If Alfred Hitchcock were alive and well and directing action films, I bet they'd look a whole lot like Paul Greengrass' superlative spy thriller The Bourne Ultimatum. I find it hard to express how welcome a movie like this feels right now, coming as it is like a big meaty dinner after three straight months of sugar-laden desserts. Those who enjoyed the first two chapters (Doug Liman'sThe Bourne Identity and Greengrass' The Bourne Supremacy) will undoubtedly have a ball with this third and final entry and here's why: Forget that it's a sequel and ignore the fact that the film has next to no connection to its Robert Ludlum source material -- The Bourne Ultimatum still stands as one of the most invigorating action movies I've seen in years. Not only did it propel me out of the theater on a tasty little 'movie buzz' ... it may have re-ignited my passion for the whole damn genre.
Looking for proof that you don't need $95 million dollars worth of digital trickery to create a kinetic spectacle that will have moviegoers cheering? Here it is. How novel it is to come across an action film that delivers thrills and intensity through use of character and story over eye-candy and hollow noise ... but here it is. Simple enough to follow but just circuitous enough to sink your teeth into, bolstered by a stellar lead performance from Matt Damon, stuffed with powerfully gripping action bits that are deliciously complex and actually feel germane to the story... Well, it's been a long time since I've been this impressed by an action flick -- let alone one that could be described as "a sequel to a sequel." But give it up to producer Frank Marshall for keeping this trilogy moving ahead in confident fashion. Along with Liman, Greengrass, Damon, screenwriter Tony Gilroy, and hundreds of other contributors, the producer has done the near-impossible: He has delivered a trilogy that has no weak entry. All three of the Bourne movies are really well-made, crisply "old-school," almost addictively enjoyable ... and this third one just might be the best of the lot.
Keeping things brief and spoiler-free, here's the plot: We pick up mere seconds after the conclusion of Supremacy, and if you thought the treachery ended with the demise of Ward Abbott (Brian Cox), then you probably haven't seen that many spy movies. Bourne's latest pursuer is CIA Deputy Director Noah Vosen (David Strathairn), who gives chase once Bourne is located trying to give a sympathetic reporter some crucial information. From there it's another supremely satisfying series of chases, escapes, brawls and betrayals. (And of course the filmmakers were smart enough to find something interesting for series regulars Joan Allen and Julia Stiles to do. Both women are quite excellent here.) For his part, Strathairn is as great as always, here displaying a Dustin Hoffman-ish weasel in authority. Other newcomers to the series (Paddy Considine, Edgar Ramirez, Scott Glenn, Albert Finney) add a lot to the mix, but I don't want to give too much away here...
And here's the very best part: Because the viewer actually cares about Jason Bourne's plight -- and, like him, we desperately crave some big answers -- the action moments feel like natural extensions of the story, and not a collection of stand-alone set-pieces that were simply constructed and then wedged into the plot wherever they'd fit. Dang, it feels good to breeze along with an extended action scene and actually not know where it's headed. The Bourne series has already shown that it doesn't always play by the rules (you'll no doubt recall the fate of Franka Potente's character in part 2), and that adds just another layer of flavor to the mayhem: some of the characters you like ... actually could die!
Boasting more smarts, slickness, subtlety and character than all of this summer's action offerings combined, The Bourne Ultimatum (like its predecessors) is somewhat of an anomaly in today's multiplex world. (The whole series feels like it fell out of John Frankenheimer's pocket around 1972 if you ask me -- and I mean that as a very large compliment.) The flick builds upon the foundation of its excellent predecessors and then ups the ante at every turn. I was concerned that the third movie wouldn't stand up to the first two. Never did I actually expect that Ultimatum would be the best of the lot. Not only that, it's probably the best Hollywood movie of the whole damn year.
(P.S. Rocchi dug it as well, although I suspect not as enthusiastically as I did.)