This is the cinematic equivalent of lighting a high-power repeater firework and having the director strap you to it before you can retreat to a safe distance. It's insane and it's the Bourne Ultimatum. The third and final instalment of a trilogy that has raised its genre's bar to new heights, completing what has been an adrenaline-fuelled rollercoaster ride of emotion through the murky world of government splinter cells, high-tech surveillance and assassins aplenty.
The plot follows along the lines of the previous installments. C.I.A. official, Noah Vosen (David Strathairn), is a man on a mission to destroy anyone who threatens the secret identity of an illegal government project. This includes killing Jason Bourne (Matt Damon), an assassin suffering amnesia, who needs to reveal the truth so that he may put his fractured and tormented life back together. Vosen's colleague, Pam Landy (Joan Allen), is determined to separate right from wrong and along with C.I.A. Operative, Nicky Parsons (Julia Stiles), they provide uneasy allies for Bourne as he battles an organisation that wields more power than ever before.
This truly is a brilliant film but it's been built upon decidedly shaky foundations. By this I mean the director, Paul Greengrass, has taken the scattergun approach to film-making and employed the documentary, fly-on-the-wall-style of camera work throughout, with fidgety shots and rapid-fire cuts. In the quieter moments it's nothing but distracting, whereas during the action sequences, despite sacrificing information left, right and centre, it's stunning. We're in the head of Jason Bourne now and this means when he steps into a scene, we are the ones scanning the area for the nearest way out. We're the ones seeking out a weapon in case of attack. We're the ones with sweaty palms.
Here's just the briefest of examples. Quick-pan left to an out-of focus uphill shot of an empty alley; spin right to shaking image of a distant street; zoom and tighten frame as two policemen career round the corner at the foot of the hill; zoom out, drift up and zoom in to juddering close-up of an open window above street level; pull out to over-the-shoulder shot of a house number, then a series of flashed images: a frame, a door, an exit.
Combine all this with John Powell's relentless musical score across the most action-packed car-chase or fist-fight scenes, or the simplest coffee-shop conversation and the tension is ramped up to unbearable levels creating a decidedly uncomfortable viewing experience.
Be it lying low in a crowded London train station, dashing across the rooftops of Tangiers, or tearing through New York City in a police car, Jason Bourne makes a fascinating traveling companion and Matt Damon has laid his character's tortured soul bare for us. This time he's darker, colder and more ruthless in everything he does. Julia Stiles' deliberately restrained performance amongst the dizzying action is perfect, and David Strathairn has never been more vitriolic and revels in his role of bad guy.
The Bourne Ultimatum should come with a health warning. I had to peel myself off my seat at the end and it was a relief to get back to the mundane. Something simple like picking out the lumps of seat cover that had somehow got rammed beneath my fingernails.