Director: Paul Greengrass
Cast: Matt Damon, Alicia Vikander, Tommy Lee Jones, Vincent Cassel, Julia Stiles, Riz Ahmed, Ato Essandoh
MPAA Rating: (for intense sequences of violence and action, and brief strong language)
Running Time: 2:03
Release Date: 7/29/16
Review by Mark Dujsik | July 28, 2016
Jason Bourne returns to the series that bears his name after a cumbersome attempt to switch protagonists in The Bourne Legacy. That entry/spin-off felt unnecessary, and if it's possible, this one feels even more so. The plots of the first three Bourne adventures basically repeated themselves, simply swapping in different locations, different antagonists, and different names for the top-secret government program that was trying to kill our hero.
That was fine for the most part, because the primary point of the films was to place the hero in a string of action sequences. If those worked, the film did its job. They often worked.
By the third film, we got to the truth of the character's origin—his name and his motive for becoming a government-run assassin—and his desire to fully escape that past. Jason Bourne doesn't ignore what came before it, but there's a constant sense that the flimsy screenplay by director Paul Greengrass and editor Christopher Rouse wishes it could. As they struggle to figure out some reason to bring back Bourne, the screenwriters overwhelm us with repetitive exposition in the form of dialogue and flashbacks. There is—no joking—even a scene in which our hero remembers having a flashback that took place on screen about five to 10 minutes earlier. It should go without saying that the flashback within the flashback only iterates information we learned the first time we saw it.
This plot is yet another rehash of the previous ones. At the start, Bourne (played by Matt Damon with an air of weariness that might be Method acting) is again in hiding. He still wants to be finished with the program that turned him into a killer. His relative peacefulness (relative in the sense that he's an underground fighter in Eastern Europe) is once again threatened because of circumstances beyond his control.
His old CIA contact Nicky Parsons (Julia Stiles, completing the cycle of her thankless role as the helpful provider of back story, although neither she nor Damon seems convinced about the premise this time) is now part of a WikiLeaks-style organization. She has hacked the agency and found old files on Bourne. Nicky arranges a meeting with Bourne to get him the files and to reveal that the CIA is yet again planning to start another super-top-secret program.
At Langley, Robert Dewey (Tommy Lee Jones), the agency's director, and Heather Lee (Alicia Vikander), a talented analyst, fear that Bourne might make the information public. They set out to stop him, while Dewey puts together his ultra-top-secret plan of gathering data on the citizens of the world—by repeatedly meeting in public with a social network mogul (Riz Ahmed).
The idea behind the government conspiracy is new to the series, although—as should be apparent by the observation above—it's not a persuasively communicated one. That's partially because this element of the plot has little to do with Bourne. It's simply happening while Bourne is trying to piece together additional details about his past, before he joined the assassin program. Bourne ends up involved because his investigation leads him to Dewey and another CIA asset (Vincent Cassel) who has a personal vendetta against Bourne. Eventually, the feeling is mutual.
The sense of disconnect is mostly because Greengrass and Rouse treat this plot like every other story in the Bourne series: It's just a reason to have Bourne fight, run, shoot, and drive in locales across the globe. Something, though, has changed from the previous installments.
From a chase through the riot-laden streets of Athens to an incredibly destructive one down the Las Vegas Strip, Greengrass' approach to the movie's action scenes is one of engineered chaos. They lack the clear-headed logistics and the spatial cohesion of the series' best—or even just good—sequences. The car chases have become exercises in vehicular carnage. The cat-and-mouse games between Bourne and CIA operatives play out like rote game of follow the leader (The presence of Lee, whose skills in reading the layout of a situation border on clairvoyance, comes close to adding a clever level to a couple of sequences). A no-holds-barred brawl that serves as the climax is brutal but, like the Athens chase, shot too darkly for it to really work.
There always has been a cyclical nature to this series—the understanding that Bourne is trapped in a recurring loop of conspiracy, even as the names and faces change around him. It pointed to a cynical view of the world, but barring the previous and Bourne-free one, it never felt as if the movies were made for cynical reasons. With its redundant plotting and hastily assembled action, Jason Bourne does feel that way.
Copyright © 2016 by Mark Dujsik. All rights reserved.
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