It’s been nine years since Matt Damon was last on our screens as Jason Bourne, in 2007’s “The Bourne Ultimatum.” That’s a long time in cinema, and since then we’ve seen plenty of action flicks ape the shaky-cam style that director Paul Greengrass perfected in the last two Bourne outings. “Jason Bourne” brings back our older, maybe wiser amnesiac assassin with more camera shake than ever—but has cinema moved on since?
It’s a totally standard “Bourne” film plot, in which the exCIA assassin is forced out of hiding when he’s found by former colleague Nicky Parsons (Julia Stiles, reprising her role from the last three films). Parsons has hacked into the CIA and stolen details of all of Langley’s black ops: past, present and future. When she hands them to Bourne, he finds himself dragged back into the open, the agency once again determined to kill him, exactly as it failed to do on the three previous occasions.
Leading the chase is tech-savvy CIA newbie Heather
Lee (Alicia Vikander), while behind her, CIA Director Robert Dewey (ol’ leatherfaced Tommy Lee Jones himself) runs his own operation with an assassin known only as “the Asset” (Vincent Cassel). Bourne’s exposed and must turn the tables on his pursuers and hunt them down. The writers have thrown in obligatory references for the social media generation, with a Facebook-esque platform that the CIA wants its hands on.
We’re given the usual hallmarks of the series—like panEuropean tourism, ticking off protest-torn Athens, hipsterfied Berlin, gritty London and frozen Reykjavík as Bourne tracks down his leads, with the CIA only ever a few steps behind.
And unlike James Bond, who flits around Europe via supercar or luxury yacht, Bourne’s brand of travel is decidedly more prosaic. He never arrives at his setpieces by Maserati—he just takes the subway to his next assassination.
But for all of the Bourne boxes that this movie ticks, it doesn’t add anything new to the mix. In particular, the closequarters fights don’t seem all that special compared to those that came before—remember that scene in “Supremacy” when Bourne kills a baddie and blows up his house, with only a rolledup magazine?
Paul Greengrass hasn’t let up on the shaky-cam. There doesn’t seem to be a single shot in the movie in which the camera isn’t moving; no scene in which the jump cuts don’t flit across your eyeballs. It all feels too much. The best action films of the past few years—“The Raid,” “John Wick”—have emphasized fluidity, not rapid cuts. The climactic car chase— another hallmark of the Bourne franchise—is so shaky and so quickly cut that it feels confusing and disorienting, not edgeof-your-seat exciting. Don’t sit at the front of the cinema for this one.
There’s nothing to fault in the performances. Damon is as reliable as ever, his Bourne entirely taciturn—he’s only got about 45 lines in the entire movie. But this gives the rest of the cast room to work. Alicia Vikander is effective in her role as the over-ambitious Heather Lee, Vincent Cassel brings his ever-present menace—and by this point it feels like Tommy Lee Jones has never been young. When you have a face as crinkled and worn as his, you don’t really need to act: You just have to point your face in the right direction as you say your lines.
One of the best moments in the film comes when Bourne and Parsons come face to face. It’s been years since their last meeting and both look older, wearier. Sadly, Bourne the franchise feels just the same. Adam White
(USA) Action/Thriller. Directed by Paul Greengrass. Starring Matt Damon, Alicia Vikander, Tommy Lee Jones, Vincent Cassel, Julia Stiles. Category IIB. 124 minutes. Opened Jul 28.