Pop culture obsessives writing for the pop culture obsessed.
Pop culture obsessives writing for the pop culture obsessed.

The Bourne Ultimatum

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For a major Hollywood star, Matt Damon doesn't seem to care much about ingratiating himself to the audience. After getting his "love me, love me, love me" performance out of the way with Good Will Hunting, Damon has become a master of tragic self-effacement, gravitating toward characters whose true selves are masked by an impenetrably stoic veneer. For all his talent for imitation, Damon's Mr. Ripley was a blank slate, waiting for someone else's more vibrant personality to sketch on the empty canvas. Damon's minimalist style is key to why the Bourne movies have become an oasis from other blockbuster action fare; freed from the bells and whistles of computer-generated effects, they've zagged while the rest have zigged, and they've succeeded in bringing the genre back down to earth.

The last and most exciting installment in the trilogy, The Bourne Ultimatum, continues the hero's evolution from thoughtless killing machine to somewhat more conscientious maiming machine. Still struggling to piece together gaps in his memory—alone again this time, after his girlfriend (Franka Potente) was killed in The Bourne Supremacy—Damon finds some clues to his identity in an article written by a London journalist (Paddy Considine). The article suggests the existence of a top-secret CIA black-ops mission that commissioned willing agents like Damon into carrying out assassinations. Naturally, the CIA, led here by David Strathairn, considers that information dangerous, and commits all its global resources to wiping Damon out. That doesn't keep Damon from wanting to find out more about who he is, even if it means going straight into the lion's den.

Set into motion with a brilliantly choreographed sequence at London's Waterloo Station—the filmmaking logistics hurt the brain—The Bourne Ultimatum essentially amounts to one long chase scene, yet the tension never really flags. Zipping from one locale to the next, the action scenes are in danger of blurring into one another, as each new city presents Damon with its own set of one-way streets and narrow alleyways. But there's always some distinguishing feature, like a magnificent footrace across the rooftops of Tangiers or a hand-to-hand fight scene that's all natural sound, no music. Shooting in his patented documentary style, director Paul Greengrass (Bourne Supremacy, United 93) puts a premium on ground-level realism and breathless efficiency, all without sacrificing his political conscience. Now that they're over—for now, anyway—the Bourne movies have left behind perhaps the strongest residue of mainstream anti-government paranoia since '70s thrillers like The Parallax View and Three Days Of The Condor. And all while kicking ass, of course.