Directed by Paul Greengrass
Starring Matt Damon, Alicia Vikander, Tommy Lee Jones, Julia Stiles, Vincent Cassel
Released on 27th July 2016
Bourne, as they say, is back. Although this is more a case of Bourne again, as Matt Damon returns to playing the one man killing machine for the first time since 2007. And he’s also re-united with Paul Greengrass, directing his third Bourne movie after Supremacy and Ultimatum. All of which bodes well for this latest outing.
This time, Bourne (Damon) is putting together the pieces of his past and, at last, working out who he is. He’s been off the grid for a while, but surfaces in Athens, working in tandem with another Bourne regular, Nicky (Julia Stiles). She’s stolen a whole load of files from the CIA and not only have they noticed, they’ve picked up on Bourne’s involvement as well. This all takes him on a path to his past, including how his father came to be killed. And, of course, he has to stay one step ahead of everybody else – including the director of the CIA and the ambitious operative who is convinced she can bring him in.
Greengrass made his name in documentaries and it always makes his presence felt: United 93 and Captain Phillips bear witness to that. Here he puts it to a slightly different use, primarily the brilliantly choreographed crowd scenes. The film starts with the most massive of the lot, a major demonstration in Athens on an epic scale, complete with thousands of people, police and pyrotechnics. Bourne and Nicky use it as cover, weaving in and out of the crowds, and it’s an outstandingly convincing sequence, with all the immediacy that goes with footage plucked fresh from a TV news channel.
It’s the start of the action and the storyline that builds up to the climax at the end. It develops gradually, with other, smaller action sequences. But then comes the grand finale, something that we’ve come to expect from a Bourne movie. A car chase. And Greengrass has set a new standard, putting this one on the Las Vegas Strip, with all its garish lights, familiar resort hotels and Bourne in a cop car chasing a SWAT vehicle. They may both end up slap bang in the middle of a casino’s gaming machines, but behind them they leave a spectacularly audacious trail of vehicular destruction in their wake. It’s insane, over the top, grandiose and I loved it. And by the time it finished, I was fresh out of adrenalin.
But here’s the thing. As it’s towards the end of the film, it’s fresh on your mind as you leave the cinema, as is that breathless feeling. And that makes you think that the film as a whole was brilliant. Yet is it really? In the cooler light of day, probably not. It’s topped and tailed by those two superbly detailed action sequences, while the sandwich filling is taken up with Bourne piecing together the jigsaw of his life and being pursued by the CIA. On the one hand there’s Director Dewey (the steely eyed Tommy Lee Jones) wants to obliterate him, and his man in the field, Asset (cold blooded Vincent Cassel) comes close on more than one occasion. But on the other, there’s ambitious Heather Lee (Alicia Vikander), a rising star in the CIA, tough and single minded but not quite as smart as she thinks she is.
The plot, for an action thriller, isn’t as convoluted as you might expect and the film also wants to show that it has its finger on the pulse of contemporary issues: mentions of Snowden crop up more than once and there’s the issue of internet security as a whole, not just for the secret services but also the public at large. It doesn’t offer any answers, but it does paint a picture of a Big Brother society, with those in power manipulating patriotism and fears of a terrorist threat for their own ends.
So the sandwich filling isn’t quite as meaty as it could be. But there are some eminently watchable performances going on. Damon, as we’ve all heard, only has about 25 lines of dialogue – but he also has an awful lot of physical stuff to do and lets the way he looks at people do his talking. And his fists, occasionally. Tommy Lee Jones and Vincent Cassel command the screen as the main villains. But Alicia Vikander isn’t especially stretched in her role: she just has to stare at the screen a lot and look serious. Her character is out of her depth and Vikander looks much the same.
If you’ve watched the others in the series, you’ll know what to expect and I doubt that you’ll be disappointed. For me, this is my first Bourne. And I’m impressed, but not totally bowled over – although I am completely ko’d by that final car chase. I should confess I am something of an admirer of Greengrass. And on that front, I’m not disappointed either.
Jason Bourne is released in cinemas on Wednesday, 27 July and reviewed on Talking Pictures on Thursday, 28th.