STORY: Jason Bourne, a former CIA assassin is back to being hunted by the agency as he is out to pursue significant truths about a devastating past event involving Treadstone (CIA’s black- ops programme) that questions his motives.
REVIEW: With Jason Bourne, Matt Damon reprises his most celebrated screen character for the fourth time after a gap of nine years! Watching him dodge the hitmen with his lightening reflexes and ruthless killing abilities once again, is a sheer delight. His quiet charm and understated aura reminds us why it’s hard for other actors (read Jeremy Renner) to step into his shoes as far as the Bourne franchise is concerned.
Here, Damon reunites with Paul Greengrass (one of the best actor-director pairings) who gave us the brilliant The Bourne Supremacy and Ultimatum from the spectacular trilogy. While the duo retains the essence of the series, the spark is missing. Greengrass recreates the quintessential Bourne action replete with high octane chase sequences, fist fights, Bourne disappearing into thin air while making his way through hordes of people and ample gunshots, but you miss Jason Bourne’s enigmatic swag and vulnerability.
Damon slips into his character seamlessly even at 46, the flimsy plot, however, weighs him down. He is on the run once again, but his ’emotional reason’ for doing so is not compelling enough. To make things cliched and predictable, it doesn’t help that CIA asset (Vincent Cassel) has a score to settle with Bourne. The supporting characters lack substance and thus, the cat-and-mouse game between CIA director, Dewey (Tommy Lee Jones) and Bourne is not as riveting either. This makes one wonder if the fourth instalment was required in the first place as it ends up being likeable, but a formulaic remake of the previous three films, minus the thrill.
The highlight of the film is the iconic theme song ‘Extreme Ways’, which plays during the end credits. It reminds you that Bourne needs a solid script to come out of his ‘safe house’ if he intends to show up for the fifth time. The series needs to break away from its template if it seeks longevity.
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There’s an action sequence in Jason Bourne that is a thing of such cinematic beauty that nothing the director Paul Greengrass could have shown later on would have made me regret watching the film. In the sequences, the tension is first slowly allowed to simmer, as you’re familiarised with the setting—in this case, a civil war in Greece. The police are ready with their bullets and barricades, the rioters with their molotov cocktails. Nicki Parsons (Julia Stiles), meanwhile, has a bomb of her own to drop on Bourne (Matt Damon)… specifically about his past. The situation is now boiling. It is also at this time that CIA’s corrupt head, Dewey (Tommy Lee Jones), has arranged for an asset to close Bourne’s account (that’s CIA speak for assassination). And then, it all explodes… into the frenzied, pulsating action that we have come to love in the Bourne films. In its refusal to rely mainly on CGI, this entire sequence is a throwback to good ol’ fashioned action.
Director: Paul Greengrass
Genre: Action thriller
Cast: Matt Damon, Alicia Vikander, Julia Stiles, Tommy Lee Jones
Storyline: Jason Bourne is drawn out of hiding to learn some secrets about his past
Bottomline: Some great action sequences, but the same ol’ story
The story also—despite the attempts at retrofitting by bringing in the Edward Snowden angle and CIA’s ever-looming threat of privacy invasion (the riots in Greece ring all the more relevant, as the country is after all the birthplace of democracy)—harks back to the old Bourne films, all of whose plots can be simply described thus: Bourne resurfaces from hiding to learn more about his past before going off the radar again. Quite ironically though, this film begins with Bourne saying, “I remember everything”, the same line he utters at the end of The Bourne Ultimatum, directed by Greengrass himself. But as Nicki helps him see in Jason Bourne, memory and knowledge are two different things, and he still has a lot to know about himself and his father.
The problem though is that the lack of this knowledge doesn’t really make him seem vulnerable, and I’ve always liked him the most when he’s in doubt… when he’s human. Like in the opening scene of The Bourne Identity, when he wakes up riddled by bullets and without any memory of his past. However, once that engrossing sequence in Greece gets over and with it, his relationship with Nicki, Bourne almost becomes insuperable. You almost begin to feel sorry for all the assassins sent to take him down.
The emotional beats disappear too. His relationship with his dad isn’t really established well for you to feel any sense of loss. And in any case, it was his dad who put the whole chain of events in motion, making it hard for you to relate to Bourne’s sense of revenge. More interesting is the power struggle between Dewey and Heather Lee (Alicia Vikander), an ambitious CIA agent. I enjoyed that you could never tell what Heather’s motivation is. Is she playing the game because she likes Bourne, or is she interested in furthering her career? Or wait, perhaps she’s in it for the good of the world, and simply wants to stop Iron Hand, the upcoming invasive CIA program that’d give it access to omnipresent surveillance tools. Iornically enough, CIA seems scarily invasive even without the new program, be it using a traffic camera in Germany to watch Bourne, or controlling a satellite to learn about Bourne’s movements in Greece. So, what’s the fuss really about?
Jason Bourne is an action film after all, and so, Greengrass doesn’t linger too long before shifting the action to… Vegas, where tension again simmers just like in Greece. But the Vegas sequences lack the atmosphere, and the inventiveness. I didn’t understand why Bourne, after taking down the main adversary, still had to go on a never-ending chase to take down a lesser threat, the CIA’s asset, who takes control of a S.W.A.T truck and plays his version of Carmageddon on the roads of Vegas. But by this time, the film is simply going through the motions and hurtling in auto-pilot mode towards its rather predictable end. In all this, they even manage to sneak in the possibility of Bourne returning to CIA. But as Heather realises, he’s Bourne… not Bond.
