Jason Bourne – a review

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Matt Damon as Jason Bourne – aiding the cause of the American Rifle Association

Steve McQueen was a self-regarding, mean-spirited movie star who red penned a lot of his dialogue, or gave it to a supporting actor. This left him to play Mr Strong and Silent, a technique that guaranteed the camera had to be on him if it was to convey any of his character’s emotion to us. His character was always Steve McQueen, King of Cool, truculent rebel, with at least one motorbike chase and one car chase written into his contract. McQueen was also late on the set.

Matt Damon who plays Jason Bourne is the antithesis of McQueen. By all accounts, totally professional, generous to his acting colleagues, politically liberal, choosing scripts with a good message as well as a good story. But in his latest outing as the haunted special operations man he hardly speaks a word. This is a waste of his skill to deliver a line with weight and meaning. And there is not a moment where he can crack a smile let alone a joke. He does, however ride a motorbike in a hunt chase in the first reel, and drives a car too fast in the third reel. Something has gone seriously wrong.

There’s a moment in Connery’s Thunderball, fighting with eye patch villain Emilio Largo in his yacht, when the scene is speeded up to show us the speedboat is aiming straight for a rocky outcrop. We laugh because the special effect is so clunky. Today we are used to the subtlety of computer generated effects that can heighten real life and still make what we see seem natural. Jason Bourne is one long special effect. Everything is larger than life. That pairing down to basics is perhaps why producers gave us only his name as the title, there’s no ‘identity’, ‘legacy’ or ‘supremacy’.

A more appropriate title would be Jason Bourne Walking. He does a lot of that.

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Tommy Lee Jones – more lines on his face than delivered by Bourne

For the first five minutes we get a rehash of key scenes from the past Bourne films. Did the producers worry they were a generation late in getting the fifth Bourne film made, no one would remember plot? This is Damon’s fourth go, he sat out the previous entry, The Bourne Legacy, which starred a capable but underwhelming Jeremy Renner.

What it signals is a reboot, and quite frankly I am getting fed up paying good money to see essentially the same film repeated, but played back to front. Anywhere else that’s called misrepresentation of goods.

The film’s biggest flaw, and it has many, is the total lack of mystery, the one quality that had us watch the last films. Bourne knows who he is, wants to be left alone, but is asked to ‘come back in’ to the agency, so they can kill him, yet again, the bad guys inside the agency worried he might reveal their dastardly plans. Well, common sense tells the stupidest idiot to leave Bourne alone and he won’t be drawn into the agency’s unethical and unlawful conspiracies, and want to do something about the sleaze.

Like the Bond movies – which this franchise frightened sufficiently for Bond’s producers to panic and alter Bond’s character out of all recognition – Bourne gives us exotic locations. They don’t make up for the lack of plot. The annoyance is Jason Bourne goes over ground too similar to its predecessors, minus the poetic urgency of Bourne’s quest for self-discovery — surely a profoundly critical element.

When the new film opens, a forlorn Bourne is adrift on the Greece-Albania border earning a living as an underground bare knuckles fighter, downing opponents with a single punch, not a great way of giving the paying, betting, braying spectators their money’s worth.

Fellow renegade agent Nicky Parsons, (the underused Julia Stiles) hacks into a government computer and digs up a file suggesting that Bourne’s father may have been involved with the program that took away the young man’s identity, a discovery which is almost all the plot. Wanting to know why his father lost his life is Bourne’s entire quest. By not giving us any back story on Bourne’s relationship with his father, we’re left Bourne bored.

Anyway, all these threads plus more skulduggery from Bourne’s agency that should know better by now converge to form a narrative curiously devoid of suspense. We get a topical conspiracy this time, a Face Book type Internet company that is in league with the devil but that too feels curiously lifted from another film, and antiseptic.

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Bourne earns a living as a street fighter, yet he has cash stashed in lockers

The performances are competently unimpressive. Damon has a good line in looking quizzical and intense, and the earlier films used that quality to locate a quiet pathos in this badass character, a vulnerability. Here he just seems puzzled.

Robert Dewey, the agency boss, (Tommy Lee Jones) is reduced to staring at employees menacingly and giving out orders. He plays a variation of our own Brian Cox who was also once a corrupt Bourne boss. The normally exciting French actor, Vincent Cassel as Bourne’s deadly nemesis, is here reduced to – you’ve guessed it, walking and driving fast. In fact, Cassel is criminally underused.

There is the token bitch from hell role for Heather Lee, but she too is a one note Harridan.  Her character is a computer-surveillance expert, so we get to see her do nifty stuff with facial-recognition software, but not much of that important thing called acting.

