‘Bourne Ultimatum’ a bolt to the finish

Your Aunt Sadie’s shaky home video footage sets your teeth on edge.

Director Paul Greengrass‘ hand-held camerawork also put viewers on edge, as he demonstrated with the thrilling “United 93” (2006) and “The Bourne Supremacy” (2004).

He’s back at it with “The Bourne Ultimatum,” the third entry in the franchise drawn from Robert Ludlum’s novels.

And it’s a good thing Mr. Greengrass still doesn’t own a tripod, since the film’s jittery vibe is its biggest selling point — that and, of course, Matt Damon as our conflicted lead.

Jason Bourne (Mr. Damon) is getting closer to finding his true identity. A Guardian newspaper columnist tips Bourne off to a secret government program tied to his past, and he sets out to find the scribe’s source.

Meanwhile, the CIA is still trying to track Bourne with a sympathetic agent (Joan Allen) and a cutthroat bureaucrat (David Strathairn) who sees Bourne as a loose end that must be tied — at any cost.

We follow Bourne as he travels from Berlin to London, Paris and Tangiers without so much as a layover or bumped flight. If he can dispatch a group of armed thugs without breaking a sweat, he can probably handle a surly airline agent off-screen.

Along the way he reconnects with agent Nicky Parsons (Julia Stiles), a holdover from previous “Bournes” who can’t obey orders when it comes to collaring the wayward operative.

For a spell, “The Bourne Ultimatum” delivers sneaky commentaries on our modern, terrorism-obsessed world. Street-based cameras track Bourne’s movement, and phone taps allow the CIA to hear everything he says. It’s all done to propel the story, not lay out any overt political agenda.

Later, Miss Allen and Mr. Strathairn debate Bourne’s fate, a rare sequence that feels preachy and abrupt.

The emotional themes streaked through “Ultimatum” never pack the same punch as the action. When the blanks are filled in regarding Bourne’s past — and what made him a perfect killer — the effect is one of closure, but little else.

For his part, Mr. Damon remains a compulsively believable Bourne, a man whose every instinct is switched to survival mode. He barely talks, but why bother? His stoic face says plenty about his mission and his pain. The dialogue, left primarily to Mr. Damon’s able cast, can be a distraction. All the chatter about closing perimeters and utilizing assets gets old fast.

It’s a shame Mr. Straitharn’s character has but one dimension. He’s the public face of a corrupt government wing, a theme Hollywood can’t get enough of, apparently.

But there’s always another chase, another dash through a crowded intersection shot with Mr. Greengrass‘ hand-held cameras to distract us. Bourne goes mano-a-mano with an assassin, and it’s a battle meant to be stopped and played and re-played some more once the DVD edition comes out. It’s that electric. The director’s approach puts us right into the sequence, as if we were throwing — and receiving — the punches ourselves.

If that weren’t enough, a car chase unlike any other will leave audiences with virtual whiplash. That Bourne saunters out of the wreckage with but a few scrapes is another whopper to be ignored, or forgiven.

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