There’s a bit, right near the end of The Bourne Ultimatum, one small little plot device, that doesn’t quite ring true. It’s not a concern, really, and nor is it anything that feels like a big cheat. But in the context of the rest of this review, it’s just worth pointing out that the conclusion of the Bourne trilogy isn’t without a fault or two.
Because the rest of this review can only talk about the fact that The Bourne Ultimatum is terrific, and certainly the best threequel this writer can ever remember. It certainly put everything else seen this summer firmly – firmly – in the shade.
The plot is, as you’d hope and expect, the continuation and conclusion of the story arc from the previous two films. Matt Damon as Jason Bourne is gradually piecing together the truth about who he really is, and still finding he can mechanically kick the living shit out of anyone coming within distance of him. This time, the CIA – led by the quite superb David Straithairn – are on his tail, and Bourne is equally keen to finish things once and for all. What thus ensues, with this narrative always bubbling underneath, is an astonishingly confident action movie with its feet firmly pressed to the gas. It’s also lean, with everything happening for a reason, and very little wasted time.
If you ever have a moment when you wonder what makes an action director, or that you think Michael Bay or Len Wiseman are masters of the art, then Bourne has answers. Take the astonishing, really immeasurably brilliant pursuit early on in the film through Waterloo Station. Fearlessly cutting between Bourne, the pursuers, a reporter and CIA headquarters in the US, it’s genuine breathtaking. Just when you think it should be wrapped up, that’s when director Paul Greengrass throttles things up again. Depending heavily on handheld photography, his deliberately uneasy style is a bold, very effective strategy, eschewing the need for a Bay-like longing hold on his subject matter and simply getting on with the job. At speed.
And to prove that the Waterloo segment wasn’t a fluke, Greengrass does it again later in the film when the action has moved to the Tangiers. It’s just as exhilirating.
What’s astonishing about both of these segments is that they involve pursuits that must eat up at least ten minutes of screen time each, yet they’re so edgy, so thrilling, that it flies by. And the moment where Greengrass cuts the music completely, and allows two grown man to have a vicious, yet not showy, fist piece, is sublime. It’s about as unHollywood as you can get.
Because let’s make no bones here: while Matt Damon fits the title role like a glove, it’s Greengrass who’s the star here, with some of the best direction seen in any film of any genre this year. His trick is that everything is logical, everything has a reason. Even the music, so often in action movies showboating so that a few CDs can be sold, is taut, clever and ratchets things up when you least expect it.
Initial suspicions were that much of the praise being levelled at The Bourne Ultimatum was almost an element of relief that a proper action movie arrived in a summer that’s been soaked with disappointments. But it’s more than that – this really is the real deal. Easily standing toe-to-toe with Casino Royale, and likewise the best of the Bourne saga (which, when sequels are supposed to get worse, has enjoyed sequels that simply get better), it’s the blockbuster that 90% of Hollywood simply couldn’t make.
It really is the real deal. And it demands to be seen on a big screen.