Film Review: ‘Jason Bourne’

Jason Bourne Movie
Courtesy of Universal

This terse sequel reunites Matt Damon and director Paul Greengrass, shedding light on an important piece of the character's backstory.

Call it a rebirth: Matt Damon is back as Jason Bourne in the franchise’s tough, “this time it’s personal” fifth installment, titled, simply enough, “Jason Bourne.” To the extent that the entire Bourne series hinges on the notion of an amnesiac action hero — one who remembers how to kill with his bare hands but draws blanks on key details about his past — this explosive reunion between Damon and director Paul Greengrass further reveals key secrets about Bourne’s origins, bringing its lethal protagonist as close as he’s ever likely to get to total recall.

Mostly, the project marks a return to what worked about the franchise — namely, Damon — suggesting the relief of watching Sean Connery step back into Bond’s shoes after producers tried to replace him with a suave male model in “On Her Majesty’s Secret Service.” Meanwhile, audiences are expected to forget both “The Bourne Legacy,” 2012’s disappointing attempt to carry on the name by casting Jeremy Renner in a superficially similar capacity, and “Green Zone,” the gritty (and virtually unseen) Iraq War thriller in which Damon and Greengrass tried to get serious. Now, the real Bourne has resurfaced, and both director and star are committed to making the most of it, holding us in their thrall until the Las Vegas-set finale, when this hyper-paranoid conspiracy thriller tilts into something bordering on silliness.

So, what has Bourne been doing all this time? Turns out he’s been squandering his super-soldier training on grungy underground prizefights when Nicky Parsons (Julia Stiles) shows up with a fresh reason for him to reengage with his past. The game has changed in the decade-plus since Bourne went off the grid: Technology trumps things that go boom, and shadow operatives kill with keystrokes rather than old-school tactical strikes. In this new arena, the most dangerous players aren’t foreign powers, or even terrorists, but hackers and information jockeys, à la Edward Snowden and Julian Assange.

Parsons has fallen in with a WikiLeaks-like crusader named Christian Dassault (Vinzenz Kiefer), determined to reveal the CIA’s shady dealings, which point to a plan to force its way into a Facebook-like social network called Deep Dream. Sneaking past the agency’s firewall from a warehouse in Reykjavik, Parsons manages to steal classified files with fresh information on Treadstone, the black-ops program for which Bourne was recruited, and its successor, code-named Iron Hand — information that appears to implicate Bourne’s own father (Gregg Henry) in some capacity.

But Parsons’ hack doesn’t go undetected, catching the attention of Heather Lee (Alicia Vikander), who stands in the middle of what looks like Mission Control for one of the Apollo landings — an elaborate CIA data-crunching center, where techies sit at computer consoles, presumably aggregating private information on American citizens. If the expressionless Vikander is meant to represent a newer, smarter CIA, then new addition Tommy Lee Jones, who plays agency director Robert Dewey, suggests the battle-worn and borderline-haggard version of his former Man in Black. He has dark pouches under his eyes and walks with a limp, and his good-ol’-boy drawl belies the fact that the man at the helm during an age of cyber-warfare most likely still has an AOL account.

And so Dewey delegates the high-tech duties to Lee, while depending on a contract killer known as “the Asset” (Vincent Cassel) to deal with the real problem: silencing Bourne. The sort of sociopath who never met anyone he didn’t finish by shooting directly in the forehead, Cassel’s character is just plain ruthless — and clearly a better match for Bourne’s skill set — which makes for violent efficiency as the two characters alternately stalk one another. Bourne wants to get to the bottom of the secrets involving his dad, and for that he’ll need to confront Dewey. Dealing with the Asset is sort of a bonus, yielding a reckless car chase that feels particularly insensitive in the wake of this month’s terror atrocity in Nice.

The conventional wisdom on the Bourne series has been that the Doug Liman-directed original, 2002’s “The Bourne Identity,” made for a sleek 21st-century spy movie, but that the series didn’t really kick in until Greengrass came along and shook things up with his two sequels, “The Bourne Supremacy” and “The Bourne Ultimatum.” Revisit all three today, however, and it’s the first installment that holds up best, setting the tone for all that follows: While Greengrass was rightly praised for the intensity of his vérité style, with its dizzying handheld camerawork and splintered editing, it was Liman, operating from the sturdiest script of the bunch, who established a tougher, more “realistic” style of acting — and action — and who pressured the studio to let him shoot on real European locations at a time when other action movies cut corners.

