The Bourne Ultimatum is a single global chase sequence, nearly two hours in length, with a tiny break about halfway through for a cappuccino. Sprinting, ass-kicking or leaping from building to building, Jason Bourne (Matt Damon) occasionally pauses to check what looks like a watch, but what must surely be a heart-rate monitor. He doesn't want to let his pulse drop-he's getting a really good workout here.
Director Paul Greengrass (The Bourne Supremacy, United 93, Bloody Sunday) takes the same cardiovascular approach with his audience. Greengrass, who inherited the Bourne series from its first director, Doug Limon, achieves this by dispensing with filler and exposition. Bourne hits the ground running, still injured from a scuffle in the last film, and just keeps on running. The amnesiac assassin needs neither food nor hydration and, therefore, no bathroom breaks, either. International flights or ferries across the Straight of Gibraltar pass in the time it takes to stamp a forged passport. Cell phones needed for spontaneous schemes are purchased without breaking stride. If there were ever bureaucratic difficulties that took Bourne more than 12 seconds, those scenes found their way to the cutting room floor.
All this exercise, and lack of eating, really shows on our hero, who is lean and chiseled. Damon's Bourne is like a shark with a conscience-he's a sleek, instinctual killing machine who must constantly stay in motion and whose eyes go glossy and blank when he strikes. He feels guilty about what he has done and, for all his superiority, he also feels terribly, terribly alone. Moreover, there is an element of the psychoanalytic patient in him; Bourne is a man who digs into his subconsciously submerged past to find the roots of who he now is. Fragments of this past (that is, of the last two films), keep floating back to Bourne in slow-motion dream sequences that make everyone's voice sound like Darth Vader's. Bourne, like the audience, is struggling to remember what the hell happened back then.
Bourne is also the most wanted man in the world this side of Osama bin Laden, so he disguises himself by brushing his tightly-cropped hair forward, whereas previously it was spiked up a bit. It's fortunate that Bourne is so well disguised because a shady, top-secret wing of the NSA, armed with advanced versions of both Google Maps and the Patriot Act, is extremely adamant about locating him. The computer banks-and the stunt doubles from the television show 24 who operate them-are led by the sinister Noah Vosen (David Strathairn) and the conflicted ("This isn't what I signed up for!") Pamela Landy (Joan Allen). There is a sense that Dick Cheney lurks, but he is never shown.
When one of those computers sifting through phone calls detects a British journalist who mentions the name of a classified file that may contain the secret of Bourne's identity, a crack team of agents, as well as the first of several "assets," are dispatched. An "asset" is an "ethnic" male model who kills anyone whose picture shows up on his cell phone.
Luckily Bourne is always a step-and sometimes even a block-ahead of his enemies. Bourne meets the journalist, Simon, at London's Waterloo station. There Bourne directs Simon by cell phone in a chase sequence that's breathtaking, despite never moving faster than a speed walk.
Alas, those assets are not only ridiculously good looking, they're also good at what they do. And so on and on it goes from London, through Europe, to Tangiers, to a culminating car chase in New York that ranks up there with the chase in Ronin and the Moscow chase in The Bourne Supremacy. The action is furious, the acting is solid and there is something we can all relate to in Bourne's guilt, existential angst and alienation. Bourne is a top-caliber action series and, for pure thrill, nothing currently out there has the smarts-or stamina-to match it.
THE BOURNE ULTIMATUM
Tony Gilroy, Scott Z Burns and George Nolfi,
based on the novel by Robert Ludlum
With Matt Damon, Julia Stiles, David Strathairn, Paddy Considine,
Albert Finney and Joan Allen
Dreamcatcher, Regal Stadium 14