Jason Bourne (2016)

2016 #185
Paul Greengrass | 123 mins | Blu-ray | 2.40:1 | UK, USA & China / English & German | 12 / PG-13

Jason BourneMuch like the Bond films to which they’re so often compared, the Bourne movies have their devotees while only fitfully pleasing the critical establishment. This fifth movie — which is notable for marking the return of star Matt Damon and director Paul Greengrass after the semi-reboot of The Bourne Legacy — certainly met with mixed reviews when it came out at the end of this summer. Mixed erring towards negative, anyhow, though it does have its supporters. I’d love to say I’m among them, but my take was more… well, mixed.

The story picks up a decade-ish since the last Damon movie, Ultimatum (I don’t recall if the time gap is specified on screen, but we’re led to believe it’s been roughly real-time). Bourne is still living off the grid, participating in underground bare-knuckle fights in Greece for money and/or something to do. When his former associate Nicky Parsons (Julia Stiles) hacks into the CIA to retrieve documents on the black ops missions she and Bourne used to be a part of, she discovers something about Bourne’s past that leads her to meet up with him. In Langley, hotshot young tech-head Heather Lee (Alicia Vikander) and her boss Director Dewey (Tommy Lee Jones) are on to Nicky and presume Bourne is involved in her plot, dispatching The Asset (Vincent Cassel) to rub them out — but he has his own history with Bourne.

Bourne againAction sequences ensue, shot with all the ShakyCam you’d expect from Greengrass. By now I imagine you have your own view on whether his style works or not. Personally, I think it’s considerably less bamboozling than when it made its debut in Supremacy 12 years ago — it’s been so copied that we’re more used to seeing it. I think Greengrass has a better handle on the purpose of the style than many of his imitators, however. I’d also argue that the cinematography in Jason Bourne is a smidgen more stable, with shots held a few frames longer, so that it’s even less seasickness-inducing than before. In fact, some shots — even in the quick-cut action montages — are downright pretty. The film was shot by Barry Ackroyd, who hasn’t lensed a Bourne before but has done most of Greengrass’ other movies, so maybe that has something to do with it.

It’s in the big set pieces that Jason Bourne functions best. One in London in the middle of the film is just people walking around a lot looking over their shoulders, but Greengrass still invests it with some tension. Better is the climax, a kind of drag race down the Las Vegas strip… in the middle of traffic, of course. It’s largely implausible (I’ve been to Vegas — I remember the strip as being permanently gridlocked), but it’s certainly adrenaline-pumping. However, the highlight is probably the first: a chase through a smoky nighttime riot in Athens, with Bourne and Nicky on foot and then a motorbike as they’re pursued by the local police, an undercover CIA team, and the Asset, the latter two directed by Lee, Dewey, and their Langley lot via satellite imagery, CCTV, and… social media.

Government surveillanceFrankly, Jason Bourne is at pains to mix in hyper-current iconography; the reasoning for Damon and Greengrass’ return now being that the world has changed and how does Bourne fit into that? So as well as social media and Greek riots we’ve got references to and riffs on hacking, Edward Snowden, government surveillance of its own citizens, the prevalence of Facebook/Twitter-esque tech companies, and so on. Sadly, I’m not sure the film’s actually got anything to say about any of these things. Greengrass and his co-writer, editor Christopher Rouse, have appropriated all these zeitgeisty concepts to make the film feel very Now, but that surface sheen is more or less where it ends. I mean, there’s a whole subplot starring Riz Ahmed as the Zuckerberg-like CEO of a social media company that I didn’t even mention in my plot summary because it’s kind of an aside. It’s kind of ironic, really, that it always seemed as if Greengrass’ more natural stomping ground was his documentary-ish real-world-exposé type movies, with his contributions to the Bourne series an unusual sideline; yet when he finally marries the two halves of his filmmaking career, it’s the action rather than current-affairs commentary that takes precedence.