Still, there’s no question that Greengrass took those innovations and ran with them, and his typically jittery style has had such an influence on the genre that “Jason Bourne” feels like less of a sensory assault without sacrificing an ounce of excitement. Frustrated that earlier Bourne movies started shooting before the script was finished, Greengrass co-wrote the new film himself, partnering with longtime editor Christopher Rouse to deliver the series’ most globe-trotting installment. The action skips from Iceland to Berlin to London to Washington, D.C., taking a stunning detour through a massive, impressively staged protest in Greece.

In many ways, “Jason Bourne” is the most unsettling movie in the series, seeing as it points to a vast conspiracy directed at the American people, and Greengrass’ style — rendered visceral via the marriage of Barry Ackroyd’s on-the-fly lensing, a tense techno score, and Rouse’s cutting-room trickery — lends itself nicely to an era in which shadow forces rely on such tools as satellite surveillance and facial-recognition software. In one scene reminiscent of Alex Gibney’s recent “Zero Days” documentary, Vikander’s Lee hacks the Reykjavik power grid. In another, she wipes a laptop by tapping into the nearest cell phone.

It’s odd then that the instant the movie hits the Exocon convention in Vegas, where the potential for high-tech malfeasance ought to hit an all-time high, the film’s energy flags. Greengrass serves up long sequences of characters opening and closing doors, walking down corridors, trading text messages, and so on — all actions of a sort, but not the kind that make for a lively action movie — until the shooting starts. Just as the initial Damon-driven trilogy wrapped up Bourne’s business but left us wanting more, this sequel offers closure even as it entices us with the possibility of his return.

Film Review: 'Jason Bourne'

Reviewed at the Grove, Los Angeles, July 14, 2016. MPAA Rating: PG-13. Running time: 123 MIN.

Production

A Universal Pictures release and presentation, in association with Perfect World Pictures, of a Kennedy/Marshall production, in association with Captivate Entertainment, Pearl Street. Producers: Frank Marshall, Jeffrey M. Weiner, Ben Smith, Matt Damon, Paul Greengrass, Gregory Goodman. Executive producers: Henry Morrison, Christopher Rouse, Jennifer Todd, Doug Liman. Co-producer: Chris Carreras.

Crew

Director: Paul Greengrass. Writers: Paul Greengrass & Christopher Rouse, based on characters created by Robert Ludlum. Camera (color, widescreen): Barry Ackroyd. Editor: Christopher Rouse.

With

Matt Damon, Tommy Lee Jones, Alicia Vikander, Julia Stiles, Riz Ahmed, Ato Essandoh, Scott Shepherd, Bill Camp, Vinzenz Kiefer, Stephen Kunken, Gregg Henry

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  1. William Nair says:

    Someone needs to give Barry Ackroyd a tripod to film his movies. I got sick in the theater while watching the Bourne movie. It’s like an amateur film it. Jerky movements throughout the whole film.
    This is a very amateur filmmaker. Sad, Sad, Sad.

  2. jeff saxton says:

    Paul Greengrass & Matt Damon owe it to true Bourne fans another Bourne Film. Jason Bourne is “same old same old” just not good enough guys. Were you just in it for the bucks? Plenty of bangs and fight scenes but you need to be inventive… this was too predictable.

  3. Shailaja says:

    Love the books and while the movies are a good effort, this movie just had too many loopholes!!! Why did Heather Lee choose to support JB? Why after almost a decade did Nicky suddenly get back in touch with JB and get the info she did with considerable risk to her own life? The Greece action scene was fantastic , but the Vegas Chase scene was both unnecessary and silly!!!!! Not expected from high level spies .. felt like mafia chasing each other with no thought to damage or civilian life!!

    still, loved seeing Damon as JB… no one can play that role… like its tough to see anyone else playing Jack Bauer!!

  4. JAB says:

    This movie worked on all levels from beginning to end. The Vegas chase scene is so thrilling that I completely forgot about the outside world –Nice, included. (Principal photography wrapped long before that attack.) Damon, once again, gives a moving performance about a man wrecked by his particular skill set. He begins the movie lost & alone & leaves it that way too. Vikander, Tommy Lee Jones & Cassell are great fun to watch. Julia Stiles’ “Nikki” has the most heart wrenching scene in the movie.
    Greengrass & Rouse have downloaded into the screenplay a story about real world concerns about privacy versus patriotism versus security bordering on paranoia. The action is every bit as on par with last year’s Mad Max:Fury Road. It seems that there is less “shaky-cam” here too. (That never bothered me.)
    This is a very smart thriller for those moviegoers tired of capes & mutants. It totally rates positively with the Bournes with Matt Damon.

