Jason Bourne, 2016
Directed by Paul Greengrass.
Starring Matt Damon, Julia Stiles, Alicia Vikander, Vincent Cassel, Riz Ahmed and Tommy Lee Jones.
After almost a decade off the grid, rogue assassin Jason Bourne must return to the dark intelligence conspiracy which created him when a face from his past reveals the black ops project has started once again…
You all know the story. Neither star Matt Damon nor director Paul Greengrass ever intended to make Jason Bourne. It was the sequel to a trilogy they had (largely) crafted together for many years neither intended to do without the other, or without a worthy reason. Tony Gilroy’s The Bourne Legacy attempted to expand outward a franchise without realise Bourne himself was the reason we watched, not the mythology, and finally Damon & Greengrass, in the post-Edward Snowden landscape of global surveillance, hipster young geniuses becoming profligate in starting billion dollar companies, global currencies causing nationalist destabilisation and increasing Draconian laws revolving around freedom and online privacy, they found their hook. Jason could be re-Bourne almost a decade down the road where technology and the influence of social media already have vastly changed the landscape Damon’s recalcitrant assassin last attempted to expose the black ops, dirty dealings of corrupt ‘patriots’ inside the US political machine. He was a Mancurian Candidate of the digital age, but what of the cyber age? Much like Bond has needed to re-define his relevance, so Bourne does here. Thankfully it’s with style and largely thrilling substance that he manages to prove once again we need him and his extreme ways.
It’s been calculated that Matt Damon only says just under 190 words in the entire movie, and you can believe that; Greengrass & Christopher Rouse’s script parses back as much dialogue for Bourne as possible a la the previous pictures, making him a hero on the move, but imbuing him with no less character motivation. Bourne here is a man long in the tooth, living a non-life off the grid, and increasingly struggling to deny the man-made weapon that he is; Damon conveys that inner torment that still haunts him to the point that when circumstances (delivered in a suitably calamitous series of true life aping events in Athens) force him back into the game, you believe he still has truth worth fighting for, even if admittedly the story has forced out a niche of mystery Bourne’s saga never truly needed. What it adds however is context to how Bourne’s journey began in the first place which, even if you didn’t need it, is nonetheless welcome.
His own personal arc is largely the filling to the meat of what you suspect Greengrass is really interested in – the new socio-political playing field his latest Bourne entry takes place in. The world of intelligence, as embodied by Tommy Lee Jones’ wonderfully hawkish & unscrupulous CIA director Robert Dowey, has never been murkier and more in danger of being unchecked, and Bourne is flung right into the middle of a fusion not just of aggressive freedom-curtailing policy, but a nefarious government agenda to use Deep Dream (a variant on Apple) in order to further their Orwellian erosion of personal freedoms. It’s timely and scary, if a little hysterical.
Much like recent James Bond films have contrasted the idea of modern intelligence gathering with the need for blunt instruments of modern espionage and warfare, Greengrass continues touching on that contrast here, not just in Bourne’s re-emergence as a dangerous asset out in the wind, but also Vincent Cassel’s foreign former Treadstone agent who ruthlessly pursues Bourne when secrets threaten to spill out; Cassel fills the same role we’ve seen actors like Clive Owen or Karl Urban play in previous outings, the cold-hearted assassin who acts as the flipside of Bourne’s coin, but here there’s an element of the two sides being blurred; there’s not just personal animus between these two but also Bourne’s own inner conflict about his place in the world, and his place in relation to the CIA.
While Cassel is cold, quiet and vicious in that contrast, the balance is meant to be applied through Alicia Vikander’s CIA operative Heather Lee, quite cunning in her manipulation of Bourne and her difficult relationship with Dowey, only Vikander just feels a touch miscast. She grows into the role as the picture, and her character, develops but nonetheless she just seems to lack the deviousness and perhaps steel to sell the part, as strong an actress as she is. If there’s a weak link, Heather’s it, she and certain story components; there’s an argument for repetition in certain elements of Bourne’s globe-trotting sojourns here and perhaps too great a stripped back reliance on computer screens and allowing John Powell/David Buckley’s score to carry the narrative. The action more than compensates however; a pulse pounding motorbike chase in Athens, multiple knuckle cracking fights and a final, thrilling set piece across Las Vegas are as kinetic as anything we’ve seen in the series previously.
Even though it may not quite be the revelation of a story or movie Paul Greengrass & Matt Damon may have imagined, or promised, Jason Bourne is a more than worthy entry into the series canon and without erasing the leaden, underwhelming Legacy, it returns to much more of the swift, stylish kinetic action the series made its name on. Damon’s presence inevitably makes all the difference, imbuing Bourne once again with that iconic sense of heroic gravitas that makes him such a powerful modern anti-hero of sorts, flanked by a talented supporting cast who on the whole make the most of their roles. To an extent it treads similar beats as previous films, only fleshing out the Bourne backstory further as opposed to particularly adding to it, but the action and levels of suspense, not to mention the technical execution, once again match the quality of at least The Bourne Ultimatum, if the whole package isn’t quite the series at its best. Now Bourne has returned fully in the digital age, it would be a shame to see him disappear again into the shadows.
Flickering Myth Rating – Film: ★ ★ ★ ★ / Movie: ★ ★ ★ ★
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