Four­teen years af­ter his su­per-spy in­car­na­tion got his first out­ing, Matt Da­mon is back where he be­longs, writes Ash­leigh Wilson

The Weekend Australian - Review - - Film -

It’s fit­ting that the open­ing scenes of Ja­son Bourne re­volve around boxing. Bourne, the former CIA as­sas­sin played by Matt Da­mon, is some­where in Greece, fight­ing in bare-knuckle bouts and mak­ing light work of his op­po­nents. He doesn’t seem es­pe­cially in­ter­ested in what he’s do­ing, but he packs a se­ri­ous punch and the other guys don’t stand a chance. All this puts Da­mon in fa­mil­iar ter­ri­tory since he has been boxing for as long as he has been Bourne.

Da­mon be­gan train­ing al­most two decades ago, back when he was pre­par­ing for the first Bourne film, The Bourne Iden­tity. Doug Li­man, the direc­tor, wanted the main char­ac­ter to carry him­self in a very spe­cific way: he wanted him to walk like a boxer. Da­mon can still re­call Li­man ex­plain­ing the idea in the months lead­ing up to film­ing, how it was about more than just mak­ing re­al­is­tic fight scenes: “There’s this real econ­omy of move­ment, there’s a per­fect bal­ance, they’re on their front foot, there’s just some­thing about the way those guys walk.”

For his new film Da­mon, 45, cer­tainly looks the part. He has beefed up in a big way, fronting a six­pack cour­tesy of a strict diet and hun­dreds of “in­dul­gent” hours spent in the gym. He gives credit to Li­man for sug­gest­ing boxing as a way of ma­nip­u­lat­ing his body in the first place. “It did change the way I moved and stood in space,” he says. “And then I kept do­ing it be­cause I ac­tu­ally re­ally liked it.”

A char­ac­ter orig­i­nally cre­ated by Robert Lud­lum, Ja­son Bourne re­mains Da­mon’s most en­dur­ing role. The ac­tion fran­chise has held its own over 14 years as the spy grad­u­ally re­gained his memory: The Bourne Iden­tity was re­leased in 2002, fol­lowed by The Bourne Supremacy in 2004 and The Bourne Ul­ti­ma­tum three years later. The Bourne Legacy came out in 2012, star­ring Jeremy Ren­ner as an­other elite spy, but men­tioned Bourne only in pass­ing. Da­mon has since ad­mit­ted he felt a lit­tle en­vi­ous to have not been in­volved in that one.

In re­cent weeks Da­mon been trav­el­ling the world pro­mot­ing the lat­est chap­ter in the fran- chise, charm­ing re­porters and fans from Syd­ney and Seoul to Lon­don and be­yond. His rep­u­ta­tion pre­cedes him: he has be­come known as the nice guy of Hol­ly­wood, as his co-star, Ali­cia Vikan­der, was asked so of­ten to con­firm. It helps that his pri­vate life rarely gets the tabloid treat­ment: he mar­ried a “civil­ian”, a former bar­tender named Lu­ciana Bar­roso; they have three daugh­ters plus a daugh­ter from her previous mar­riage. And in per­son he comes across as oddly unas­sum­ing, a chatty Boston Celtics fan chew­ing gum who just hap­pens to be Hol­ly­wood roy­alty.

Speak­ing to Re­view the morn­ing af­ter the film’s pre­miere in Syd­ney, where he posed pa­tiently for self­ies with deliri­ous fans, he says he al­ways tries to “com­part­men­talise” the celebrity side of the job. At the pre­miere, he had given a short in­ter­view in front of the screen be­fore walk­ing to his seat at the back of the cin­ema, fol­lowed at ev­ery step by eyes and smart­phones. It has been 18 years since Da­mon won an Os­car for Good Will Hunt­ing with his friend Ben Af­fleck — does it ever seem any less weird?

“No, not at all,” he says. “They go in this bucket of just bizarre sur­real ex­pe­ri­ences that don’t re­ally have any bear­ing on my reg­u­lar life. So that event was a Ja­son Bourne event. So when I walk up, ev­ery­one’s tak­ing pic­tures of me, but I can go into a movie the­atre with my kids and walk up the same aisle and see Zootopia and no­body’s go­ing to take their cam­era out. It’s com­pletely sur­real. But … I’m not in­ter­nal­is­ing it, think­ing this is to­tally fine.”

Da­mon is par­tic­u­larly in­vested in Ja­son Bourne, hav­ing signed on as a pro­ducer for the first time in the se­ries. His re­turn as Bourne de­pended on the in­volve­ment of direc­tor Paul Green­grass, who also di­rected Supremacy and Ul­ti­ma­tum. It was also, he says, about sat­is­fy­ing a hun­gry fan base that wanted more. It seems safe to as­sume Ja­son Bourne will per­form bet­ter at the box of­fice than other high-pro­file se­quels re­leased this year. And while Da­mon has en­joyed plenty of mem­o­rable parts through the years — from The De­parted and In­vic­tus to True Grit, Be­hind the Can­de­labra and The Mar­tian — he read­ily ad­mits he missed play­ing Bourne.

“Def­i­nitely. I mean, ev­ery time Paul and I would talk I would bring it up,” he says. “I wanted it to hap­pen. I re­ally wanted to make an­other Ja­son Bourne movie. I loved the char­ac­ter. But it took us a long time be­cause we wanted the world to change enough, be­cause the first three were very much about the Bush years and the war on ter­ror. They were of their time. We needed to have some­thing that was of this time.”

Much has changed since Da­mon last ap­peared as Bourne. His char­ac­ter is no longer try­ing to piece to­gether his iden­tity, a “mal­func­tion­ing $30 mil­lion weapon” pur­sued by shad­owy forces at the CIA. And he no longer suf­fers from am­ne­sia, which means a fun­da­men­tal shift in the nar­ra­tive drive. Bourne has re­gained his memory but lost his pur­pose — hence the street fights for cash. When he’s drawn back into his old world, chas­ing an­swers from the CIA, he finds him­self in a world where Wik­iLeaks and Ed­ward Snow­den have changed the game. And it’s in this way the film sculpts it­self de­lib­er­ately on con­tem­po­rary life; Snow­den, for in­stance, is name-checked early on.

But it’s still a Bourne film, which means there’s still that vis­ceral phys­i­cal­ity that has been there from the start. The fight scenes are scrappy and bru­tal. Bourne grap­ples at close range with his en­e­mies, turn­ing any­thing around him into a weapon: a news­pa­per, a taxi, a pen, a vodka bot­tle, a book. More than once he drives against traf­fic to escape pur­suers. “That’s kind of the fun,” Da­mon says, “how fast his mind’s work­ing given what­ever’s around him.”

The Bourne aes­thetic, as it were, has since made its way into other re­leases that cover sim­i­lar ground. The Bourne Iden­tity came out 14 years ago, the same year that Pierce Bros­nan played James Bond in Die An­other Day, test­ing

Matt Da­mon; meet­ing fans in Seoul, top left; the ac­tor beefed up for his lat­est out­ing as Bourne, be­low

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