The Bourne Ultimatum

An Illusion Review by Joan Ellis

            Do you remember the study that reported on seizures widely induced in Japanese children by fast frame video games? Try “The Bourne Ultimatum.” The overall momentum is akin to a Japanese bullet train roaring at top speed without touching the brakes, but the whole is sliced into hundreds of fast cut scenes that will scramble your brain. While the effect may fall short of seizure, you will have to work hard to follow the camera that is held just behind or just in front of Matt Damon. Persevere. This is a terrific thriller, an action flick with a brain, directed for our great pleasure by Paul Greengrass (United 93).

            On the odd chance that you may have missed Bourne #1 or #2, the premise here is that Jason Bourne has complete amnesia and is certain only of the fact that he is a highly trained killing machine. Realizing that the people trying to kill him must be the ones who trained him, he sets out to identify them. This is about a good guy who has done bad things and is driven to find out why. The long, violent trip to the answers covers some glamorous ground but it’s hard to lift your focus from the fast moving Jason Bourne to enjoy the landscape.

            For the travelers among you, look for Moscow, London, Madrid, Tangier, and New York. For the action lovers, know you will be well fed with gun battles, hand to hand brawls, a grand car chase, and more running and jumping on rooftops and ubiquitous staircases than you can even imagine. All this is simply landscape to the cerebral battles between Jason Bourne (Matt Damon) and Noah Vosen (David Strathairn), the black-ops station chief.

            In addition to the main men, we have Nicky Parsons (Julia Stiles) and Pam Landy (an excellent Joan Allen), as agents tinged with a morality born of watching their agency spin out of control. There is an enormous and talented supporting cast, but constant chaos and early death keep us from knowing them well, so concentrate on the four who manage to rise above the turmoil.

            Buried in the fun are a few serious thoughts - an allusion, for example, to Noah’s wide ranging abuse of the power he has been given as head of the covert operation “Blackbriar.” “You start down this path, and where does it end?” asks his colleague Pam Landy, and Chief Noah Vosen replies, “It ends when we’ve won.” In a nice bit of contemporary resonance, Noah issues a public declaration of “a national security emergency, an imminent threat” that will justify the actions and powers he will take. But worry about that after you’ve come out. From the safety of your seat, watch Bourne create havoc that embroils whole cities in chaos – with a motorcycle, a gun, a cell phone, and his fists. This is one agent we all cheer on as he tries to come in from the cold.

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