“Bourne Ultimatum” action-packed but hard to see

While “Bourne Ultimatum” is a nice conclusion to the series, it isn’t quite what fans might expect.

This film picks up exactly where the last one left off. Jason Bourne (Matt Damon, “Ocean’s Eleven,” “The Brothers Grimm”) is in Russia and he’s wounded. As he’s trying to evade the police yet again, he starts to have flashbacks of memories from the past he can’t quite remember.

This is the perfect introduction, setting up the instant and nonstop action that this film provides as well as the subject matter that is the focus of this film. But this introduction, as well as the film itself, assumes that fans have already seen the previous movies in this series and that they remember them.

The past films developed the plot and suspense of the series, and in comparison, the script for this one is a little light. This movie really deals with Bourne coming to grips with his past and bringing justice to the corrupt governmental system that created him, instead of developing a mystery to be solved like its predecessors.

If anything, the script is a convenient tool to plug in yet another contemporary suspicion of an all-powerful government that keeps using national security as justification for any number of evils.

However, the film does still work as a piece of the series. It continues to develop the main character of Bourne and reinforce aspects of his character that the audience already knew existed. And this time, a few of the bit parts that have been in the previous films are flushed out to provide more detail to the series.

Nicky Parsons (Julia Stiles, “Mona Lisa Smile,” “O”) becomes a central character this time, instead of just another pretty face on screen, with hints of having been an important person in Bourne’s past (hints that are never fully developed). Pamela Landy (Joan Allen, “The Upside of Anger,” “The Notebook”) also becomes a more intriguing and complex character as she begins to question the rationale behind her job assignment.

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Yet for all these things in the film’s favor, its greatest drawback is the visual choices of director Paul Greengrass. He may have done the previous film in this series as well, but this time his choices were not visually cohesive with the subject matter.

The entire film appears to be shot with a handheld camera (a style he is well known for due to his background in documentary films) as the screen continually bobbles in “Blair Witch Project” fashion. Aside from that, the camera is never still as it pans quickly around rooms and between people on the screen every three seconds, instead of using cuts. This leaves the audience more dizzy and annoyed than anything.

Then there are the constant extreme close-ups of every character on screen. This made the action sequences and chase scenes a downright blur of fast movement that couldn’t be deciphered, which is disappointing when the audience is expecting to see the cool one-on-one fight scenes the Bourne films are known for. There were also quite a few scenes where audience members were asking what was happening, as the shots weren’t wide enough to establish the action.

And the utilization of shots that are blocked visually by other characters’ heads or shoulders or even just walking in front of the camera was irritating. If the director was going for realism, claustrophobia and paranoia just from visual effects, he failed.

Yet not all of Greengrass’ visual choices were a total wash. When Bourne is finally remembering his past, the blurring of the screen visually is very well done. And the ending shot in the water reminds the fans of the opening shot of the very first film in the series, bringing everything full circle and providing a nice conclusion.

Overall, it’s worth a watch in the theater – it’s all action, and a small screen will only end up amplifying the closeness of the camera angles.