Reviewed by GREG KING
Director: Paul Greengrass
Stars: Matt Damon, Alicia Vikander, Tommy Lee Jones, Vincent Cassel, Riz Ahmed, Julia Stiles, Gregg Henry, Ato Essendoh, Scott Shepherd, Bill Camp.
The film adaptations of Robert Ludlum’s novels about Jason Bourne, an amnesiac assassin trying to piece together his own identity while outrunning and outgunning assassins was very influential in shaping and reinvigorating the Bond franchise as well as inspiring action films like Taken and its ilk. Nine years ago, following The Bourne Ultimatum, Matt Damon, the star of the three legitimate Bourne movies, stated that he was reluctant to make another one, unless director Paul Greengrass also returned. In the meantime we have had the misfire of 2012’s The Bourne Legacy, which starred Jeremy Renner as another deadly assassin who was also a product of the CIA’s mysterious Treadstone program. This film pretends like The Bourne Legacy never happened.
Nine years after The Bourne Ultimatum, Damon returns as the eponymous amnesiac assassin. And Greengrass returns to the director’s chair.
When we last saw Bourne he had dived into the East River, and has been presumed dead. But he has been living off the grid, and mainly existing in remote parts of Europe. He has also been continually honing his skills by taking part in underground fight clubs. But he is reluctantly drawn back into the murky world of espionage and shadowy assassins when he is approached by former CIA agent Nicky Parsons (Julia Stiles). From Iceland she has hacked into the CIA’s data base and has gained access to their classified top secret files about their black operations like Treadstone. She has also gained information about Bourne’s real identity.
It is information that the CIA’s director Robert Dewey (a typically gruff and craggy Tommy Lee Jones) wants kept hidden. Working with data analyst Heather Lee (Alicia Vikander, from Ex-Machina, etc), an expert in the world of cyber technology, Dewey tracks Parsons in the hope of finding and silencing Bourne once and for all. Dewey shares a history with Bourne that he would rather remain hidden. He sends a ruthlessly efficient and sociopathic assassin, known only as Asset (played by Vincent Cassel, from Partisan, etc), after the pair. Thus sets in motion a desperate chase that races from the hills of Greece to Paris to Berlin, Washington, London and on to the glittering gambling Mecca of Las Vegas.
Meanwhile Dewy is in league with the charismatic Aaron Kalloor (Riz Ahmed, from Nightcrawler) the head of technology company Deep Dream, to create a global surveillance system that will pass every bit of information that passes through the internet goes into the CIA’s hands.
Lee’s motives in tracking Bourne are at odds with Dewey’s. A product of a changing world, Lee wants to bring Bourne in from the cold as she believes that his deadly skills can serve the agency in this brave new world of terrorism. Bourne is not sure how far he can trust her though.
Jason Bourne has been written by Greengrass and Christopher Rouse (Captain Phillips, etc), his regular editor, and moves away from the original Ludlum novels as it deals with Bourne’s attempts to uncover the key questions about his real identity and the illegal CIA program that created him. There is a sense of familiarity to much of the plot details of this globe trotting thriller though. Once the plot kicks in in earnest the scene is set for some frantic chases and lots of international locales.
Although he comes from a background in documentaries, Greengrass brings a gritty intensity and verite style to the material. He certainly knows how to move a film along, and he maintains a fairly fast pace throughout. Greengrass and his regular cinematographer Barry Aykroyd bring a kinetic sense of energy to the material through the use of hand held cameras that take us into the action, but which sometimes renders the climactic fight scene between Bourne and Asset a little hard to watch.
There are three key action scenes though that will satisfy the fans, the highlight of which is a car chase through the main street of Las Vegas. This sequence alone took five weeks to shoot as the crew were only permitted to close the main strip to film between midnight and sunrise, and some 170 vehicles were wrecked in the process. In an age of CGI, it is refreshing to see a sequence of this magnitude shot old school with real cars and real stunts. But it gives us one of the best car chases committed to celluloid, and easily the best car chase in Vegas since Diamonds Are Forever.
As Bourne, Damon still has plenty of charisma, and he also has the appropriate physicality. He is a very taciturn hero here as he only has some 25 lines of dialogue in the whole movie. Vikander delivers another solid performance as Lee. The always reliable Jones is at his gruff and surly best as the world weary Dewey.
Fans of the series won’t be too disappointed with the film, and it sets up high expectations for the inevitable sequel.