  5. I’m so looking forward to watching this new Jason Bourne movie I’m a huge fan and Loved the the others and have been waiting for another, I hope that after this major action film I really hope that Matt Damon does three more, The Bourne Trilogy is awesome, We would love to see three more, Matt Damon is Perfect for this Character he deserves an Award he’s a Wonderful Actor!
    Huge Fan!

  6. Jason Borne says:

    Love this movie. So many actions better than all other action movies . this will be a hit

  7. Jason Bourne says:

    Saw this a the theater the day it came out. A total disappointment. The first 3 with Matt Damon are great. This one is very boring, lacking in story and any of the first 3 movie’s excitement and action. Mostly new characters that cannot act or show any emotion and Tommy Lee Jones did not give his usual great performance and did not seem to belong in this movie. They finally got Matt to do another movie, however forgot to get a good writer. None of his usual good lines. No comparison between this one and the others. A big time downer. 2/5 and I do not even think it deserves that high of a rating, I am trying to be nice.

  8. Kenny says:

    I thought the whole movie was excellent. It left off right after Ultimatum and learned even more about Bourne’s past. The action was on mark and the Tech part added more to the movie. I will buy it when it comes out and looking forward to possible Bourne 6. Nine years and it was worth the wait. Sorry to see Nicky gone but Alicia did very well in her roll. Jason Bourne is back.

  9. Mortimer Duke says:

    Couldn’t let it go without trying to lasso Nice into the agenda. Good grief. The terrorists HAVE won. They’ve changed everybody else’s way of life forever.

  10. I really like the first three JB movies. I think they were intelligently written and wonderfully executed. However, I think this one, although it just about works, needed a more thoughtful script. The motives of some of the characters seemed too weak.

    We have Nicky Parsons seeking out JB to give him info about his past at considerable danger to herself but why? OK, in an earlier movie we learn she once had an affair with him but … Being as smart as she is, surely she’d realise she’d be better off (and so would JB) if she just kept low. To break cover as she did, both she and JB would have needed to be in great personal danger. They didn’t seem to be. Also I feel that Dewey doesn’t have a strong enough reason to take Bourne out. It seems too gratuitous for someone in his position. It’s by no means certain that JB intends to broadcast classified data. Also I’m not entirely sold on why Heather Lee so readily switched allegiance and helped JB. That would be a very dangerous thing for her to do, too. She needed to be in danger herself. So, it needed a better seed planting of motives early on. Without it, Dewey just comes across as someone who is acting on a whim. Having said that, if you like action thrills we’ve got the mother of all car chases near the end. If another Bourne movie came out I’d see it but I’d be hoping for a better script.

  11. HARDTALK says:

    It’s just plain good entertainment!!

    Do I have actually to pay to see a movie about ISIS? I see that everyday in the news and Trump talking about in order to become president!

    Keep on trucking Damon!

  12. harry georgatos says:

    How is this franchise serious in a world of Islamic terrorism that the film doesn’t address? It’s time Bourne recovers his memory and brought back into the field in the fight of global terrorism! The deceit of CIA back door operations is fair enough but not dealing with the current world stage of terrorism is hypocritical. Bring Bourne back in the CIA in the fight against ISIS.

    • Zack J says:

      Because the franchise addresses American exceptionalism and terrorism committed by the CIA. It’s a breath of fresh air in a sea of recycled “Americans are always the heroes” Hollywood movies.

      • HARDTALK says:

        Another Republican asshole!

      • harry georgatos says:

        If the film really wanted to address CIA terrorism then the film should explore in how CIA filter terrorist cells in having the Islamist plan terrorist hits by CIA infiltrators masquerading in their cause. Greengrass and Damon are too gutless to explore that deciet.

  13. alex says:

    Peter, thanks for finally setting the record straight that it was Liman who did the heavy lifting for the series.

  14. Eileen Yescas says:

    “Jason Bourne ” pure entertainment and action! Paul Greengrass and Matt Damon a winning team. Keep ’em coming!!!

  15. Steve says:

    This is the hypocrite who wants 2 take all your Guns in one fell swoop.

  16. Since the Bourne trilogy, Matt Damon has not had a hit movie (ratio of cost-to-net profit) and the director a similar dichotomy. So we have the return of Jason Bourne in a deliberate step behind world events.

    First, the film is a career move and a salable/promotable brand. Second, the story stays far enough away from actual real-time events so as not to offend or appear insensitive to survivor remorse. And third, Bourne Ultimatum did in truth wrap up the enigma of Jason’s amnesiac existence to the extent anyone cares.

