There’s no genre yet for the kind of breathless thrillmaking that Paul Greengrass is achieving in his movies lately—last with United 93, an unlikely triumph, and now with this superb spy threequel, the giddiest warm-weather action movie since John Woo swapped dimples in Face/Off. Part of its success has to do with the director’s subtle feel for a jittery frame—more like a jazz drummer’s brush strokes than fashionable twitchiness. But the deeper appeal has to do with the cloud of fear we still live in. Here are American-intelligence war rooms of infinite precision (for a change), but in pursuit of a boyish hero who’s smart enough to outwit them.
That hero, of course, is Jason Bourne: ex-spook, amnesiac and Matt Damon, who must count this as his signature role. Damon has always been cursed with farm-boy blandness; he comes to life only when he tightens his jaw into repressed covetousness (The Talented Mr. Ripley) or slippery corruption (The Departed). But with Bourne, here free of romantic attachment, he becomes an all-American killing machine, much like the soldiers we’re sending overseas. The Bourne Ultimatum is that soldier’s revenge, coming home to America—to New York, even—to find out why his humanity was robbed from him. Of course, many cars will be crashed along the way. He’ll strangle a goon in a bathroom with a towel (a close-contact fight eerily reminiscent of United 93’s cockpit struggle). The cat-and-mouse sequences in this film are revelatory—they’re why we go to the movies in the first place.