There’s assassination in crowded streets as before, a trick to heighten the drama – where either no one notices or everybody screams and runs in all directions; overkill in dead bodies; far too many car crashes, and interesting inclusion of political riots in Athens, Greece. The camerawork is as before, hand held, shaky, and often annoyingly frenetic.

Director Paul Greengrass’s signature style is predicable, ‘keep it moving 100 miles hour on the bends and 150 on the straights’. We’ve seen it all before. Though we thought Bourne had killed off the outdated Bond, the Bond franchise may just outlive an aimless Bourne.

If asked for a one-line critique I’d say more Where’s Waldo? than Where’s Bourne?

  • Star Rating: Three stars (Almost two!)
  • Starring: Matt Damon, Tommy Lee Jones, Heather Lee, Vincent Cassel
  • Screenplay: Paul Greengrass, Christopher Ruse
  • Director: Paul Greengrass
  • Cinematographer: Barry Ackroyd
  • Duration: 123 minutes

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6 Responses to Jason Bourne – a review

  1. Papko says:

    I agree with much of your review , We watched it last week , and I barely managed to sit through it .(which is too its credit ).

    Its the same scene rehashed 3 times , with some car chases added , or bolted on in places.

    During the film, it made me think the Director, was struggling for ideas from the start , and he just looked in the fridge and hashed up some mashed potatoes with a fired onion. “oh that worked in Supremacy, the Waterloo station scene , lets add a car chase , then cut to the CIA ops room , then back to …………”

    Greengrass must be aware of this , his two previous efforts with Bourne , I would call superior pop corn munching fun , with a degree of tension and some original solutions to making home-made weapons and bombs (also missing from this one)

    I agree Bourne has dropped the ball and there looks like nothing left in the franchise, meanwhile Bond has picked up again.

    For me the fascination of Bourne is the vulnerability, the headaches , the amnesia , coupled with advanced survival skills , so I guess I will have to get the first one out of the rack ( Bourne Identity) and remind myself what it was .

    • Grouse Beater says:

      Spot on, Papko.

      I give the director top marks for the Athens riots. Half-thought he’d placed Damon and a camera crew in the middle of the real thing so realistic are the sequences, but after that it was just one long … walk and chase.

      And for a man barely making a living out of street fighting where the hell did Bourne get the money to go globetrotting in such style? Just asking, as they say.

  2. Papko says:

    Nearly forgot, What a waste of Vincent Cassel, I will have to” Mesrine” out of the collection as well and pay homage to him, maybe” Black Swan” as well. Why they cast a good actor as Bourne’s foil is another mystery.

  3. Stoker says:

    I doubt very much that i will ever get to see any of the Bourne movies, i’m not that keen on what i refer to as “crash, boom, bang films.” It takes a bit more effort than car chases and guns to keep me interested.

    Having said that though, i was taken to see Suicide Squad this weekend and quite enjoyed it, the movie had a good soundtrack to it and then i was treated to a meal at Franky & Benny’s, Mmmmm.

    I noticed in your review Grouse that you reffered to Brian Cox in one of the Bourne films. I may be tempted to give that a once over because, along with Morgan Freeman and Anthony Hopkins, Cox makes up my top three actors and i’ll more or less watch anything containing any of those three.

    • Grouse Beater says:

      As a support actor he’s always reliable to give a characterful performance. The one he was in is the Bourne Identity. Met him once, socially, in New York. Small guy, jovial.

  4. Papko says:

    I agree Stoker, “crash, boom, bang films.” do nothing for me either. But Bourne in the first 3 outings was different.

    The premise is a special forces soldier, who is “brainwashed” by the CIA, as part of a training regime. Then sent out on assassin missions, he malfunctions during one and suffers amnesia. He does not know who he is, and the CIA want him back. It’s when they go to try and catch him they realise how well they trained him.

    Though far fetched at times, he does climb up drain pipes, break into houses, concoct various traps and weapons out of sticky tape, an electric fan and a newspaper, etc. He can play chess, speak multiple languages, a more than competent, mechanic, electrician, a world class martial artist, and an expert in urban espionage. Yet he does not know his name or remember anything about his past, suffers headaches, scared of glaring lights.

    It’s just an intriguing combination and a premise for a series of films.

    As an aside, when the third one come out in 2007, it was much anticipated, and the opening night saw the Cinema fill up with many people you would not normally of associated with an opening night, a fair varied crowd. After the scene at the start set in Waterloo station, the audience cheered and clapped.

    In my 15 years working in Cinemas, that did not happen often, for any film.

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