Let's be clear about one thing-The Bourne Ultimatum (rated PG-13 for violence and intense sequences of action) is as thrilling an action film as fans could hope for. Director Paul Greengrass' shaky, splice-and-dice visual approach perfectly complements Matt Damon's icy performance as Jason Bourne, the amnesiac former-CIA assassin who's turned on his employers to try to recover his identity.
From a purely physical standpoint, Damon adjusts brilliantly to each scene-muscled precision when he should be, messy desperation when he has to be. Together, as they did in The Bourne Supremacy, he and Greengrass bring a gritty immediacy to a genre that needed a shot of realism.
Yet as technically exhilarating as the film is, the degree to which it portrays Bourne's renegade status as the morally superior position is somewhat troubling. Some plot points-most likely meant to call up the laziest stereotypes of the Bush administration-push the boundaries of belief.
For example, assassinating (in a highly public manner no less) a reporter who's been covering a CIA conspiracy is hardly a good way to dispel suspicion. If anything, action like that would bring The New York Times, The Washington Post, and the whole of Reuters down on the agency's head. The film also portrays almost everyone in government spying agencies as corrupt-the only good guys are those willing to implicate the system.
Unlike James Bond, Ethan Hunt, Jack Ryan, or other spy heroes of old, Bourne's goals are narrow-he wants to find out who he is and punish those who turned him into a killing machine. Even if he brings about a greater good by exposing the program that created him, he still answers to no one, and there's almost something narcissistic about his crusade as he continually puts the lives of innocent associates at risk. Bourne's aim may be righteous, but it is also most definitely self-serving.