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"Jason Bourne" Review - Welcome to "The Bourne Redundancy"

Published on “I remember everything,” our hero’s voiceover states at the start of the film.

It’s a shame Jason Bourne has regained his memory - he was much more interesting when he was confused and seeking clues about his identity. That mystery was the backbone of the original Bourne trilogy - and Bourne’s heartfelt desperation was something audiences could relate to. After finishing The Bourne Supremacy in 2004, the film’s star, Oscar-winner Matt Damon (Good Will Hunting), repeatedly insisted he wouldn’t revive his Jason Bourne character unless director Paul Greengrass returned for the next installment. However, Greengrass maintained he was finished with the series - there was nowhere left to go with the character’s story.

They were both probably right, and should have stuck to the original plan. 12 years later, Jason Bourne has arrived, and, what should have been a gripping thriller - showcasing espionage in the technological age of Snowdens and Assanges, is merely a simple revenge story, and a two-hour blur of action sequences. Perhaps the biggest intrigue of Jason Bourne lies behind the camera - the enigma as to whether the lackluster film is due to Francine Maisler’s slapdash casting, Greengrass’ uneven direction or the dull performances. Regardless of the main culprit’s identity, this film is nearly unredeemable. Welcome to The Bourne Redundancy.

Jason Bourne begins nine years after Bourne disappeared. The super-assassin has been living underground and now inexplicably earns money as a bareknuckle fighter in the streets of Greece. Former operative, Nicky Parsons (Julia Stiles) - one of Bourne’s few trusted allies - likewise has been on the run from the CIA, and now works off the grid for a whistleblowing hacker. She breaks into the CIA database and downloads encrypted files on illegal Black Ops directives, including the new program, Ironhand. Parsons discovers new data concerning Bourne and contacts the elite agent to enlist his help.

However, the agency is now more tech-savvy. Parsons’ infiltration and ensuing reunion with Bourne is quickly detected by Heather Lee - head of the new cyber-operatives division (Alicia Vikander) and her boss, CIA Director, Robert Dewey (Tommy Lee Jones). Dewey fears the data leak will expose secrets, including their covert deal funding a new social media platform called “Deep Dream”. The site, founded by Heather’s college chum, Aaron Kalloor (Nightcrawler’s Riz Ahmed), idealistically promises to protect its users' information, but Dewey plans to exploit its features for mass surveillance. Though Lee wants to bring Bourne in alive to try to bring him back into the fold, Dewey wants him terminated, and sends contract killer, The Asset (Vincent Cassel), to dispatch him. Bourne, understandably, doesn’t wish to be killed, and the cat-and-mouse game begins, during which Bourne learns more about his past, and his father’s involvement with the covert Treadstone operation.

In their third Bourne outing, director Greengrass and editor Christopher Rouse pair up this time to additionally piece together a bland script offering few revelations, and no real game-changers. Bourne is a grim-faced, punching-and-kicking machine that barely speaks - a hardened, dispassionate shell of a man existing within a shell of what was once a great series. Apparently, meaningful discourse that could potentially bring heart and insight to a character is unnecessary, when fists and feet can simply do the talking.

Ham-fisted dialogue pervades the script, but is painfully bad in parts:

“It all ends tonight.”

“I know you’re looking for something. Let me help you find it.”

I knew the film already had major issues around thirty minutes in, when my mind drifted off to ponder what the newest version of Moby’s “Extreme Ways” - the track marking the conclusion of all five Bourne films - would sound like.

Though his visuals are stunning, Greengrass’ presentation is arguably lazy. Need to show that a character is reflecting upon his personal demons? Just use the “hard, pensive look in a mirror” trick! Greengrass does it three times - Damon’s, Cassel’s and Jones’ characters each have moments where they gaze wearily at their reflections in a bathroom (perhaps they were questioning whether the paycheck was worth being part of such a convoluted production).

French actor, Vincent Cassell, best known to American audiences for his riveting work as the lecherous ballet choreographer in 2010’s Black Swan, was woefully underused in this action thriller as a mostly-silent assassin.

Stone-faced Vikander, fresh off of last year’s impassioned Oscar-winning performance as painter Gerda Wegener in The Danish Girl, played agent Heather Lee so subdued, bland and expressionless, I wondered what it would take to get her to smile...frown…wince…anything.

Another Oscar darling, Tommy Lee Jones, plays the same acerbic, tired agent/marshal/guy-chasing-another-guy he’s played in most of the films he’s done over the last 20 years, too (The Fugitive, No Country For Old Men, U.S. Marshals, Men in Black, just to name a few). Still, Jones phones it in, probably because he can - Dewey has been written as a one-note “I don’t understand all this new-fangled modern technology” good ol’ boy, offering no surprises.

Still, there were some upsides to the film:

Though his script might be sluggish, Rouse’s fast-paced editing certainly isn’t. Paired with Oliver Tarney’s incredible sound design (notable for the climactic fight sequence in the sewers), the duo’s work in this realm is on par with their Supremacy and Ultimatum Oscar-winning efforts.

Cinematographer Barry Ackroyd, in his fourth collaboration with Greengrass, offers breathtaking action sequences, from an intense high-speed motorcycle chase through the packed streets of Tenerife to an edge-of-your-seat pursuit on the Vegas Strip. However, Ackroyd should have, perhaps, switched cameras between sequences. While his handheld camerawork added tension to fight sequences, it provided unnecessary nausea-inducing shakiness during calmer moments. Additionally, the high-definition 4K resolution showed the crisp detail of the gorgeous scenery, but also drew attention to the actors’ every haggard crinkle and darkened eye pouch.

Perhaps the actors’ noticeable fatigue was simply a sign that this latest installment was, indeed, “Bourne too late” and the franchise should have been laid to rest years ago.