Movie Review: ‘JASON BOURNE’ suffers from an identity crisis

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Courtney Howard // Film Critic

JASON BOURNE |  123 min  | PG-13
Directed by: Paul Greengrass
Starring: Matt DamonTommy Lee JonesAlicia Vikander, Vincent Cassel, Julia Stiles,  Riz Ahmed

JASON BOURNE marks our fourth outing with the highly elusive spook. With each chapter in his saga, our affection towards him grows stronger as we begin to unlock the mystery of his identity/ identities. Though co-writer/ director Paul Greengrass’ film is moderately decent, it suffers from an identity crisis late in the game – sad given the series should be hitting its stride by now, especially since it’s the reunion of star Matt Damon with Greengrass. It’s almost as if the director, along with editor/ screenwriter Christopher Rouse, played Bourne Bingo and the winning card became the finished film.

Rogue fugitive Bourne (Damon) has been living off the grid in Greece since we last saw him, keeping fit and agile by participating in a brutal underground street fighting ring. Just when he’s cemented himself into “forever alone” status, Nicky Parsons (Julia Stiles) comes a’callin’, begging for his help. She’s on a mission to expose the C.I.A. black ops programs they took part in before the government hit the reboot button. At first reticent to aid her, Bourne is quickly pulled back into the web woven by corrupt Director Dewey (Tommy Lee Jones), who has negotiated a super secret – read “illegal” – deal with a tech platform run by Aaron Kalloor (Riz Ahmed). Dewey tasks two operatives to hunt Bourne: eager beaver/ idealistic head of cyber ops, Heather Lee (Alicia Vikander), who wants to bring him in alive, and a sniper mercenary (Vincent Cassel) dispatched to kill Bourne.

Matt Damon is JASON BOURNE. Courtesy of Universal Pictures.

Matt Damon is JASON BOURNE. Courtesy of Universal Pictures.

Government surveillance of private citizens as the conspiracy-fueled conflict feels like a dated concept. Given the milieu, something like this should generally work well, but here it’s clunky and unsatisfactory because it’s unnecessary padding not integrated organically into the narrative. We’re too savvy an audience for this now. Why couldn’t the plot exclusively be about Bourne uncovering his past and exacting revenge on the people who were responsible for getting him involved with Treadstone? Isn’t that enough? The filmmakers convolute the narrative by throwing more things into the pot, over-seasoning the broth.

Greengrass reigns in his signature shaky-cam shenanigans, perhaps because we’ve been treated to far too many poor knockoffs of his style. Action sequences showcase his trademarked aesthetics, however, it’s not as obtrusive as in IDENTITY, SUPREMACY, ULTIMATUM and CAPTAIN PHILLIPS (which made me seasick by film’s end). Larger-scale set pieces – like the pursuit on the Vegas strip and the motorcycle chase through the streets of Greece – are electric and thrilling, despite a distinct lack of narrative burn. In that regard, it’s no BULLITT or FRENCH CONNECTION where we feel the character’s drive dripping from those sequences. Because of a multitude of tiresome globetrotting, it takes a long time to get to the show-stopping numbers. The sequence in London is a time-waste considering we already saw a better “distractive chaos as cover” scene earlier in the film. Also, if I have enough time to let my mind wander to dissecting the actor’s choices for their character’s appearance (e.g. Heather is so consumed with her job she doesn’t bother with doing her hair or makeup in the morning), there’s a problem with the movie.

Listen, in the scheme of things, this is still better than BOURNE LEGACY (or FLOWERS FOR ALGERNON: THE ACTION MOVIE). At least it temporarily breaks out of the rut where the supporting ensemble acts in front of monitors and literally phones it in. It’s a ballsy move only giving your lead 25 lines of dialogue. The laconic hero makes Gosling’s Driver from DRIVE seem like “Chatty Cathy.” But if you’re gonna rely on action, that action has to propel the story forward – something this film doesn’t do effortlessly. While there are a discernible amount of new ideas that will keep the franchise afloat, it doesn’t exactly leave us craving more. None of the things that transpire in this chapter deepen our relationship with the titular character – a true shame.

JASON BOURNE opens on July 29.

About author

Courtney Howard

Courtney Howard is a LAFCA, OFCS and AWFJ member, as well as a Rotten Tomatometer-approved film critic. Her work has been published on Variety, She Knows and Awards Circuit.