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.

Bloody Sunday (2002)

100 Films’ 100 Favourites #14

January 30, 1972
a day written in history
a day when innocence died
when truth was sacrificed
and lives were changed forever

Country: UK & Ireland
Language: English
Runtime: 110 minutes
BBFC: 15
MPAA: R

Original Release: 20th January 2002 (UK)
First Seen: TV, 20th January 2002

Stars
James Nesbitt (Millions, The Hobbit: An Unexpected Journey)
Tim Pigott-Smith (The Remains of the Day, V for Vendetta)
Nicholas Farrell (Chariots of Fire, Hamlet)
Kathy Kiera Clarke (The Most Fertile Man in Ireland, Cherrybomb)

Director
Paul Greengrass (United 93, Captain Phillips)

Screenwriter
Paul Greengrass (The Murder of Stephen Lawrence, United 93)

The Story
Derry, Northern Ireland, 30th January 1972: MP Ivan Cooper leads a peaceful march to protest internment. British paratroopers observing the march, geed up after previous conflicts, respond to minor rioting by shooting into the unarmed crowd and at fleeing civilians.

Our Hero
James Nesbitt stars as MP and civil rights activist Ivan Cooper, a Protestant who was elected in a mostly Catholic constituency, and the organiser of what was supposed to be a peaceful protest march.

Our Villains
The British Army don’t come across in the best light, with Tim Piggot-Smith’s Major General Robert Ford issuing hostile orders, and the troops eager for a fight. The depiction is tempered by Nicholas Farrell as Brigadier Patrick MacLellan, battling his conscious even as he must carry out his orders.

Memorable Quote
“I just want to say this to the British Government. You know what you’ve just done, don’t you? You’ve destroyed the civil rights movement, and you’ve given the IRA the biggest victory it will ever have. All over this city tonight, young men — boys — will be joining the IRA, and you will reap a whirlwind.” — Ivan Cooper

Memorable Scene
After the day is done, Ivan Cooper delivers the above statement at a press conference. Intercut, at inconspicuous locations and under the cover of dark, young men queue up to join the IRA.

Technical Wizardry
Shot handheld on 16mm by cinematographer Ivan Strasburg, Bloody Sunday looks like news footage. It’s not trying to pass itself off as documentary, but rather it places the viewer in the heart of events. Clever shot selection and Clare Douglas’ editing mean that, even though a sense of confusion is evoked, the chronology and geography of events is maintained.

Making of
“Making the film Bloody Sunday was important for me, not only as an actor but for my understanding of myself as an Ulsterman. It helped me realise that this episode was the watershed, and that the ensuing 30 years of conflict in Northern Ireland were in large part due to what happened that day in 1972. For it was on that night that young men all over the country joined up with the IRA in a sense of rage and injustice at what had happened.” — James Nesbitt, The Independent

Awards
1 BAFTA TV Award (Photography and Lighting)
4 BAFTA TV Award nominations (Actor (James Nesbitt), Single Drama, Editing, Sound)
2 British Independent Film Awards (Actor (James Nesbitt), Director)
3 British Independent Film Award nominations (Best British Independent Film, Screenplay, Technical Achievement (Cinematography))
4 Irish Film and Television Awards (Feature Film, Director, Script, Sound)
4 Irish Film and Television Award nominations (Actor (James Nesbitt), Actress (Kathy Kiera Clarke), Photography, Editing)
Won the Golden Bear at the Berlin International Film Festival (tied with Spirited Away).

What the Critics Said
“you have to remind yourself at moments that you’re not looking at a documentary. […] Filmed in 16mm, with a hand-held camera that seems to be breathlessly attempting to keep up with the chaotic events, the movie has a stunning immediacy. It doesn’t feel as if Greengrass has staged the events, but that his camera (in the expert hands of cinematographer Ivan Strasburg) happened to be there when the tragedy occurred, a witness to the British officers’ planning, to the marchers’ anger and panic, to the soldiers’ gung-ho macho and to the cover-up that followed.” — David Ansen, Newsweek

Score: 92%

What the Public Say
“The film has been criticized by some as focusing too much on the Cooper character, encouraging a “great man” view of history. This criticism seems overblown when one considers the breadth of Bloody Sunday, but Greengrass does acknowledge an interest in placing Cooper at the fore as a kind of “man between worlds,” being a Protestant politician campaigning for peace across Northern Ireland and for civil rights denied to his Catholic countrymen.” — spinenumbered, Make Mine Criterion!
(Be advised, the Criterion Collection edition of the film described in this article is wishful thinking rather than a genuine release.)

Verdict

Bloody Sunday is a tough film to write about in a somewhat frivolous format like this one. It’s a film about a terrible moment in history, a shameful day for the British Army and a tragic one for the people of Northern Ireland, which it presents with documentary realism and an objective perspective, more concerned with presenting the facts as best it can than with apportioning blame. Even given that, it’s an inescapably emotional and affecting film. Powerful moviemaking.

#15 will be… extreme ways.