Jason Bourne review
A post-Snowden Bourne
After nine years of lying low, the world’s deadliest assassin, Jason Bourne, surfaces again to expose the proverbial skeletons in the CIA’s black ops closet. International superstar/ Academy Award winner Matt Damon and director/ writer Paul Greengrass (Captain Phillips, United 93) collaborate again for their third Bourne film together and the fifth entry in the popular action franchise. Winning the box office over the past weekend with just shy of $60 million, Damon’s fourth turn as Bourne proves that the actor can still keep up with the physically demanding role despite his increasing age. While Jason Bourne fails to live up to Damon’s last adventure in The Bourne Ultimatum, the new chapter certainly improves upon the 2012 spinoff The Bourne Legacy. Globe-trotting, intense violence, spectacular car chases, and a lack of memory continue to serve as standard fare.
The biggest question surrounding this film is simple—Why? The Bourne trilogy wrapped up neatly in 2007 with the protagonist fulfilling the arc that began in 2002 with The Bourne Identity. The answer to this question never gets fully explained or actualized in the new film. Audiences already used to the assassin figuring out who he is, where he comes from, and why he ever joined will find themselves let down by Jason Bourne. While hiding in Greece, Bourne’s old friend Nicky (the always dependable Julia Stiles—Silver Linings Playbook, 11:55) uncovers the name of Bourne’s late father when digging up new dirt on recent CIA black ops programs. Once again, the protagonist finds himself not completely sure of the person he used to be. But does he even want to know?
In 2016, Bourne now faces off against an impossibly powerful enemy with eyes and ears everywhere, eventually picking up arms against the CIA whether or not the decision belongs to him. Over the nine years since the assassin went silent, the Edward Snowden disclosures happened. (Did your theater show a clip of Oliver Stone, the director of Snowden, warning the public about mobile devices?) In fact, Snowden even makes the script a couple of times by name as characters discuss surveillance, privacy, and mobile tracking. Bourne himself starts tracking others as a means of victory by the third act. Director Greengrass wants the viewer to know that the rules of Bourne have changed quite a bit thanks to Snowden—despite the triumphant return of his shaky-cam. At first, Nicky feels like the plot’s “Snowden-esque” type until a new character joins the mix. Riz Ahmed (“The Night Of,” Rogue One: A Star Wars Story) plays “Aaron Kalloor” with equal confidence and guilt. His successful character runs a social media conglomerate called “Deep Dream,” with even deeper ties to the CIA. The CIA in bed with social media/ telecommunication certainly calls back to the 2013 disclosures.
The most confusing aspect of Jason Bourne manifests with the villains, all new characters. If one already felt confused as to exactly why Bourne gets and stays involved with exposing some more CIA secrets after silence for nearly a decade, then understanding the villains’ motivations will leave one completely befuddled. Vincent Cassel (Black Swan, Trance) plays the latest asset. Those familiar with the franchise understand that “asset” typically refers to an assassin deeply entrenched in a given city. At first, Cassel’s asset wants to kill the protagonist for personal reasons related to the aftermath of The Bourne Ultimatum, however, another flashback proves that the asset’s reason for wanting Bourne gone extend beyond revenge. The film never decides one way or the other with the asset’s motivation despite the fact that the plot hinges on that very motivation at times. Even more so, how can the asset possibly claim he wants revenge on the protagonist for exposing so many spies when he personally pops four of his own guys in the matter of a minute? The asset contradicts himself throughout to muddy the narrative.
The plot makes a little more sense when the camera features the other two newcomers to the Bourne series. Oscar-winner Tommy Lee Jones (Captain America: The First Avenger, Lincoln) plays “CIA Director Dewey” with a demeanor more grim than the one he wore at the 2013 Golden Globes. His motivations become a lot more clearer than the asset, despite the fact that they’re obviously in league with each other. He ties in a lot more neatly to the arc regarding Bourne’s father compared to the asset. Although the list of Dewey’s crimes never gets explicitly expressed, Greengrass and co. at least put enough effort into Jones’ character to inform the audience that he’s absolutely no good. Recent Oscar-winner Alicia Vikander (The Danish Girl, The Man from U.N.C.L.E.) joins the franchise as “Heather Lee,” head of the CIA’s cyber ops division. Unlike Dewey and the asset, Lee has both feet planted firmly in the present age and no motivation to harm Bourne. While never working with Bourne one-hundred percent, she has nothing to hide from her past and sees Bourne as still valuable to the agency.
In terms of cinematic value, Jason Bourne adds nothing new to the conversation of surveillance on screen. While the film feels like Greengrass’ take on the 1974 Coppola classic The Conversation, we never feel that foreboding sense of paranoia and big brother. Instead, we’re treated to another action sequel that offers fun and entertainment in its serious approach to the material and genre. The movie offers the most spectacular chase sequence across the franchise with its third act tank run through the Las Vegas strip, but not much more than merely seeing Matt Damon take down ripped goons around the world as Bourne for the first time since 2007. While the latest Jason Bourne movie will create a conversation about surveillance, it does very little in terms of taking a definitive stance.