Simon Dillon reviews the film

The Bourne Ultimatum

Matt Damon is fast becoming one of my favourite actors. He has proved incredibly versatile, equally at home with comedy (Oceans 11), serious drama (The Talented Mr Ripley, Good Will Hunting) and in this case, action. His Jason Bourne is a hugely memorable hero - at once utterly lethal but emotionally vulnerable. Comparisons with James Bond are pointless since Bourne is such a radically different character, but nevertheless, the series is to be praised for forcing the Bond franchise to come to its senses and get back to basics with the superb Casino Royale.

Anyway, to the matter at hand. The Bourne Ultimatum is the third and not necessarily final instalment in the Bourne saga, based on Robert Ludlum's books. I haven't read them, so don't know how they compare to the movies, but I can tell you this is a hugely entertaining thriller which whilst not quite equal to the first film, is definitely as good as the second. Most of the story is set niftily between the penultimate and final scenes of The Bourne Supremacy, with Bourne on the run from the CIA, who still consider him a threat. When a high-ranking US government agent attempts to disclose damaging secrets to a British journalist, Bourne is believed to be the source of the leak. Top CIA officials Noah Vosen (David Staithairn) and Ezra Kramer (Scott Glen) once again draft in Pamela Landy (the excellent Joan Allen) to track him down. Landy wants Bourne captured alive, but Vosen and Kramer are afraid of what Bourne might have discovered about operation Blackbriar, the successor to the assassin training programme Treadstone of which Bourne was an agent. Against Landy's wishes, they order him to be eliminated.

The Bourne Ultimatum

Thrillingly tense set pieces are the order of the day here, particularly in a terrific first act where Bourne attempts to protect Guardian journalist Simon Ross (an appropriately in-over-his-head Paddy Constantine) in Waterloo station. Later highlights include a brilliantly sustained roof-top chase in Tangier, culminating in a spectacularly violent punch-up, and a couple of first-rate vehicular chases (a staple of the Bourne pics). Along the way, Bourne's emerging conscience continues to bother him as he feels regret for the murders he has committed. He gets help from former CIA operative Nicky Parsons (Julia Stiles), with whom it is hinted he once had a romantic relationship prior to his amnesia.

Director Paul "What's-a-tripod?" Greengrass uses his shakycam to good effect, John Powell's now familiar music score is present and correct, and cinematographer Oliver Wood makes great use of real locations including London, Tangier and New York. Whether or not The Bourne Ultimatum will stand up to multiple viewings remains to be seen, but for now this comes highly recommended. It doesn't quite reach the same nerve-shredding heights as the first two series of 24, but after a fairly lacklustre summer blockbuster season, it's great to finally see something that increases the pulse rate.

Some disturbingly prescient questions are raised between action scenes, albeit in an understated manner. For instance, are today's intelligence agencies really capable of intercepting a keyword in a phone conversation? In today's post 9/11 world where governments seem insistent on eroding civil liberties apparently for our own protection, can the CIA and its ilk be trusted with such power? Do characters like Vosen and Kramer really exist, and if so who do they answer to if anyone? Given the casual way in which they order deaths of innocent people in order to protect themselves and their dirty secrets, one can be forgiven for feeling a little paranoid by the end, if only subconsciously.

I suppose it's only a film. But it's also a film with an interesting spiritual subtext which I can't discuss without giving away a part of the ending, so don't read on if you haven't seen it yet. Bourne is clearly after some kind of absolution or even redemption from the life he has led. He is desperate to regain his memories and find out what the CIA did to him to make him such a brutal killer. But eventually he is faced with the uncompromising truth that he chose to become Jason Bourne (in scenes that feature an underused but effective Albert Finney). It's an interesting coda that exposes the humanity of a man who perhaps wanted to believe the best about himself, but ultimately has to accept the consequences of his actions. This simple but effective character arc is what makes Bourne emotionally resonant. We all have to live with our choices. CR

The opinions expressed in this article are not necessarily those held by Cross Rhythms. Any expressed views were accurate at the time of publishing but may or may not reflect the views of the individuals concerned at a later date.