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Bourne Free

Matt Damon
Matt Damon
Universal Pictures
 123 Minutes
Rated: PG-13
Directed by:  Paul Greengrass
Starring: Matt Damon, Tommy Lee Jones
Jason Bourne

In the middle of a summer featuring one film revival, sequel, or reboot after another that left audiences shaking their heads and wondering why anyone bothered, we finally get one which shows that even the oldest of franchises can still have some life to it when a sequel hits the right buttons. Matt Damon hadn’t played the role of super assassin Jason Bourne since 2007, and the franchise had suffered some critical damage when the producers tried an ill-advised reboot of sorts with Jeremy Renner as another take on the Bourne mold. Nonetheless, Damon returns in Jason Bourne, looking fit as ever (if a bit beaten around the edges) in a franchise that is almost as fit as ever (if a bit beaten around the edges),


Jason Bourne is the first Bourne movie that’s not actually based on a book by Robert Ludlum, but that’s no real obstacle, since the cinematic version of the character soon became molded more by Matt Damon and director Paul Greenglass than by anything Ludlum ever wrote. A bigger problem is the fact that screenwriter Tony Gilroy, who penned the other Bourne movies, including the Renner effort, is gone, replaced by Greengrass and his editor Christopher Rouse. Their contribution seems to have been to pack as many chase and stalk sequences as possible in the movie to showcase their own talents, a move that leaves viewers feeling a bit winded by the end.


As in real life, Jason Bourne takes place a few years after the title character was last seen in The Bourne Ultimatum. Bourne finally knows who he is and how the CIA wiped his memory and trained him to be an assassin. He’s now eking out a living in Eastern Europe engaging in back alley boxing matches for money when he is approached by the closest person he has to a friend, Nicky Parsons (Julia Stiles). She has left the agency and is working with some Wikileaks-style hackers investigating covert government activities. What she discovers is that the CIA selected Bourne as a potential assassin long before the events depicted in the earlier movies and was involved in the death of his father (Gregg Henry), a former agency analyst.


Nicky’s activities attract the attention of the new CIA director Robert Dewey (Tommy Lee Jones), who doesn’t need the distraction, especially once she contacts Bourne. Dewey has got a major new operation he’s preparing to launch that will help him keep cyber-tabs on people who use a Facebook-type program developed by a high tech billionaire, Aaron Kalloor (Riz Ahmed), who is secretly working with Dewey. Instead, Dewey sends a hit man known simply as “the Asset” (Vincent Cassel) to Athens, where Nicky is meeting Bourne. In addition to the Asset, Dewey has the assistance of the CIA’s new cyber-expert, Heather Lee (Alicia Vikander), who is very good at quickly sorting through the data at her disposal to try to locate Bourne. Once Bourne learns more about what’s going on, he’s drawn back into his former lifestyle, pursuing the full truth of what happened to his father.


Perhaps because of the absence of Gilroy, Jason Bourne is the most action oriented of all the Bourne films. I’ve never been a fan of Greengrass’ use of shaky, hand held cameras, but they actually work rather well here because of the nature of the major set pieces. The film has three big action sequences, set in Athens, London, and Las Vegas, and, in each of them, there are multiple characters moving around on unspecified missions, while surveillance cameras report on what they can see.


These sequences are about as complex as you’re going to see in films nowadays, and Greengrass and Rouse (the set pieces are marvelously edited) blend the action in the field with the surveillance in CIA headquarters brilliantly. Part of the fun in watching these set pieces is the audience’s not knowing at first just what everyone is up to and gradually figuring it out as the scene progresses. Ironically, the more traditional aspects of the set pieces, like car and motorcycle chases, and a final showdown between Bourne and the Asset in the storm drains underneath Las Vegas, don’t work as well (although Greengrass’ camera antics are less annoying than in some of the earlier Bourne films).


It’s the non-action sequences where Gilroy’s absence is felt the most. Although Bourne does learn more about his history during this movie, it’s mostly merely cumulative (after all, once you learn the CIA has wiped out your memory to make you a trained assassin, there is little new that can really shock you). Matt Damon’s vulnerability, which gradually surfaced through the course of the earlier trilogy, elevated the movies beyond standard action espionage fare, but his character is largely on autopilot here. While Damon’s physicality is quite evident (he can now give Tom Cruise a run for his money), his acting skills aren’t called upon that much.


Nor does the rest of the cast help Damon much here. Tommy Lee Jones has pretty much been on autopilot the last few years, and his CIA director is yet another of his burned out, world-weary bureaucrats whose every line sounds like a sigh. Vincent Cassel makes for a worthy adversary, but the script pretty much limits him to brief phone conversations and silent preparation sequences in which he moves into position and sets up shop for his next kill. The most notable member of the supporting cast is Alicia Vikander, in large part because she has the most lines (she’s always figuring out what Bourne is up to and directing CIA forces in the field).


Jason Bourne does touch on surveillance issues far more than did the earlier films in the series (there’s some Snowden references here), and the notion of the CIA conspiring with a monster social media site to keep tabs on people is fertile ground for any number of movies. To his credit, Greengrass does look at those issues here, but he never devotes enough time to the subplot to make it stand out among the usual CIA dirty tricks that are also well in evidence here. In fact, while the way in which the CIA keeps tabs on Bourne’s movements, at least some of the time, during the chase sequences recalls the TV show Person of Interest, those sequences also leave the audience with the impression that the TV show handled the topic much better.


There’s no question that Greengrass drafted this script to play to his and co-writer Rouse’s strengths. It’s the equivalent of a batting practice pitcher in baseball, as the script mostly sends Bourne and his pursuers from one distinctive locale to another. The strength of the film lies in the way in which each set piece is meticulously set up, blending dozens of individual shots of the various characters as they move into place, all the while maintaining an air of mystery and building suspense. Although there are similarities in the three major action sequences, they are each distinct enough so as not to feel repetitious. Greengrass missed an opportunity to capitalize on all the assets at his disposal here, most notably a terrific cast, but he keeps things moving well enough to make Jason Bourne a lightweight but fast moving summer treat.     

In this scene, Matt Damon chases Vincent Cassel through the streets of Las Vegas. 

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Jason Bourne (2016) on IMDb