Time for action

Plenty of bang and boom … but most of it coming from Damon

ROBO-COP<br>Matt Damon puts on his action face.

Matt Damon puts on his action face.

The Bourne Ultimatum
Starring Matt Damon, Julia Stiles, David Strathairn, Scott Glenn, Joan Allen and Albert Finney. Directed by Paul Greengrass. Rated PG-13.
Rated 4.0

There’s no missing the strong points—an array of dazzling action sequences, a vivid and appealing cast (David Strathairn, Julia Stiles, Joan Allen, etc.), a gritty sort of international intrigue and a sprinkling of topical political barbs. And there is that special fascination with Jason Bourne himself—a trained, near-robotic killing machine following the dictates of a not-quite-extinguished human heart and seeking answers to the puzzle of his own spectacularly conflicted identity.

And director Paul Greengrass, who also directed The Bourne Supremacy and Flight 93, presents it all in his characteristically jittery, quasi-documentary style—an agitated mix of hand-held camera, fragmented imagery and pulsating montage. It’s an approach that accentuates the existential uncertainties of the events being portrayed, and it’s especially well-suited to a thriller series in which the furiously disillusioned protagonist is, in effect, deconstructing the pop-cultural myth of the superhero secret agent.

But there is also a sense in which the series, and the director, are trying to have it both ways—the confusions and uncertainties of the moment-to-moment action, combined with the Big Brother-style surveillance of omniscient narrators and super spies equipped with state-of-the-art technology. After all, Jason Bourne’s all-too-human identity quest resides right alongside his fantastic action-hero abilities. As such, The Bourne Ultimatum is less about real human issues than two sides of the same über-fantasy battling it out.

Matt Damon and a half-dozen supporting players give engaging form to their roles, but apart from Damon they have little to do other than providing appropriate faces for the easily read attitudes required for the unfolding plot. Damon, nevertheless, is very good with the necessarily minimalist range dictated by Bourne’s nature.

Stiles’ performance echoes Damon’s in those respects, and insofar as she is an implicit replica of the Franka Potente character from the first part of the series, she seconds the unspoken notion that Bourne may be more robot than human. The two of them engage some basic human sympathies, but it’s not at all clear that there is much humanity left in either character, let alone in the world portrayed and inferred in the film.