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Almost Bullet-Proof: The Bourne Ultimatum

Written by: Mike Caccioppoli, Feature Film Critic

ImageThe Bourne Ultimatum is bullet-proof — almost.

I actually meant to start this review by calling Paul Greengrass' masterful new thriller "critic-proof," but like the rebooted subconscious of the movie's shattered antihero, my own subconscious plucked violence from the ether.

The Bourne Ultimatum might just be the ultimate chase movie — although The Fugitive will always hold that title for me, but I digress. The first two stellar movies both featured fantastic car chases, but the third installment follows our brainwashed black-operative from London to Madrid to Tangiers to New York to Paris, with a cat-and-mouse pursuit in each city. Incidentally, the European Union ought to consider buying the leftover B-roll from the movie's producers, because this is also one of the best travelogues I've ever seen.

Paul Greengrass has perfected the art of nausea-inducing, hand-held realism in the second Bourne movie, as well as the staggering docudramas United 93 and Bloody Sunday, and in The Bourne Ultimatum he taps into the same cynicism that powered Bloody Sunday but was absent in the agenda-free United 93. The relentless CIA figures pursuing Bourne only want to stop him because they know what they did to him was wrong — or are they just trying to "protect" the citizens of the United States?

Unfortunately, Greengrass fails to carry over one important element from United 93: humanity. Oh sure, the bare-bones plot involves Bourne slowly remembering what happened to him — though don't worry; I won't spoil the plot for fear of being rendition'ed to Guantanamo by this series' legions of fans — but this movie lacks the emotional core that Greengrass' bold look at 9/11 had.

As I said earlier, the film is technically dazzling, and you'd think that a film about a guy who the government brainwashed into murdering for their own shadowy ends would have a soul of its own, but it doesn't. It’s so concerned with being a crowd-pleaser (and it is) that it never allows us to feel anything for its tortured hero. The film shoots by in less than two hours, which feels more like 60 minutes, but I don't mean that as a compliment. As soon as it’s over, we forget it.
I know that plenty of people will defend this movie's cleverness, and to be sure, it's deeply satisfying to watch Bourne outwit his CIA counterparts in one city after another. This movie also features some of the best fight sequences ever put to film, all of it doled out to us with razor-sharp editing — but there’s nothing left when the carnage ends. The chase scenes are depressingly similar from one locale to another, and the result is a homogenization of the settings.

Here's the whole movie:

• The CIA agent tasked with catching Bourne (David Strathairn) dispatches his teams of operatives to track Jason down, using everything from cell phone tapping to public surveillance cameras to good, old-fashioned foot chases.

• Bourne evades them, a wake of corpses behind him.

• Repeat this process in one beautiful city after another.

Joan Allen's character returns, this time more sympathetic to Bourne's plight, and that breaks up the monotony, but her presence only reminds us of the film's heartlessness. Seriously, when you rely on Goody Proctor to give your movie heart, you're in trouble.

I know I sound like I don't like this movie, but I don't even know if the word "like" applies to a movie like this (or to any of Greengrass' movies, actually). I can appreciate its technical wizardry, but maybe like poor Jason Bourne, the film has been programmed to be such an efficient machine that it never really knows what it could have been.