Even leaving that aside, the plot is no great shakes. It’s too slight, serving primarily to string together the three or four big set pieces; and it’s too simplistic — Greengrass’ Bourne movies used to be entertainingly baffling, a web of crosses and double-crosses and historical connections and hidden plans. Jason Bourne re-appropriates many of the series’ familiar beats — all of them, in fact — but it feels like Greengrass and Rouse just analysed the previous movies for repeated elements and copied them, rather than having anything fresh to do with the constituent parts. So while few of these building blocks are poorly handled, there’s little remarkable about them either. Some are at least elevated by quality performances: Vikander tries to inject complexity into her character, with some success thanks to final-act kinda-twists, while Tommy Lee Jones brings natural class.

Bourne bikerThe end result is that Jason Bourne does thrill as an action movie, which seems to have been the primary goal of its makers, at the end of the day. As an action-thriller, however, the rinsed-and-repeated plot is a slightly faded imitation of former successes; a through-the-motions way to provide those impressively staged chases and punch-ups. It’s not the definitive Bourne movie one might’ve expected from the returning star/director combo (why else come back if not to perfect, or at least add to, the formula?), but instead means the film ends on an odd note: even though it wasn’t a wholly satisfying experience, and even though it doesn’t end with questions still blatantly hanging (as every Bourne movie bar Ultimatum has done), I want Damon and Greengrass to come back and do it all again, please. Only do it properly next time, yeah guys?

3 out of 5

Jason Bourne is released on DVD and Blu-ray in the UK today and the US next week.

The Bourne Supremacy (2004)

100 Films’ 100 Favourites #16

They should have left him alone.

Country: USA & Germany
Language: English, Russian, German & Italian
Runtime: 108 minutes
BBFC: 12A
MPAA: PG-13

Original Release: 23rd July 2004 (USA)
UK Release: 13th August 2004
First Seen: cinema, August 2004

Stars
Matt Damon (The Talented Mr. Ripley, The Departed)
Franka Potente (Blow, Romulus, My Father)
Brian Cox (Manhunter, X2)
Joan Allen (The Ice Storm, Death Race)
Karl Urban (The Lord of the Rings: The Two Towers, Dredd)

Director
Paul Greengrass (The Bourne Ultimatum, Green Zone)

Screenwriter
Tony Gilroy (Proof of Life, The Bourne Legacy)

Based on
The character of Jason Bourne, created by Robert Ludlum. Not so much based on The Bourne Supremacy, the novel by Robert Ludlum.

The Story
Bourne and Marie are living a quiet life in India, until he’s framed for the murder of two CIA agents and the theft of files they were acquiring. After the actual culprit tries to kill Bourne, he believes the CIA have tracked him down, and makes good on his promise to bring the fight to them…

Our Hero
Living a life of seclusion with Marie, but still struggling with resurfacing memories from his time as a CIA operative, Jason Bourne has no intention of going anywhere near his former life… until they come for him, and the gloves are off. Bryan Mills ain’t got nothing on Bourne’s particular set of skills.

Our Villains
A whole host of interests are aligned against Bourne this time. From within the CIA, corrupt director Ward Abbott is still trying to cover his ass. A more physical threat comes in the form of Russian operative Kirill, referred to in early drafts of the screenplay as “Mock-Bourne” because he, a) frames our hero, and b) is his equal — well, almost.

Best Supporting Character
Pamela Landy brings some complication to the CIA side of the story: she’s out to get Bourne, same as the fellas from the first film, but that’s because she’s been conned too. Will she see the light and side with our hero?

Memorable Quote
Nicky: “It’s not a mistake. They don’t make mistakes. They don’t do random. There’s always an objective. Always a target.”
Landy: “The objectives and targets always came from us. Who’s giving them to him now?”
Nicky: “Scary version? He is.”

Memorable Scene
In Munich, Bourne visits the one remaining Treadstone operative. They fight, using household items as weapons (see “making of”, below). Then a team of soldiers arrive. Bourne turns on the gas, shoves a magazine in the toaster, and… well, the result was disproved by MythBusters, but it’s still cool.

