"The Bourne Identity" was hugely enjoyable. "The Bourne Supremacy" was even better. And now "The Bourne Ultimatum" manages to outdo both of them. It's a superlative piece of entertainment that makes big-budget franchises like Bond and the "Mission Impossible" films seem pathetically infantile in comparison.
The movie begins exactly where "The Bourne Supremacy" left off. Jason Bourne (Matt Damon) is still trying to figure out who he is and what he did and why he did it. A surprise lead by a journalist from The Guardian newspaper puts him on the trail again, first to London, then Madrid, then Tangiers and finally to the CIA headquarters in New York.
The tension is exhilaratingly relentless from the beginning. The edgy and at times frantic camerawork is again used to brilliant effect and serves as a vital part of the narrative. Every scene is fraught with nervous energy. Bourne can't even sit down in a roadside diner and have a cup of coffee without seeing a potential assassin in everyone around him.
But what really sets the Bourne movies apart from other thrillers is the considerable intelligence behind them. Yes, there is a strong element of fantasy to the whole thing. Bourne is impossibly good at what he does, whether it's eluding an entire police force or killing yet another assassin. But director Paul Greengrass uses the film's fragmented style and gritty appearance to give an almost existential dimension to the movie, rather like Jean- Pierre Melville's "Le Samourai" did in another way. Moreover, the casting of Matt Damon now seems absolutely inspired. His strangely inscrutable yet cherubic face is the perfect look for Bourne, the cold-blooded political murderer turned contrite.
"The Bourne Ultimatum" has a much more explicit political angle than the previous two movies as Bourne edges closer to the truth of what he did for the CIA and poses the morally intractable question of just how far America should go to protect itself from its enemies. It's exceedingly rare to see a Hollywood film of this brilliance. It manages to be absurdly entertaining, irresistibly riveting and even quietly touching in places. I was absorbed from the first to the last scene, which, I should add, sublimely concludes the trilogy with a knowing wink before Moby's "Extreme Ways" ushers in the credits. Forget Bond. Forget "Mission Impossible." Director Paul Greengrass has made a modern classic out of some solid, old-school filmmaking virtues.