengrass (who took over from Identity director Doug Liman) seems unable to leave the camera alone for two seconds without abruptly zooming in or cutting back, or making choppy motions in all directions, and things get particularly shaky during the fight scenes, which threaten to turn into blurs of flailing limbs and tangling bodies, and we figure out who won by who’s left standing at the end. Greengrass’ frenetic, jittery way of filming has an unsettling effect that generates intensity, but also sometimes threatens to get a little disorienting. In comparison, the clear, straightforward way Doug Liman filmed the fight scenes in Identity seems all the more impressive. One thing that Greengrass deserves credit for is that even in a movie that consists almost entirely of one elaborate chase sequence and fight after another, he manages to keep the level of suspense and tension at a consistently high level, especially in the opening, in which Bourne ingeniously thwarts Vosen’s entire surveillance team trying to track he and Ross, and a similar scene later, when he races across rooftops and through windows trying to catch up with one of Vosen’s relentless assassins, who in turn is chasing Nicky.

As before, Matt Damon makes Jason Bourne a lean, mean, butt-kicking machine (with a little humanity beneath his stony expression). Bourne isn’t a character who demands major displays of emotion, but Damon plays Bourne with the perfect demeanor for the part- smart, stoic, and tough-as-nails. Most action heroes rely more on brawn than brains; Bourne has both. Joan Allen is back as Pamela Landy, who increasingly finds herself sympathizing more with Bourne than the organization she works for, and there’s a significantly expanded role for Julia Stiles as Nicky (one wonders if she’ll become even more prominent in a possible next installment)- two women who started out as part of the team hunting Bourne and have now become his only allies. David Strathairn is an effective replacement for Chris Cooper and Brian Cox as this episode’s ruthlessly hard-nosed agent man. The supporting cast includes Scott Glenn as Vosen’s equally cold-blooded boss, Edgar Ramirez and Joey Ansah as two implacable assassins, and small but key parts for Albert Finney as a doctor with a link to Bourne’s past, and young German actor Daniel Brühl as Marie’s brother whom- like Oksana Akinshina in the previous film- Bourne seeks out to tell the truth about what happened to his relative.

Overall, The Bourne Ultimatum isn’t as good as The Bourne Identity , which had more human interest in the relationship between Bourne and Marie (Nicky is obviously being set up as a possible budding love interest, but she doesn’t come close to filling the void left by Franka Potente), but it’s more legitimately thrilling than The Bourne Supremacy , and while Supremacy had a plot that was a little too complicated for its own good, Ultimatum has Identity’s good sense to keep things straightforward. Bad government men want Bourne dead. Bourne is trying to evade them and find out about his past. That’s pretty much the gist of it. Which is not to say any of the Bourne films are unintelligent. They’re first and foremost relentless action movies, but much of the fun in all three comes from the clever, occasionally ingenious cat-and-mouse games between Bourne and his pursuers (who invariably end up finding the tables turned on them). There’s even a touch of political commentary in the characters of overzealous government agents like David Strathairn’s Vosen, who are prepared to justify just about anything in the name of national security. ‘That’s what makes us special…no more red tape’, Vosen smugly remarks as part of a self-righteous little speech he gives to Pamela Landy in one of the few and far between quiet conversational moments. Those entertained by the memorable moment in Supremacy when Bourne’s pursuers, speaking with him over the phone, suddenly realize he has them in his sights, will find a similar satisfactory table-turning moment here. Also part of the fun is the endless globe-trotting (here we follow Bourne to Moscow, Paris, London, Madrid, Morocco, and New York; at times the series almost feels like it’s part travelogue).

The Bourne series has established itself as a solid entry in the action genre, gritty, visceral, and no-frills, virtually devoid of special effects and relying on car chases and hand-to-hand fight scenes. There was a time when some would have doubted it, but Matt Damon has proved for three movies now that he can whip ass alongside any action hero who can be named, and there seems to be plenty of life left in the series. Now that things have (mostly) come full circle, is there room for more installments without Bourne overstaying his welcome and becoming redundant? I’m not sure, but so far Jason Bourne has returned twice, and I haven’t tired of him yet.