Though he was invented by author Robert Ludlum in 1980, Jason Bourne, as played by Matt Damon, belongs to the post-9/11 world. Alone and paranoid, the amnesiac assassin battles rogue elements of the U.S. government. And Damon, who wields silence like a master, locates the heart, soul, and shame of this coerced American killing machine. ”He stripped out all the machismo, gun-toting, conventional clichés of the action-adventure hero,” raves director Paul Greengrass in a commentary, ”and brought instead a quality of humanity, a quality of truthfulness.”
Greengrass deserves credit for keeping the runaway narrative — which culminates with Bourne confronting his masters in New York — on the rails. The DVD’s seven deleted scenes (surely, there must be more?) are most notable for showcasing loose ends and excised characters. Even if the secret behind Bourne’s true identity is ultimately anticlimactic, the chase scenes are remarkable. The entire trilogy, in fact, amounts to one frenetic chase, but the set pieces in Ultimatum — especially the thrilling cat-and-mouse sequence at London’s Waterloo station — raise the cinematic bar. Fortunately, the films remain a treat at home, especially since the remote’s pause button allows your barraged synapses more time to appreciate the gloriously vertiginous action.
Those magnificent episodes, which Greengrass likens to ”violent ballets,” don’t completely gloss over Ultimatum’s subversive politics. The British director says that the films ”express all our worst paranoid fantasies about what goes on in secret in our name.” Bourne is driven by both anger at and complicity in his government’s misdeeds. That ambivalence makes him the perfect action hero for our time. A-