The new Jason Bourne movie can be summed up rather easily: a bunch of random stuff happens, Tommy Lee Jones scowls, and then the entire cast of characters lazily meet up in Las Vegas for an exceptionally formulaic climax.
It pains me to say it, but Jason Bourne is a subpar movie that is more of a generic action film than it is a worthy addition to the Bourne cannon. As for some quick background, the film was written by Christopher Rouse, an award-winning film editor who took up writing duties for the first time on Jason Bourne. Rouse has an impressive resume as far as filmography is concerned, but his lack of writing experience shines through in this fourth installment of the Bourne series (the Jeremy Renner one doesn’t count). Not surprisingly, the vast majority of critics panned the movie for a wide variety of reasons.
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More than anything, the entire film lacked context. Things happen for no rhyme or reason with absolutely no explanation as to what is going on or why we should care about what’s going on. Even from one of the film’s first scene, questions abound. When we first come across Matt Damon as Jason Bourne, we see that he’s involved in number of unofficial bareknuckle fights in a desert-like environment on the outskirts of Greece. Bourne of course can absorb an ungodly amount of damage and can quickly dismantle any of his opponents with just one punch. That’s all well and good — Bourne is a badass after all — but we’re never told why Bourne is there or what compelled him to participate in an underground fighting ring. Context would have been helpful: Is he fighting for money? Is he fighting for sport? Is he fighting because that’s what Bourne is simply programmed to do?
Early on, we’re also re-introduced to Nicky Parsons — played by Julia Stiles — who for reasons that are never made clear, is in Iceland and is in the midst of hacking into CIA computers in order to steal sensitive information. When she uncovers information about how the agency recruited Bourne, she magically finds Bourne in the middle of nowhere and drops him a note asking him to meet her somewhere.
And from there, we’re taken on a 2-hour “thrill ride” that is effectively a generic cat and mouse game consisting of CIA director Robert Dewey (Tommy Lee Jones) and CIA Cyber Ops Guru Heather Lee (played by Alicia Vikander) trying to track down Bourne. Also in the mix is a cold-blooded CIA assassin (played by Vincent Cassel of Oceans 12 fame) who, like Dewey and Lee, is trying to track Bourne down and kill him, albeit for his own reasons.
In an abstract sense, this plot offers up a lot of potential, but the actual execution leaves much to be desired. Due to a subpar script, we’re never given a sense of who any of the characters are. During the course of the movie, Heather Lee decides to help Bourne at critical times for reasons that are never made clear. Is she wary of the way that her CIA boss is running things? Is she angling for a position of power herself? Does she empathize with how Bourne has been treated? We really have no idea, which is often why the film felt like a string of loosely connected events shown in random succession.
Also problematic is that the action in this movie is abysmal. Nearly all of the chase and fighting scenes move so quickly that it’s literally impossible to grasp what’s going on. Scenes that should have been exciting were rendered helplessly boring due to quick camera cuts that seemingly shifted every half-second. What’s more, the camera footage itself is so jerky that it was hard to process what was going on even in more sustained shots. To this point, a popular thread on Reddit argues that the shaky camera work on Jason Bourne is some of the worst to ever grace the silver screen.
If you can’t stand shaky cam, don’t watch Jason Bourne. It’s bad in this one. Probably the worst I’ve ever seen. There are parts where two people are talking and the camera is zoomed in and shaking for no reason. Guy sitting on the couch, camera shakes. Bourne reading a text, camera shakes. Alicia Vikander staring intensely, camera shakes. There’s a fight scene at the end and it’s nearly unwatchable.
This is 100% spot-on. One of the things that made the original Bourne movie so great is that the camera zoomed out and let viewers in on the action, allowing us to actually see the mechanics of Bourne’s awesome fighting style. Unfortunately, there is hardly one memorable fight or car chase scene throughout the entirety of the film, if only because the camera moves too fast for us to really take anything in.
Unfortunately, the laundry list of other problems with the movie is long. For instance, CIA director Dewey apparently has no problem killing 4 of his own CIA agents just so that he can plausibly argue that killing Bourne is a necessity. What’s more, Damon as Bourne barely has any speaking lines. He’s effectively been turned into a zombie running on auto-pilot which is partly why the film failed to deliver any truly memorable action scene, story line or dialogue.
The A.V. Club really nails it in their own review:
What Jason Bourne really has is a Jason Bourne problem. The character’s driven blankness, his total lack of psychology, made sense when he was still a man without a past. (In the underrated original, it actually made him rather likable, like a Hitchcockian wrong man.) But even with a full biography, Bourne is still just an empty cipher, devoid of any trait but determination; Greengrass attempts to give him a personal stake in the action—a new crusade for information, fueled by daddy issues—but it’s painfully clear now that there’s just no one there with Bourne, embodied by Damon through a complete suppression of his star charisma.
I really wanted to like Jason Bourne and walked in with high expectation. But sadly, the film lacks any semblance of saving grace. All in all, Jason Bourne is uneventful, predictable and altogether tedious. Whether you’re a big fan of the series or not, do yourself a favor and see something else instead. It’ll be a good 2 hours well saved.