The Bourne Ultimatum
Directed by Paul Greengrass

Written by Tony Gilroy, Scott Z. Burns and George Nolfi

Starring Matt Damon, David Strathairn, Joan Allen


The Bourne Ultimatum

As I watched the opening scenes of "The Bourne Ultimatum," which is the third and I hope the final episode in Robert Ludlom's series of spy novels, I wondered about two things: first, the sheer number of locations we were treated to. Moscow, Turin, Washington, or I should say Langley, Virginia, and you know who's there; Paris, London, New York, Madrid and Tangier. And then I wondered about the frantic cutting the film's editors did - no shot lasting more than three seconds, if that - and thought - what would Alfred Hitchcock do with this screenplay? What if he slowed it down to his usual pace, letting the tension build, letting us worry about Jason Bourne and his mission to find who Jason Bourne really is (he's had his whole life wiped away and given the new name as a CIA assassin) while the bad guys are looking to kill him - think of "The Man Who Knew Too Much" or "The 39 Steps" - instead of spending two hours on the chase itself?

I think we'd have a movie that would become a classic, instead of one that gives it all away in the first viewing. I say that more out of sorrow than anger, because the fact is I liked "The Bourne Ultimatum." I liked watching it, I particularly liked the scenes in London where he outsmarts the best minds of the CIA in a wonderfully shot and edited montage of move and countermove. Forget that it's impossible in real life; it was a jolt that only the best movies can create. And I liked it at least up to the final, totally unbelievable scenes in New York where Bourne finally is allowed to see who he was before he was Bourne.

And Bourne, of course, is played once again by Matt Damon, a role that fits him better perhaps than anything since his closeted genius in "Good Will Hunting." He's created a role in which his body thinks for him, rather than follows his mind around as the rest of ours do, willingly or unwillingly; we believe that his body somehow has the same brain-power, and is on the same wavelength as his mind. So when director Paul Greengrass ("United 93") moves him from place to place, in a chess game with his pursuers, we're just happy to follow. Damon's mind and body are one, and they are a hell of a combination.

But Greengrass is stuck with some other characters who do their best to fight the comic-book writing: David Strathairn plays the CIA supervisor who masterminds the hunt for Damon; he's forever being outsmarted, in spite of the fact that he's got every surveillance device imaginable at his fingertips. He just gets madder and more unstable, while Joan Allen as his second-in-command, must act as the voice of reason. And Julia Styles, as what would be Jason's new squeeze if the film ever stopped moving, is almost totally mute; I think I counted two lines in the whole film for her. Nevertheless, "The Bourne Ultimatum" is one of those secret pleasures that critics enjoy as much as the rest of us.