Technical Wizardry
The cinematography and editing, according to some.

Letting the Side Down
The cinematography and editing, according to some.

Making of
The film famously features Bourne using a rolled-up magazine as a weapon in a fight with another Treadstone operative. Fight coordinator Jeff Imada looked over the set after it had been dressed to get an idea of what would be lying around that could be used as a weapon, and had the idea of a rolled up magazine. He had to demonstrate to sceptical crew members that it would indeed be a functional weapon, but was helped by actors Matt Damon and Marton Csokas giving each other bruises from practising with it.

Previously on…
The Bourne Identity left enough hanging to help fuel this movie.

Next time…
Although Supremacy was designed to wrap up the mysteries left dangling from Identity, they found plenty to drive a third film, which completes the trilogy by answering those remaining questions. A fourth film was essentially a spin-off. This summer’s fifth film will be about… something…

Awards
2 Saturn nominations (Action/Adventure/Thriller Film, Actor (Matt Damon))
2 World Stunt Awards (Best Work with a Vehicle, Best Stunt Coordinator and/or 2nd Unit Director)
1 World Stunt Award nomination (Best Fight)
2 MTV Movie Awards nominations (including Best Action Sequence (the Moscow car chase))

What the Critics Said
“Greengrass keeps you off-balance throughout. When the fight scenes and car chases arrive, there’s no telling, from shot to shot, what we will see next or how we’ll see it. […] Working with cinematographer Oliver Wood, Greengrass shoots the fight scenes and chases so close in that we see some moments almost as a blur. The editors, Richard Pearson and Christopher Rouse, break those sequences up into quick jagged shots that key us up and keep us hyper-alert. The world is being broken into bits of information, and we look hard at the screen to take it in. The approach could have resulted in the usual visual gibberish that defines contemporary action moviemaking [but] you can always tell what’s going on” — Charles Taylor, Salon

Score: 81%

What the Public Say
“I thought the movie was shot well, though at times I felt that the shaky cam effect was overused, as instead of pulling you into the action, it just gives you a headache and a dizzy spell” — Zoë, The Sporadic Chronicles of a Beginner Blogger

Verdict

Debate used to rage about whether Identity or Supremacy was the better film, centred on their very differing directorial styles. Fans of Greengrass’ sequel seem to have settled on Ultimatum as their preferred Bourne instalment now, though, leaving Supremacy to be generally regarded as the least-best of the first three Bournes. That does it something of a disservice: it’s an exciting, twisty, complicated thriller, and its groundbreaking visuals can’t be ignored for their contribution to the action genre — for good or ill.

#17 will… always have Paris.

The Bourne Identity (2002)

100 Films’ 100 Favourites #15

Danger is Bourne

Country: USA, Germany & Czech Republic
Language: English, French, German, Dutch & Italian
Runtime: 119 minutes
BBFC: 12A
MPAA: PG-13

Original Release: 14th June 2002
UK Release: 6th September 2002
First Seen: DVD, 2003

Stars
Matt Damon (Good Will Hunting, The Martian)
Franka Potente (Run Lola Run, Creep)
Chris Cooper (Lone Star, Adaptation.)
Clive Owen (Croupier, Children of Men)
Julia Stiles (10 Things I Hate About You, The Omen)

Director
Doug Liman (Swingers, Mr. & Mrs. Smith)

Screenwriters
Tony Gilroy (The Devil’s Advocate, Michael Clayton)
William Blake Herron (A Texas Funeral, Ripley Under Ground)

Based on
The Bourne Identity, a novel by Robert Ludlum.

The Story
Pulled wounded from the sea, Jason Bourne can’t remember anything about his life, but is a highly-trained combatant. That comes in handy when assassins begin to hunt him down, as he races across Europe with the aid of Marie, a German woman he bumped into, trying to establish the facts about his identity.

Our Hero
A man found floating in the ocean with two gunshot wounds in his back, who can’t remember his own name but can speak several languages and has knowledge of advanced combat skills. A laser projector implanted under his skin leads him to a safety deposit box in Zurich that contains thousands of dollars in cash, a gun, and an array of passports, from which he chooses a name: Jason Bourne.

