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The Bourne Ultimatum

A Satisfying Conclusion to the Series

Jason Bourne is very much the anti-Bond in The Bourne Ultimatum, the concluding chapter (or so we’ve been promised) to the series that began five years ago with Doug Liman’s (Mr. and Mrs. Smith, Go, Swingers) adaptation of Robert Ludlam’s bestselling novel, The Bourne Identity and continued with The Bourne Supremacy with Paul Greengrass (United 93, Bloody Sunday) at the helm. The gritty locales, a cynicism-heavy espionage storyline, small-scale action scenes, and an intense turn from Matt Damon as the reluctant title character all contributed to a positive reception from critics and $500 million dollars combined for the first two films in the series.

The Bourne Ultimatum picks up where The Bourne Supremacy left off, with Jason Bourne (Matt Damon), an ex-CIA assassin, bleeding and on the run in Moscow. There to make amends with the daughter of a man he killed, Bourne narrowly escapes. His escape, however, hasn't gone unnoticed. His former employers in the CIA, Noah Vosen (David Strathairn), the deputy director in charge of anti-terrorism based out of New York, and Ezra Kramer (Scott Glenn), the head of the CIA, decide that Bourne should be eliminated. Kramer sends another CIA official, Pamela Landy (Joan Allen), to help Vosen track Bourne down. Throughout, Bourne is driven to discover not who he is (that much he knows already) but how and why he became an assassin.

Five years ago, The Bourne Identity was a refreshing, imaginative take on the spy thriller that had grown increasingly stale and irrelevant. Doug Liman employed a naturalistic style that depended heavily on handheld cameras, rapid-fire cuts, on-location shooting, and small-scale, stunt-heavy action scenes. As a filmmaking style, it has its roots in the French New Wave and the cinéma vérité style first favored by Western filmmakers in the early 60s. When Liman decided not to direct the sequel, The Bourne Supremacy, Paul Greengrass, a documentary filmmaker turned feature director with a similar shooting style, stepped in to take his place. Like Liman, Greengrass’ style depended on handheld cameras and rapid-fire editing, making him the logical choice to take over the Bourne franchise.

Like the first two films in the series, The Bourne Ultimatum’s borrows elements and themes from the conspiracy thriller sub-genre that emerged, unsurprisingly enough, in the 70s with All the President’s Men, Three Days of the Condor, The Parallax View, and Winter Kills, but modernizes it with chilling references to “rendition protocols,” “experimental interrogation techniques,” and, of course, assassinations by an oversight-free black ops group. Some of these references may strike too close to home for some moviegoers, but screenwriters Tony Gilroy, Scott Z. Burns, and George Nolfi keep the politics just murky enough (e.g., no current politicians or administrations are named) to sidestep any objections about political point scoring.

Ultimately, The Bourne Ultimatum delivers the small-scale set pieces on par with the first two entries in the series, including an extended chase scene in Tangiers on motorcycle and on foot at the midpoint and a car chase in Manhattan near the end, and for some or most moviegoers hoping to see an escapist action/thriller that will be enough, but in the depiction of a reluctant, conscience-stricken hero (or anti-hero), The Bourne Ultimatum remains the perfect anti-Bond for our morally ambiguous, uncertain times.

Rating: 4 out of 5 stars