Jason Bourne is Justice: doubting, probing, fundamentally righteous, and indestructible.
He is believable as a quasi-superman because his action-man status is not decked with the cartoon baubles of comic relief. He stays within himself, not willing to puff himself up or to unnecessarily humiliate others. He's tormented by the memory of the men and women he killed yet the torment isn't thrust out into the film by the fingertips of grand gestures. His humanity is more affecting because it is personal, private and guarded.
The comedy - if we need any- comes from the little victories over those chasing him, the overturning of the established order, the irony of the C.I.A.'s most brutal weapon turning itself against them and their more inhuman instincts and practices. In the Die Hard films John McClane is a man who sometimes works outside of the law for the law, with childish glee and disbelief relishing his supremacy. In The Bourne Ultimatum Jason Bourne is a man returning the law to its roots, cleaning house, giving us the spectacle of authority razed down and then raised up again.* The emotional exhilaration comes from watching a man who is at long last healed in the process, from the culmination of a long journey rather than little therapeutic encounters with whimsy. He has a job to do. He is as serious as his predicament.
The Bourne Ultimatum is tense and it is exciting. Seeing as it is the third part of a six hour story, the whole film can be a third act chase. The chase itself exerts a great torque, a magnetic push and pull. He is coming to the chasers, pulled there by the truth, being pushed away by those who did him wrong. This isn't normal. They don't need to chase him. The battle lines are drawn and scrubbed out all over the world and all the while the arena, the crucible in down-town New York, is being prepared for the final assault.
The death of the reporter in Waterloo Station is extremely important in setting up the film's parameters. It tells us one thing - anyone who helps Bourne, and not only Bourne, can be killed. From then on C.I.A. insiders (not moles) Nicky and Pamela Landy really are, in our minds, putting their necks on the block by helping him. The tension and excitement becomes emotional, kinetic and irresistible, spiralling out of and then into control.
It is indeed an excellent film all the way to the conclusion, but not for all of the conclusion.
The last shot of Bourne twitching to life underwater (resonating with baptismal, cleansing imagery, water being prevalent throughout the trilogy) brings the series full circle in a satisfying and triumphant way. However, with Nicky's smile already greeting the news that he has not been found, it is redundant. The inclusion of this shot feels like trite symbolism and tidy narrative packaging, the desire for which can interfere with the strongest possible representation of the material. The finale would have been more satisfying without it.
Second-guessing a Director's motives is nigh-on impossible (and something I am loath to do) but those moments in film that feel most jarring are precisely the ones that bring their making and their makers most readily to mind. David Bordwell goes further (and probably too far) along this route of enquiry, reverse-engineering the concrete reality of the film to assume certain decisions, deficiencies and deceptions on the part of the film-makers.
I don't mind a shaky camera if I don't mind it. I do if I do. There is no rigid check-list of dos and don'ts. The reason why the film is filmed that way is of little concern to me. What concerns me is my experience not whether the Director is trying to hide weaknesses, as Bordwell says in his pieces on the film.
The style of the film is its substance. The action itself, seen in fragments, not in focus, is a marker, a mannequin on which to hang a sense of the action. The restlessness of the camera (not even the credits stay still) intensifies the fragments we do catch, much like the low shutter speed, impressionistic abstract action in Ashes of Time enabled individual and fleeting poses and compositions to pop from the screen with iconic power.
It works by creating a touch of frustration. The fact that shots are obscured by passers-by, zooming in and out or hyperactively jumping around makes us work to see what we need to see and fight through the morass of modern life and technology to get it. The whole C.I.A. technological apparatus (cameras, phone tapping etc.) is used to obscure the truth rather than to see it more clearly.
This associates us, in some small way, with Bourne's state of mind. The fidgety image works as the projection of Bourne's internal rush and panic to discover and process information. The swan's frantically beating feet are overlaid onto the relatively calm exterior. Bourne has to go from points A to B to C but his mind wishes it could go straight to Z.
The style could be said to derive from the story rather than feel like a misguided shortcut to inject 'realism' or 'energy', a point I think clear in that same joyful shot of Nicky smiling at the end. Most films would zoom in on her face in expectation of the smile. Here she begins to smile and then the camera reacts to her by zooming in closer.
These are not excuses ('Oh, but he meant to do it that way') for the attacks levelled at the Director by some who found it difficult, if not nauseating. It is merely addressing the film itself and the effect it creates. Whether it is meant or not is by the by.
Having said all of this, once you get accustomed to the speed (two seconds per shot), letting it wash over you without concentrating or fighting too fiercely against it, it is easy to follow, giving you just enough information to build the geography of the places and chases.
The Bourne Ultimatum makes you want to follow, makes you want Bourne to reach his truth...but not a moment too soon. All in all it is a very good film, maybe even among the highest rank of recent years.
*This is a man who is reborn, a man searched for for three days, a man whose sudden appearance on CCTV gets the following reaction: "Jesus Christ!"