Film Review – Jason Bourne
The last time we saw the amnesiac super agent Jason Bourne (Matt Damon) was in director Paul Greengrass’ The Bourne Ultimatum (2007). Many believed that would be the last installment of the character we would see. Well, nine years and a forgettable spin off (The Bourne Legacy, 2012) later, Damon and Greengrass return once more to give us yet another entry: the aptly titled Jason Bourne (2016). Does this latest effort inject some life into the franchise and bring it to new and interesting places? Not really.
The further the series has gone on, the less interesting Jason Bourne became as a character. Here, we see him as a square, defined only by his ability to be the cleverest guy in the room and have the ability to beat up anyone who says otherwise. It’s a bit shocking how Greengrass (who cowrote the screenplay with Christopher Rouse, Tony Gilroy nowhere to be found) provides no significant dimension to Bourne. Once again, we see him struggle to remember his past. Once again, we see him fight off CIA agents bent on taking him down. It’s a rehash of the same plot structure of the previous films. Some may say that the James Bond or Mission: Impossible franchises are guilty of doing the same thing, but at least those try to give each one its own fresh approach. That’s not the case here.
We find Bourne living his days off the grid, participating in amateur brawls to stay afloat. He gets pulled back into the fray when his old colleague Nicky (Julia Stiles) informs him of top-secret government intelligence that reveals truths about his past as well as the program that first recruited him as an assassin. Meanwhile, CIA director Robert Dewey (Tommy Lee Jones) leads a taskforce to track them both down, enlisting computer wiz Heather (Alicia Vikander) to assist in the mission. Throw in some corrupt government practices, a social media mogul (Riz Ahmed), and a new asset (Vincent Cassel) and you got the makings of a bonafide Bourne cuisine!
Paul Greengrass has the distinction of incorporating the hand held, shaky cam approach to his direction. At best, this style leads to an immediacy in the action, ramping the tension up and giving the sensation that we are right in the thick of things. At worst, it’s a stomach-churning cacophony of blurry imagery. Sad to say, Jason Bourne falls into the latter category. Greengrass places so much energy into rocking the camera and cutting every one to two seconds that we never get a moment to cool down and figure out if the plot makes any sense (maybe that was his intention). There are moments where we sense a strong set piece taking place, but we never get the opportunity to grasp its scope because Greengrass doesn’t allow us to. In a key chase sequence on the Vegas strip, there are flashes telling us that this is an exciting sequence, but the cinematography (Barry Ackroyd) and editing (Christopher Rouse) jumbles the imagery. Two cars can speed down the street, crash into one another, reverse course, and take a different path in the span of four or five seconds. In reality, Greengrass is cheating us out of the thrill of the action.
Which makes it all the more stranger at how much of a drag this all is. For as fast as the pacing is, there doesn’t seem to be much fun going on here. Nearly all of the actors walk around with glib expressions, the sole exception being Tommy Lee Jones who tries his darnedest to spark some life through his screen presence alone. It’s a shame, because these are first-rate performers. Matt Damon, Alicia Vikander, and Vincent Cassel are all charming in their own right, but they’re suppressed by a recycled story that doesn’t give them much to go on. These people are just staring at computer screens, talking on phones, walking somewhere, running somewhere, driving a car, shooting a gun, they all appear to be going through the motions.
The lack of innovation in writing really takes a toll on Jason Bourne. By now, unraveling the mystery of Bourne’s past is not enough to keep us engaged. It’s a premise that has been visited three times, and no matter what kind of “twist” the plot tries to throw at us, it’s only window dressing trying to cover up something we’ve already seen before. It’s not that the production had any glaring missteps; it’s just that they didn’t do anything interesting. Why is it important to revisit this character narratively? In the big picture, what does this do that distinguishes it from the other entries? There was a hollow feeling left when I walked out of the theater, I saw something that was supposed to put me on the edge of my seat but it didn’t. It’s hard to get drawn into something when there’s no soul underneath.