Director: Paul Greengrass
Starring: Matt Damon, Alicia Vikander, Tommy Lee Jones, Vincent Cassel, Julia Stiles
After a real misstep with the spin-off The Bourne Legacy, which tried to continue a franchise without its titular character, star Matt Damon and director Paul Greengrass have been lured back after nine years to the franchise they both declared they were done with for Jason Bourne. However, in watching this fourth instalment in franchise (we should take our lead from this film and just pretend The Bourne Legacy never happened) it is difficult to see what it was that caused their change of heart.
Jason Bourne (Matt Damon) has been off the grid for a number of years but he is tracked down by old ally Nicky Parsons (Julia Stiles). She has hacked into the CIA’s system determined to expose their black ops programs, including Treadstone, and in the process has uncovered some information about Bourne’s father. This network security breach catches the attention of CIA analyst Heather Lee (Alicia Vikander) who brings it to the attention of CIA director Robert Dewey (Tommy Lee Jones). With Bourne back in their sights Dewey engages the services of an assassin known only as ‘The Asset’ (Vincent Cassel). But the ambitious Lee believes that it is still possible to bring Bourne in and that she is just the person to do it.
The Bourne Ultimatum really appeared to have closed the book on the amnesiac assassin Jason Bourne. He had regained his memory and found the answers he sought. But, as Nicky says, to lure him back in, “Just because you remember everything doesn’t mean you know everything.” So while we continue to learn about the Treadstone program and the people responsible for it, we have moved beyond the questions that Bourne had previously been pursuing answers to. Consequently, Jason Bourne doesn’t feel so much like a natural continuation of Bourne’s journey of literal self discovery as an awkward, tangential piece of retconning to allow for franchise continuation. Co-written by Greengrass and his editor Christopher Rouse, the film is thin on narrative, overly dependent on our pre-existing investment in the story and character rather than making its own engaging contributions to the furthering of the story. As as the titular character Matt Damon is given precious few lines which makes Bourne feel a bit one dimensional. Granted, the nature of this character means he has always acted on instinct and muscle memory while in search of his identity, memory and therefore personality, but there is little evidence of character progression here.
The world has changed significantly in the near decade since we last saw Bourne on our screens. We now live in a world of cyber surveillance and hacking, a world of WikiLeaks and Edward Snowden, and Jason Bourne feels very much like an attempt to make a Bourne film for this new world. A secondary plot concerns a Mark Zuckerberg-style young tech mogul, Aaron Kalloor (Riz Ahmed), who has been coerced by the CIA into allowing them to use his social media platform Deep Dream to mine data on its 1.5 billion users. The film straddles the old and new, with the weathered and weary face of Tommy Lee Jones’s Dewey represents the old CIA, while the youth and ambition of Lee represents the new world. Sporting tinges of grey, Bourne himself appears a man out of time. He is a low-tech man in a high-tech world, a disconnect brought home by the fact that this film about cyber surveillance and security both starts and finishes with him engaged in bruising fist fights.
The Bourne franchise almost single handedly redefined action cinema. The second and third instalment, in which Greengrass took over the reins from The Bourne Identity’s Doug Liman, introduced the intense vérité aesthetic to action which has been so influential, and and even prompted the re-imagination of James Bond in Casino Royale. Jason Bourne has some strong action sequences, particularly an early motorbike chase through the rioting streets of Athens. However, as the film progresses, the action starts to feel a bit more by the numbers. The shaky cam, having been so widely mimicked, feels a bit old-hat now, and the dedication to gritty realism is completely undermined by a finale car chase down the strip in Las Vegas which is as over the top as anything you will see in Fast & Furious without any of the accompanying sense of fun.
While Jason Bourne kind of looks and kind of feels like the old Bourne, it isn’t. Somethings is missing. While fans of the franchise will derive some pleasure from entering this world again, without any notable contributions to the development of this character the film just doesn’t feel necessary and fails to measure up to the high bar this franchise has set for itself.
Review by Duncan McLean
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