Writers: Paul Greengrass, Christopher Rouse, Robert Ludlum (characters)
Matt Damon: Jason Bourne
Julia Stiles: Nicky Parsons
Alicia Vikander: Heather Lee
Tommy Lee Jones: CIA Director Robert Dewey
Vincent Cassel: Asset
Riz Ahmed: Aaron Kalloor
Gregg Henry: Richard Webb
Audiences unfamiliar with the novels featuring the character created by Robert Ludlum were introduced to Matt Damon as Jason Bourne in The Bourne Identity (2002). The character first appeared in the novel of the same name published in 1980. Jason Bourne is a super assassin, chemically and psychologically conditioned to be stronger, faster and smarter than just about anyone. Unfortunately for the CIA, these super assassins–The Bourne Legacy (2012) suggested there were a total of nine–sometimes developed a mind of their own. In Bourne’s case, a moment of conscience led to a failed mission and amnesia. In the case of Jeremy Renner’s Aaron Cross (The Bourne Legacy), Cross was apparently a personality too strong for his programming. He started asking too many questions, which caused the CIA to try to murder him: a serious mistake.
The plot device that powers the series is Bourne’s continuing quest to regain his memory. He knows he has nearly superhuman abilities, and he uses them to survive, but he doesn’t know how or why he got them. He kills efficiently, but feels remorse. And of course, everyone he loves ends up dead as the CIA and its “assets”–fellow assassins–come for him whenever he pops up “on the grid.”
In The Bourne Supremacy (2004), A corrupt CIA manager uses Bourne as a fall guy to cover up his own evil doings, and Bourne’s girlfriend, Marie is killed. In The Bourne Ultimatum (2007), Bourne reunited with Nicky Parsons, a CIA operative introduced in The Bourne Identity. In that movie, Parsons hints that she and Bourne had a relationship of some sort during his training, but it isn’t explored. She has to run, go “off the grid,” like Bourne.
As Jason Bourne opens, Nicky hacks the CIA and steals super secret programs, including the program that created Jason Bourne. She finds him living by engaging in unsanctioned fights, which he wins with single blows. There are always inexplicable elements in these movies, the most of obvious of which in this film is that Bourne never tries to alter his appearance. Engaging in those kinds of fights, and winning them with single blows, is an inherently high-profile activity, but it’s in the screenplay, so why not?
While stealing the documents, which are encrypted, a CIA agent, Heather Lee, played by Swedish actress Alicia Vikander, tags the data so she can track it whenever it is used. This, and her intelligence and ambition, gives her a reason to hunt Bourne and to be involved in most of the scenes. At the end of The Bourne Ultimatum, we learned that Bourne recovered his memory, but there is still information he lacks. It is the purpose of the current film to fill in the blanks, to explain why David Webb, a Captain in the US military–his service and other background is only hinted–volunteered to become Jason Bourne.
This is why Nicky is after Bourne. She has the information he needs, and is willing to do whatever is necessary to ensure he gets it.
The rest of the movie is standard Bourne franchise material: high level corruption and betrayal, plots and counter plots, plans within plans, numerous fight scenes, chase scenes, and bombs, shootings, and improvised mayhem. The element of suspense is always present, because only is everyone out to kill Bourne, he has no idea who he can trust, and just when it appears they might be about to get him, he’s two steps ahead of them.
One doesn’t expect a Bourne movie to engage in lengthy dialogue and character development, and this movie is no exception. For most scenes, the actors could have memorized their dialogue off a 3” X 5” card just prior to walking on set. Jason Bourne is a prototypical man of action/man of few words. But that doesn’t matter, and doesn’t materially detract from the movie.
This, like all the Bourne franchise films, is about action, most of which owes nothing to CGI massaging. Car chases, motorcycle chases, flying through the air atop buildings, foot chases, fight scenes, are all the glue that hold together the occasional dialogue. The question is, do these scenes in Jason Bourne equal or top similar scenes in the previous movies? In this case, they do, and are more than worth the price of admission.
One other oddity seen throughout the franchise is the fact that virtually none of the high-ups at the CIA are ever struck by the fact that Bourne, the most deadly assassin alive who is supposedly bent on destroying the CIA, goes out of his way to avoid killing CIA operatives bent on killing him. In every movie, and this one is no exception, Bourne will, in three or more scenes, merely render unconscious multiple operatives about to shoot him, and that, to the other characters, is unremarkable.
Despite there being no real character development, the characters are engaging. Alicia Vikander, a fine-featured, petite woman, is seen in dramatic closeups as often as otherwise, and carries it all well. One can practically see the gears turning behind her eyes as she calculates and schemes, thinking she can get the better, not only of the Director of the CIA, but of Jason Bourne. Ultimately, the audience is left wondering if she is nothing more than an amoral opportunist, or perhaps a moral patriot manipulating as necessary in an essentially immoral organization.
Matt Damon plays Bourne without a smile, and despite a very narrow range of facial expressions, his Bourne is a compelling, driven man with a conscience. It would be easy to play such a man, as Hollywood often does, as a man overwhelmed, and nearly paralyzed, by remorse whenever he has to defend his life. Damon provides Bourne with a conscience when appropriate, but doesn’t, for a moment, hesitate to do what is necessary to survive or to do what’s right. He’s a man, not a metrosexual.
Vincent Cassel is the Asset, an assassin with a compulsion to kill Bourne. He has been told that it was Bourne that exposed him, causing him to be captured and tortured in the Middle East for two years, and he badly wants to kill Bourne. They eventually–of course–have a climactic confrontation, and one thinks it possible Bourne could tell him the truth and avoid killing, but that’s a vain hope. In the real world, such niceties seldom work. Hate is a powerful force indeed.
Cassel plays the Asset as a single-minded near-automaton, yet manages to reveal a little humanity.
Gregg Henry plays Richard Webb, David Webb’s father. A CIA Agent, he was one of the founders of the program that created Jason Bourne, but he too had a conscience and was killed for it. Bourne learns that the CIA manipulated him into thinking America’s enemies killed his father. When he learns otherwise, the plot progresses, quickly, to a pinnacle of action.
Tommy Lee Jones plays his trademarked, craggy-faced bad guy, the cynical operator who lives by the end justifies the means. His character has no more depth than that and could easily have been played by a wide variety of actors.
Riz Ahmed plays Aaron Kalloor, a Steve Jobs-like head of a computer/social media company colluding with Jones’ Robert Dewey to create an all-encompassing surveillance system that will allow the CIA to watch everyone all the time. Kalloor develops a conscience, which leads to additional mayhem, foiled by Bourne.
The production values of the movie are excellent. Props, sets, lights, sound, costumes, locations are all up to contemporary professional standards. It was my impression that the action sequences used somewhat more of the trendy, shaky, slightly out of focus camera work common in action movies these days than in the previous films, but it’s hard to make a certain judgment about such things. Some directors may think this kind of obfuscation cutting edge, but I find it tedious, and much of it is probably done to hide less then precise timing in action sequences.
Even people that have not seen the previous films or read the novels will be able to enjoy Jason Bourne, though they’ll be aware they’re missing quite a few references to the earlier films. The final scene demonstrates, to the horror of Heather Lee, that Jason Bourne is smarter than just about anyone, and always two steps ahead. Of course, it leaves ample room, and open plot lines, for a sequel.
There is apparently talk about involving Jeremy Renner’s Aaron Cross in the next movie, which would be, with the right script, an interesting opportunity to exceed every previous film in terms of action.
Jason Bourne is worth viewing in the theater. It’s perhaps the best action movie of the summer season, but no one’s life would be diminished by waiting for the DVD,