'Bourne Ultimatum': Meth for Action Junkies

How fast and furious is the third installment of the Bourne trilogy? Just in the first 15 minutes it charges from a chase in Moscow to CIA headquarters in Langley, Va.; to Turin, Italy; Paris, London and New York City, barely pausing to catch its (or our) breath. The amnesiac assassin Jason Bourne (Matt Damon) is on the run again, closing in on the secret of his identity, outsmarting and outmuscling vast teams of CIA hit men who use every weapon in their arsenal to stop him from discovering the truth about his past.

For action junkies, "The Bourne Ultimatum" will be like a hit of pure meth. It's bravura filmmaking in the jittery, handheld, frenetically edited Paul Greengrass style. That visceral, vérité style caught many people by surprise in "The Bourne Supremacy." (They obviously hadn't seen his earlier film about the Irish Troubles, "Bloody Sunday.") But now, after his acclaimed, unnerving "United 93," we know what he can do, and it's momentarily disconcerting to realize that he approaches the high hokum of "Ultimatum" with exactly the same gravitas and pseudo-documentary conviction that he brought to his account of 9/11. The cleverness of the two Greengrass installments is in how he dazzles us with his gritty pixie dust into almost believing they are taking place in the real world. Actually, the biggest stretch in "Ultimatum" is not Bourne's superhuman ability to absorb punishment and keep on truckin' but the movie's gaga portrayal of the CIA as an omnipotent force that operates with lethal, high-tech efficiency.

The screenplay, by Tony Gilroy, Scott Z. Burns and George Nolfi, is basically a string of action sequences pieced together with extremely laconic dialogue: Bourne is not a talker. These set pieces include a steel-crunching car chase in Manhattan, an elaborate rooftop pursuit in Tangier and, my favorite, a dazzling cat-and-mouse game in crowded Waterloo Station in London, in which Bourne must protect a journalist who knows too much (Paddy Considine) from a swarm of assassins. As thrilling as these are, and as well cast as this sequel is (David Strathairn, Scott Glenn and Albert Finney join Joan Allen and Julia Stiles as agency operatives), the single-minded "Ultimatum" leaves no time for the quirks and character explorations of Doug Liman's original film. The answers Jason Bourne has spent years searching for turn out to be, well, pretty much what we figured.

In the five years since "The Bourne Identity," Damon has lost his boyish blush. Physically, he's now more plausible as an agent with awesome martial-arts moves. A master of concentrated stillness, he gives this series what soul it has left. For as good as Damon is, the emotional resonance that made his anguished killing machine such an unusual and welcome action hero has all but petered out by the end of his journey. All that's left is the adrenaline—but boy, is there plenty of that.