The Bourne Ultimatum, the third film in the exceptional Bourne trilogy, is a decisive improvement in the action film genre. The film moves with boldly crafted precision and balances sharp espionage with furiously strong action sequences.
Damon, as Bourne, finishes the trilogy with increasing gravitas and steely resolve, continuing to improve his near re-invention of the persona he fashioned in The Bourne Supremacy. Under the direction of Greengrass, Damon wields on-screen confidence not seen since Clint Eastwood slung guns in the spaghetti westerns. What Damon nearly perfected in Supremacy, as a rogue man-machine capable of ingenious physical improvisation and an equally endowed strategic brain, he fine-tunes here, giving a lead performance that will be near impossible to top in actions films.
While Damon's abilities are once again hampered by flashbacks, due in part to a slightly tired script, he boldly forges ahead, imbibing Bourne with considerably more fire and resolve than before, and, in the end, a welcome and unsentimental dose of moral reckoning.
Joan Allen reprises her role as a hard-nosed CIA operations coordinator, bringing the same sense of professional tenacity mixed with moral ambiguity that she pitch-perfectly created in the last Bourne film. The "'villain"' of Ultimatum is Noah Vosen, played by David Strathairn, a CIA black-operations director, who is fashioned as a catch-all fictional embodiment of everything insidious our current government is doing behind the curtain.
While Strathairn gamely performs as the director through numerous hectic control-room episodes, Vosen, with equal parts menace and fey mannerisms, sorely sticks out in the film regardless of how well the character is performed. Unlike Allen's character, ambiguity isn't part of Vosen's MO; his "you're with us or you're against us (and you'll be killed because of it)" mentality is a bit too black-and-white for a film trilogy that had elevated itself into some sublimely grey areas.
Paul Greengrass, who directed The Bourne Supremacy, has elevated his abilities as well, and they are on full display in Ultimatum. Understandably disorienting to some, Greengrass' use of shaky hand-camera work is ramped up from the third Bourne, paired with his ability to edit angles and shots with blistering pace and efficiency; in his chase scenes, this skill is on full and glass-shattering display.
Greengrass has also acquired a keen eye for capturing the grandness of international urban jungles. In sending Bourne through various foreign hubs (Morocco being the pinnacle of this film) he allows the audience to breathe, if only for a second, by letting them gaze upon the grand man-made vistas that are sprinkled around the world.
The only malady that Ultimatum suffers from is its script, written by franchise scribe Tony Gilroy. As strong as anything written since, well, Supremacy, it still suffers from some ills that should could, and should, have been avoided. Gilroy conflates the past government project, Treadstone, with a new, murkier project, Blackbriar, which Vosen heads. The borders between the two projects, however, aren't as clear as they should be, and Bourne's role in Blackbriar is even more muddled. More flashbacks and a newly unearthed government black operations program smack of redundancy, in a series of films that should have kept the plot spinning to even higher pinnacles of espionage greatness.
That's not to say Ultimatum isn't an achievement. The chase scenes are breathtaking, the attention to detail is incredibly meticulous and Damon grounds the film with a brilliant finish (possibly) to the Bourne movies. Behind the camera, Greengrass has shown an incredible aptitude for creating nearly flawless films as well, and has forged, with Supremacy and Ultimatum, a compelling argument for why he is one of the most exciting and relevant directors working today.