The Bourne Identity is one of those movies that I’ll watch on basic cable if there’s nothing else on, which is often. Even with repeated viewings, the twists and turns of The Bourne Identity don’t lose their exhilaration.
Its follow-up, The Bourne Supremacy, sank under the weight of a convoluted plot and exaggerated action scenes. It was difficult to fathom Jason Bourne’s super agent resilience while piecing together what the hell was going on.
Thankfully, the third installment of the Bourne series, The Bourne Ultimatum, brings the story back to Bourne’s quest to uncover his past identity. That’s a far juicier story to follow than his getting payback.
Paul Greengrass returns to the director’s chair, and this time, he keys into the success of previous director Doug Liman with the The Bourne Identity. Matt Damon also returns as Jason Bourne, playing him with the cool urgency that fueled the previous movies.
The story picks up almost immediately after the last movie left off, with a train station chase in Moscow. Bourne escapes but not without experiencing a hint of a flashback to his first day on the job.
He still wants payback for the death of Marie Kreuz (Franka Potente), but he also wants to stop the Central Intelligence Agency from searching for him. Permanently.
When a London reporter named Simon Ross (Paddy Considine) writes a series of articles uncovering Bourne’s deeds from the first movie, Bourne traces his past back through Ross’ source. Of course, the CIA wants him terminated, and with each clue Bourne attempts to uncover, someone dies.
It’s only through the cryptic help of CIA associate director Pamela Landry (Joan Allen) that Bourne can confront the people who turned him into a black operative.
It’s the dual layers of this kind of story — the suspense of the myriad chases happening across the globe woven into the mystery of Bourne’s original identity — that makes The Bourne Ultimatum engaging. In fact, this movie does a better job than the first in keeping the action unrelenting.
Greengrass does a better job this time in exercising restraint. There’s only one car chase, which happens at the end, and it’s abbreviated compared to previous chases. Instead, the cat-and-mouse game gets a lot of attention, with Bourne skillfully manipulating the Company’s resources (and "assets") against itself. The chase through crowded Algerian apartments is the pinnacle of the movie.
Yes, driving a car off the side of the Port Authority does require a high degree of belief suspension, but it’s not as extreme as a prolonged car and foot chase with a wounded leg that doesn’t seem to be bleeding.
Julia Stiles’ Nikki Parsons played small but not insignificant roles in the first two Bourne movies, but even then, there’s a sense of history between Parsons and Bourne that’s subtly played by the actors. In The Bourne Ultimatum, their history is revealed. It’s a predictable plot device, but it comes off understated on screen.
The Bourne Ultimatum makes a terrific conclusion to the Bourne series. Of course, the ambiguous ending leaves open the possibility of more installments. I’d say leave well enough alone. This movie is great entertainment all on its own.