07/31/2007 10:21 am ET Updated May 25, 2011

Stan Brakhage Meets Jason Bourne

I watched The Bourne Ultimatum last night. It's a pretty
spectacular piece of craftsmanship. Damon is convincingly brutal and
desperate as the most existential of action film protagonists and the
script is solid, but it's really Paul Greengrass who owns this thing
and gives it such merciless, jittery energy.

A lot of people complained about the paranoid-twitchy handheld camera
Greengrass used for The Bourne Supremacy, but I loved it, and
he has taken it to extremes in the third film. Look how the camera
goes absolutely fucking nuts as Bourne races after another assassin
(played by the bendy Joey Ansah) through the streets and rooftops of
Tangiers... it's like a Stan Brakhage film with little glimpses of
Matt Damon's face interrupting a bunch of abstract beige shapes. Which
is a strange way to describe a sequence that's absolutely riveting.

Greengrass has married a cinema verite sensibility to the
structure of a mainstream action thriller, but it's the indie instinct
that proves dominant. Ultimatum has the urgency of a film
like Requiem for a Dream, by which I mean that by the time
you walk out, your jaw aches from being clenched... the various CIA
hitmen and "rendition" operatives are always just an instant behind
Bourne, and Greengrass fills his shots with authority figures and cold
white security cameras. He also dispenses with the studied rhythms of
classical Hollywood cinema; there are only a few go ahead, breathe
moments, and those that exist end with a merciful quickness.
You can always feel the hunters lurking in the background.

Along with Alfonso Cuaron, who directed last year's Children of
(another formally innovative and existentially troubled
masterpiece passing as a genre film), Greengrass is in a rare and
enviable position for any artist. He hasn't "sold out" by allowing his
style to be suffocated by the demands of filming major studio
pictures, but by virtue of the hugely successful Bourne
(and Ultimatum is going to be a massive
success, too, I think) he has wide latitude to select future projects
through which he can continue to explore the themes in which he's
shown a particular interest ( href=" ">asymmetric
warfare, most obviously) since Bloody Sunday. href="">Imperial Life in the
Emerald City
, his next project, should provide ample
opportunity in this regard. Can't wait to see it. (And can't wait to
see Ultimatum a second time.) The man's one of the great
modern directors, I think... I hope he takes full advantage of the
opportunity he's got right now.