2016 USA Directed by Paul Greengrass
UK cinema release print.
Warning: Very mild spoilers.
Hmmm.... okay, I’ll jump right in here with a quick history of my reaction to the Jason Bourne films. Still haven’t seen the Richard Chamberlain version of The Bourne Identity but it’s in the ‘to watch’ pile and I will get to that soon. Absolutely loved the Matt Damon remake of The Bourne Identity... one of the great spy films to join the classics such as The IPCRESS File (reviewed here), The Quiller Memorandum (reviewed here) and The Spy Who Came In From The Cold, as far as I’m concerned. Then Paul Greengrass took over as director for The Bourne Supremacy and The Bourne Ultimatum and, although the story content and acting etc was fine, the camera movement and editing made the action sequences barely watchable at best and, certainly, incomprehensible at their worst. There were some redeeming features in Supremacy such as Bourne’s visit to the daughter of two of his past victims but, ultimately, I didn’t think much of these movies other than continuing to love what John Powell was doing with the music in them.
Surprisingly, the Jeremy Renner starring The Bourne Legacy (reviewed here), while having an atrociously simplistic story which the writers seemed to be trying to disguise by giving it as many links to the Matt Damon films as possible, was actually quite entertaining. James Newton Howard’s score was cool too and I expect he might have gotten the gig with that after turning out an incredible pseudo-Bourne score for the Angelina Jolie vehicle Salt (reviewed here), a few years earlier.
And so now we come to Matt Damon’s semi-triumphant return to the Bourne films, along with Greengrass returning as director and.... it’s a mixed bag to be honest. I say semi-triumphant because, although I’m sure it will do the right numbers at the box office, Jason Bourne really doesn’t have too much going for it but, at least in terms of Matt Damon, his performance is worth watching, as always. So at least we have a credible main lead and the film feels like it’s got some kind of authentic link to the Bourne series. However, even a great actor like Damon needs to have a half decent script to work from and... I really don’t think he got that here. In fact, this feels just as simplistic as The Bourne Legacy in terms of story content and no amount of heavy weight actors brought into this melange of various, patched together conspiratorial shenanigans going on at the CIA is going to help make this anything which could reach the dizzying heights of the first movie.
We also have the return of Julia Stiles as Nicky Parsons in this, who really helps Damon keep this movie afloat, and as far as I could tell she’s the only other series regular in this one other than the title character. However, the way she's written in this story and her stupidity at attracting attention to herself, while brilliantly played by Stiles, really doesn’t do the character any favours. Well done to Stiles for making it work but, like most of this film, it’s the writing that’s the problem... not the acting.
The heavyweights I was referring to earlier are the three main supporting cast with Tommy Lee Jones as CIA Director Robert Dewey, Vincent Cassel as ‘The Asset’ (aka kick ass Bourne style assassin bad guy) and the relatively young Alicia Vikander as CIA tech guru Heather Lee. All of these people are good but they all serve a bad storyline. Jones is very much in the mould of CIA Directors from the previous films so, we pretty much know what’s coming from him and do we really need to see the CIA playing political games against each other involving fellow agents who are aggressively ‘taken out’ when they start to get in the way... yet again in the Bourne series? Can’t some of them just play as a team, once in a while. Vikander is pretty strong and just about manages to pull off the gravitas needed that not having so much ‘old timer character baggage’ from other films almost hinders. Her character works quite well and it’s someone the audience can root for as a possible ‘non evil’ character most of the time.
Vincent Cassel is always a nasty bad guy but, here, he really could have done with being given more lines, I think. Also, it has to be said, certain revelations about his character further serve to highlight just how amateurish the story is here. We have a back story to everything we already know about the Jason Bourne saga and his links to Treadstone, which is grafted on wholesale for this movie and which brings in Jason Bourne’s father... and what happened to him just before Bourne joined the CIA. When we get a true reveal on just who Cassel is playing in this, very near the end of the movie, it’s actually one of those things which you think of very early and then dismiss because, hey, that would be really lazy story telling, right? Everything seems to connect in this movie just a little too conveniently and way more than you would expect it to in real life... it seems to me. Cassel’s character is pretty much a victim to the cause and effect method of storytelling that a lot of US cinema tends to fall back on, crutch -like, these days and it’s a shame that the writers felt the need to do this, I think.
In terms of the way the camera moves and the editing... well it’s certainly fast paced but it suffers from the “Paul Greengrass special” school of filmmaking in that, a) the camera never stops moving around and b) it’s lots of short shots cut together continuously which, to be honest, can be more than a little disorientating and distracting from the main action on-screen. I have to put my hand up and say, for once in a Paul Greengrass movie, I wasn’t totally lost in the action sequences and, for 90% of it, I was managing to figure out just what was going on. However, the editing and vertiginous camerawork never lets up and, after a while, you are just left wondering as to which part of the screen the director wants to show you, to be honest.
Composer John Powell returns to the fold with this one and he’s joined by composer David Buckley. Now I don’t know who scored which bits or what the nature of the collaboration was but I did notice how good the score throughout the movie was, when I could hear it above the ‘extra loud and in your face’ sound effects tracks. I’m looking forward to acquiring this asset on CD in a week or so and it will be interesting to hear it properly, away from the pop pop bang bang noises. The Jason Bourne theme is all over the movie but I wasn’t able to detect the Treadstone Assassin motif in this first sitting. I’m sure it must be on there though and this score certainly feels like it belongs in a traditional Jason Bourne film... so I would be interested in knowing who composed which bits.
Other than the score and the acting performances, however, it’s really not a good entry into The Jason Bourne series and, while it is pacey and quite entertaining, it has nothing of the power of the endings in previous Matt Damon entires in the franchise. The end here seems very contrived and, ultimately, a bit anticlimactic... especially in terms of how Bourne is able to see and hear things for his not so mind blowing twist at the end. Even so, every plot point seems designed to propel the action forward without actually telling you what it really is everybody is playing this game for and I thought it really out of character when Bourne doesn’t run from it all at the start. All in all, if you like the previous Bourne films then I don’t think you’ll have a particularly bad time at the cinema with this one... it’s just not quite reaching that high bar which was set previously. It’s worth a watch if you like action spy movies with not much plot, though... so yeah, if that’s what you’re in to, maybe give Jason Bourne a go. There are a lot of worse things out there in the local cinemas at the moment.