The Bourne Ultimatum

Starring Matt Damon, David Strathairn, Joan Allen and Julia Styles. Directed by Paul Greengrass. .
Running Time: 115 mins
Rated: Rated M (moderate action violence)

Whew! (or any other exclamation to sum up the feelings of exhilaration and exhaustion at the end of this film).

This is a holiday film for the adult audience who may want something more engrossing or demanding than the popular shows. It is the third in the Jason Bourne trilogy based on novels by Robert Ludlum. They are the best film versions of his novels so far.

Ludlum (who died in 2001 but whose stories are still being published under his name with co-writers) was a master of the espionage novel. They were large books but real page-turners. And for their plots: they seemed to be far-fetched with extraordinary global conspiracies. At least that is how it seemed in the 1970s and 1980s. Now, with the experience of terrorism worldwide, with the exposure of cold war espionage names and details, we might well wonder. Ludlum's novels drew on the technological weapons developed to that time (while the James Bond movies imagined weapons, some of which we might now take for granted). The novels were intense. They were character studies, especially of their central heroes who were trained in the ways of expert spying.

This film is certainly a visual experience of the novels. In two hours we are rushed through the plot (presupposing the first two films in the series, The Bourne Identity (2002) and The Bourne Supremacy (2004)). Director Paul Greengrass and his editor, Christopher Rouse, have found the visual equivalent of page-turning. It is some of the quickest-paced editing you are likely to experience. The audience is almost breathless in the first five minutes. Shots are short. Camera work is handheld and immediate. We are edited into the action ourselves and, while there are some quiet moments, some pauses for thought, the hectic pace continues, especially with a number of very fast chases and crashes.

We still ask, as does the hero, who is Jason Bourne? We are aware from the first film that Bourne has been created as a killer by a department deep within the CIA. We know that he has lost his memory and is trying to recover it, sometimes shocked at what he discovers about himself. The second film showed Bourne getting closer to the CIA controllers, motivated by revenge. This time all questions are answered and, at the end, his memory recovered.

Actually, this time there is not a great deal of plot. It is simply Bourne tracking down contacts which lead him to the CIA training centre in New York. Bourne finds an article about him in the UK Guardian and contacts the journalist. This leads to a strongly suspenseful chase around Waterloo station. After London comes Madrid, then Tangier and, finally, New York.

Paul Greengrass (Bloody Sunday,United 93) was a reporter and documentary maker. His portraits of the cities and their detail will impress and please those who know the cities. Aerial shots giving the sweep of the cities, then realistic locations settings that make what is quite an incredible story credible enough.

Matt Damon is implacable as the put-upon Bourne. David Strathairn is excellent and icy and callous as the deputy head of the CIA. The surveillance equipment and access to cameras, phones and technology - even at Waterloo station - are beyond Orwellian chilling. Strong support comes from Joan Allen and Julia Styles who were in the other films and Paddy Considine as the journalist.

Jason Bourne is a hero, trained in survival techniques, who uses his wits rather than weapons. He is a representative of good, but a good that comes from evil and needs redemption.

Universal Out August 30

Fr Peter Malone MSC directs the film desk of SIGNIS: the World Association of Catholic Communicators, and is an associate of the Australian Catholic Office for Film & Broadcasting.

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