    The opportunity to have Cassel and Jones play a role they haven’t played before, and Stiles join Bourne (a/k/a “David Webb”) in something even more friendly is moot.

    Finally, to cull an American James Bond in future Jason Bourne sequels has somehow escape these people’s notice. If they’re going to keep Bourne away from ISIS then how about some honest fantasy?

    • Mr Model says:

      Matt Damon announces, after #3, that he would never do another Bourne movie. Several flops later and he “Begs” the director to let him star in another – even though he’s too old, too fat, too out of shape. Study the previews – this film is FILLED with CGI superimposed over Matt Damon, who can no longer do the moves. Damon is desperate – for money, for fame, for popularity.

  17. Michael says:

    This is a worthwhile review, but I tire of critics making statements like “Revisit all three today, however, and it’s the first installment that holds up best.” I don’t doubt that when Mr. Debruge revisited the trilogy he preferred the first one, so why didn’t he write that rather than implying that his subjective experience is something more? The first film bores me, but I’d never write “Watch ‘The Bourne Identity’ today, and you’ll be surprised at how boring it is.” That it bores ME doesn’t mean that it will bore anyone else.

  18. Superman says:

    Boycott Matt Damon films. He’s an anti-Trump zealot who despises conservatives and Republicans. Don’t give him the pleasure of spending your hard-earned cash. Cheers.

  19. HARDTALK says:

    Why do I have to click twice to read the beginning of the article all over again?

    Pretty dumb!!

  20. tony says:

    if only the c I a was so effective.

  21. IT--II--IT says:

    The 100% INTEL RUN Hollywood franchise slum
    ————— – – – with yet another celebration of being INTEL RUN
    ————————– – – – featuring, again, the –‘MOM had connections’— INTEL RUN
    ——————————————– – — — MATT – —‘DAY – –MON’

    “RESISTANCE is the distinction of the SLAVE.”
    NIETZCHE

    Understand, INTEL PULLED OFF their broad daylight RED CHINA TREASON OP.

    REALIZE that America and the world are being PULLED.

    — – – And ‘MON’ means SLAVE in the ancient script

    KEEP that TRANCE with the EYE CONs !

    – – —- SHMUCK !

  22. Tony says:

    A bunch of sissys wrote these comments.
    Jason Bourne, Jack Bauer, Jack Reacher…go kick ass!

  23. stevenkovacs says:

    Next one (please) has Bourne taking on ISIS!

  24. Bill says:

    Yawn… a conspiracy against the American people by the CIA? Wow, was the script written in 1972?

    The first films were interesting because it was a rogue group at the CIA who largely got their comeuppance by the end of the third film.

    Now, it’s not just individual actors, it’s the agency itself… oooh.

    Nikki, who had been sympathetic, is now a rogue and will Make Them Pay.

    Seriously, Greengrass can do better than this; see Captain Phillips.

    • Mr Model says:

      It is out-of-date. Terrorism is the new adversary. Where’s Bourne when bombs are blowing up little children, axes are chopping up old people and trucks are running over everybody? If Matt Damon were in a place where a terrorist attack was taking place, he’d be over in a corner, crying ‘like a little girl”.

  25. Mr Model says:

    I believe that Jason Bourne should immediately give up his guns – just like Australia. If Jason Bourne were to immediately hand over all of his guns, like in an instant, this world would then become a safer place for all of the rest of us to live.

    • Larvana says:

      I feel sorry for you.

    • Stephen S. says:

      Jesus. Really? Is Matt Damon’s beliefs really that important to you? Does his opinions really effect you that much?

      I hope you are not the kind of person that is constantly whining about the “PC police.”

      • Mr Model says:

        Hypocrisy ~ making millions from making violent movies ~ and then espousing “peace” is my complaint. He should donate every dollar he’s ever made using a gun to fighting gun ownership. Then I will believe him. Until then, he’s an idiot.

    • Michael Anthony says:

      You fail in your attempt to be witty. Thanks for the laugh!

      • markus fipps says:

        Everyone should boycott every Matt Damon film.
        Hypocrite asked that all US private guns to by confiscated. Screw him and his producers.
        No more gun films Matt. It’s too bad that celebrities alter ego are so much more fascinating and legit than the person themselves. Hope you go broke you piece of shit!

      • Mr Model says:

        No laughing matter. Hypocrisy is the mental disease of the stupid. Have you had your brain checked lately?

      • AHB says:

        An actor is different from a character he or she plays, dummbass.

      • Bill says:

        Why? That’s star Damon’s belief, so why spend money to watch him run around with something he abhors?

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