VIEWPOINTS: 'Ultimatum' cements 'Bourne' trilogy as best action franchise in history

The Bourne Ultimatum (PG-13) *** 3 Stars

The Jason Bourne trilogy shows just how good Hollywood action movies can be when the right people are on board and the studio keeps its involvement to a bare minimum.

Each installment (all based on novels by the impeccable Robert Ludlum) get right to the point, say what they have to and then take their exit. You can't detect one whiff of emotional manipulation or excess padding in any of the films. There's not a single action franchise in the history of motion pictures that can come close to equaling "Bourne's" overall quality and consistency.

The lion's share of the credit must be given to British director Paul Greengrass, who followed equally impressive first-installment director Doug Liman. Greengrass is the mastermind behind the docudramas "United 93" and "Bloody Sunday," and more so than any other filmmaker, he knows how to make the fake look astonishingly real. The trilogy should be required viewing for any aspiring action director. Everything they'll ever need to know can be found in these three movies.

We're aware Jason Bourne (Matt Damon) is a purely fictional character, but unlike other cinematic secret agent men, he never depends on fancy gadgets, pithy quips or tuxedos to define him. He's real, he's approachable and he's all business. Some might say he's also emotionally wanting, but this only adds to his authentic, no-nonsense air.

As we find out in the final part of this last film, Bourne isn't the aloof, cold fish we've come to know. Rather, he's a man at his wit's end, desperate to unearth his true identity. He stealthily travels through three European countries and a fair amount of New York City before he gets his answer. Before he's done, he delivers comeuppance to those who robbed him of three years of his life, and is given the chance to re-evaluate his tenuous relationships with two old adversaries - fellow CIA agents Nicky Parsons (Julia Stiles) and Pamela Landy (Joan Allen).

David Strathairn, Albert Finney and Scott Glenn play newly introduced characters who each have their own reasons for apprehending or silencing Bourne. The inclusion of these three seminal character actors is just the icing on the cake for the franchise, and further proof (as if any were needed) of Greengrass' unerring eye for detail and desire to craft the best product possible.

The movie's sole sore spot is the often frantic editing and some overly busy camera work. In one particular scene where Bourne beats a would-be assassin to death, we have a hard time distinguishing just who is who. A single, unedited, overhead shot would have lent the scene more resonance, urgency and impact.

Both Greengrass and Damon have been quoted as saying they are done with the "Bourne" series, and one can only hope that they, and the studio, leave well enough alone. Being the astute artist he is, Greengrass ends the movie with what can best be described as "open-ended closure." It's neat and tidy, poetic and uplifting, and in keeping with everything that has preceded it - a total class act without peer. (Universal)