Our Villains
The CIA’s Operation Treadstone, led by Alexander Conklin, who have an interest in Bourne — an interest that may primarily involve killing him.

Best Supporting Character
Marie, a German woman in the right place at the right time when a chap offers her $20,000 to drive him from Zurich to Paris… and in the wrong place at the wrong time when it turns out a bunch of people want to kill him, and she’s acceptable collateral damage.

Memorable Quote
Bourne: “Who has a safety deposit box full of money and six passports and a gun? Who has a bank account number in their hip? I come in here, and the first thing I’m doing is I’m catching the sightlines and looking for an exit.”
Marie: “I see the exit sign, too. I’m not worried. I mean, you were shot. People do all kinds of weird and amazing stuff when they are scared.”
Bourne: “I can tell you the license plate numbers of all six cars outside. I can tell you that our waitress is left-handed and the guy sitting up at the counter weighs 215lbs and knows how to handle himself. I know the best place to look for a gun is the cab of the grey truck outside, and at this altitude, I can run flat out for a half mile before my hands start shaking. Now why would I know that? How can I know that and not know who I am?”

Memorable Scene
Bourne arrives at the US consulate in Zurich, unaware his presence has been flagged after visiting that safety deposit box. As security guards surround him, Bourne demonstrates just what he’s capable of…

Making of
One of the most fraught productions of recent times, the behind-the-scenes woes of The Bourne Identity are too numerous to recount here, but too interesting (if you’re interested in that kind of thing) to overlook. Check out #4 here for more, like this: “It’s very rare that a movie comes out a year late, has four rounds of reshoots, and it’s good.”

Previously on…
Adapted as a TV miniseries in 1988 starring Richard Chamberlain, which is reportedly much more faithful to the novel.

Next time…
Three sequels to date, with a fourth out this summer. 2008 video game The Bourne Conspiracy takes place in and around the first film, though doesn’t use Matt Damon’s likeness. The film series also revived interest in Ludlum’s books, and consequently nine continuation novels have been penned by Eric Van Lustbader since 2004, with a tenth planned.

Awards
1 Saturn nomination (Action/Adventure/Thriller Film)
1 World Stunt Award (Best Work with a Vehicle)

What the Critics Said
“With a two-year shooting schedule, a script that was redrafted more times than the cast care to remember, and Matt Damon making at least two movies (Ocean’s 11 and Spirit) in the middle of all that mess, this thriller comes to the cinemas as much a marked man as its central character. Some of the joins do show, especially towards the end of the film, when a couple of minor characters disappear completely, but by then it has been too much fun to start picking holes.” — Emma Cochrane, Empire

Score: 83%

What the Public Say
“a point of departure from the action/spy genre, further making The Bourne Identity an anti-genre-genre film, is the cat like reflexes of Jason Bourne. Our first vision of him in action (remember, we’ve never seen Matt Damon like this before) is when he is laying on a park bench in Switzerland, approached by two policemen who are about to accuse him of loitering. Within the conversation, Bourne discovers he can effectively speak Swiss-German, and then as soon as one of the officers reaches to touch him, he responds with breathtaking speed and accuracy and before we know it, there is a little pile of police at his feet. […] nice guy Jason can’t really help it. Posit this against the casual cold blooded and calculated moves of the relaxed and suave Bond” — Lisa Thatcher

Verdict

The name’s Bourne, Jason Bourne… Maybe it was just me, but this Matt Damon action-thriller seemed to arrive under the radar back in the early ’00s (I don’t think I even heard of it until it was on DVD), but quickly established itself as the influential new kid on the block. Perhaps the Paul Greengrass-helmed sequels have been even more influential (they can be credited with bringing the much-derided ShakyCam style of filming action into the mainstream), but for me this first film is still the best of the bunch: an engaging mystery-thriller adrenalised by excellent action sequences.

#16 will be… Bourne again.