Jason Bourne (2016)
Are you a Bourne or a Bond? I lean toward the former, and as someone who has recently undergone some security vetting I can’t seem to evade all matters espionage at the moment. Firstly, I re-watched The Parrallax View, probably my favourite of Alan J. Pakula’s influential conspiracy trilogy along with Klute and All The Presidents Men – it’s on Netflix and remains conspiratorialy outstanding. I was also overjoyed to see The Americans Season 3 recruited to my asset profile. I’ve frantically burned through thirteen episodes in a couple of days and the series goes from strength to strength, but for those other fans I have just two words – ‘suitcase body’ <shudders>. Generally underwhelmed by the recent trailer for Paul Greengrass and Matt Damon’s return to the Bourne franchise my ideology was turned after listening to a lengthy BBC interview, where both chaps outlined some of their inspirations and concepts behind the film in the post Snowden, Wikileaks and contemporary cyber crime era – some uncanny timing strikes again. It’s been almost ten years since the last film in the franchise – yes I’m aware of this but I consider that a side film rather than canon – and whilst I’m not crazy about the series as a whole I did really enjoy the last film back in 2007. Greengrass is a deeply politically driven director and has always used the Bourne films as potent metaphors for his concerns and interests, a manufactured asset killing at the whim of an unregulated and unmonitored bureaucracy, a human drone with an amnesic qualities that appear to reflect the general publics interest in the continued fallout of drone strikes or unconstitutional invasions of their privacy. Yet I remained resistant to a new film as quite simply I thought the franchise had run ts course, it tensely told it’s tale of one man’s struggle to uncover his past and regain his identity over three interlinked entries, and wrapped everything up terrifically with no reason to return to the character other than that old elemental driving force – money. So has the director and co-screenwriter with his editor Christopher Rouse’s insistence that he did have a new story to tell and a reason to muster yet another phenomenally expensive rescue mission for Matt? Not particularly, but this is still a reasonably entertaining couple of hours of entertainment.
Reykjavik, Iceland. After exploiting her affiliation with a local activist group Nicky Parsons (Julia Styles, reprising her role from all three previous entries) infiltrates the CIA deep-net and stumbles across an electronic dossier marked ‘Black Operations’ – clearly some spook was having a particularly literal day when he set this file up. After hooking up with her old comrade Jason Bourne all hell breaks loose, as a kill team descends on them against the backdrop of a Greek austerity protest which turned into a violent riot.What follows is a rinse, wash repeat of the following formula – Bourne engages in a chaos-cinema captured, pulsingly scored bewildering melee against numerous opponents. They are usually some random strike team of Slavic goons who engage our ruthless hero across a variety of international urban theatres – Berlin, London, Cyprus, Vegas. Interspersed with this collapsing delineation of space and rapid fire editing autism we leap back and forth to a CPU screen bathed nerve centre at Langley, where rising CIA cyber-crime savant Heather Lee (Alicia Vikander) and grizzled director Robert Dewey (Tommy Lee Jones) trade barbed witticism and bark urgent orders to their frantically typing subordinates along the lines of ‘track that facial recognition pattern diagnostic’ and ‘deploy all localised assets to liquidate the tangos’. Also on the warpath is a gallic assassin played by Vincent Cassell who seems to harbour some specific enmity against Jason, while a side plot involving a Silicon Valley pioneer (Riz Ahmed) clandestinely working with the CIA to provide a back-door access into his new social media service will soon decipher its secrets……
Like the other entries in the series Jason Bourne is a relentless picture, barely taking a pause between breaths to provide any real character time or cultural examination as it detonates one identikit set-piece after another. There’s nothing particularly wrong with that but by the time you sense it’s hurtling toward its climax the same action sequencing model starts to malinger, as the hunger pangs of originality, of fresh and nourishing material starts to gnaw on the attention. Damon is as efficient and faceless a cypher as he always is in these pictures, even as Greengrass does feebly attempt to give him some narrative drive through the revelation of deep secrets of his fathers involvement in the Treadgold programme which first wiped his memory and transformed him into a puppet manipulated killer. There is able support from Alicia Vikander although her role does stretch credulity, I’m not being a sexist swine and referring to the fact of some attractive woman being gifted some lethal responsibility, it’s just hard to swallow such a young recruit directing a duo of wet-work specialists when it looks like she graduated a fortnight ago. The eternally gruff Tommy Lee Jones fulfils the same purpose as all the gravitas generating character actors that have been deployed in this franchise, from David Strathaim to Brian Cox, Joan Allen to Albert Finney. Your commitment to the cause will be measured against your instincts toward ‘intensified continuity‘, as this is two hours of hand-held, shivering shaky-cam and rack focuses, with nary a shot held for longer than three seconds. It’s all a little gruelling, and after Greengrass and his DP launched this technique in the middle of the noughties now it’s really starting to outlive it’s then revolutionary welcome, like The Battle Of Algiers directed by Michael Bay, especially when it reaches its Vegas strip final velocity.
The film throws all of wider interests into a churning mix which crushes any real introspection, as the emphasis doggedly remains with crossfires zeroed on carnage and catastrophe. According to Greengrass in that aforementioned interview Las Vegas’s lavish digital conventions are the new recruitment hubs of such influential global players as Goldman Sachs, Soviet intelligence and the Chinese cyber offensive apparatus, but simply setting a sequence in ‘America’s playground’ and not examining any of those queries is lost from the films manifest. For action movie fans though its more than adequate with the globetrotting narrative in full cruising mode, and there are some smirk inducing quirks, as Bourne is always two steps ahead of his pursuers and experienced enough to expect double and triple crosses to ricochet around the screen like turbo-charged Tasmanian devil. I’d love to see a brilliant fiction film focused on some of the more pressing social, political and cultural issues that arise from our swiftly evolving digital culture but that still seems to be the sole preserve of the documentary. This for example is supposed to be great and the Menagerie is eagerly awaiting the new Herzog, as opposed to the hard-drive crashes of The Fifth Estate, or by the looks of things Oliver Stones next screed, although to be fair Blackhat has slightly evened the odds*. In any case you’re busy people who need to get back into the field, so this dossier’s executive summary reads thus – Jason Bourne is superior to the Renner but it’s no Ultimatum;
* Yeah, I realise I omitted the fantastic Mr. Robot from this analysis, but that’s small screen so it doesn’t count. That’s my excuse anyway…..