Film review: Jason Bourne

David Gritten / 28 July 2016

It’s fourth time around for Matt Damon in the role of Jason Bourne, the action hero-cum-fighting machine who can hardly remember a thing about his past.

This time, Bourne seems to be groping towards some kind of clarity about his early life – though apparently losing the ability to speak more than three or four words at a time. All the characters around Bourne talk incessantly; he’s become like a Trappist monk by comparison.

Still, the template of this latest story (Damon’s third Bourne film with British director Paul Greengrass) is familiar enough. Our hero is set on blowing his own cover, as part of a sinister murderous unit acting within the CIA. The agency, in the person of its veteran director Robert Dewey (Tommy Lee Jones) has mixed feelings about Bourne: he’s both patriot and loose cannon. So do they try to bring him back into the fold, or eliminate him?

The agency itself is two-faced on this subject: a coolly elegant rising star within its ranks named Heather Lee (Alicia Vikander) thinks Bourne’s strengths can only be of benefit; but the duplicitous Dewey has hired “The Asset” - a sullen, merciless contract killer played by Vincent Cassel - to get rid of him. No wonder Bourne thinks the world’s out to get him.

This story is played out in a dizzying number of locations: the Albanian border, Reykjavik, Rome, Athens, London’s Paddington Basin and Berlin – with a long drawn-out climactic sequence set in Las Vegas. This itinerary would put a Bond film to shame - yet apart from underlining how expensive Jason Bourne must have been, I’m not sure it adds such a lot.

Rather more impressively, the film acknowledges that technology is at the heart of the espionage business these days.

Julia Stiles returns as Bourne’s former agency ally Nicky Parsons; she has now become a whistle-blower and is aiming to make public some of the CIA’s shadier dealings. Then there’s British actor Riz Ahmed, playing a hi-tech mogul called Aaron Kalloor (think Facebook’s Mark Zuckerberg, but more handsome and suave). The charming Kalloor attracts a worshipful fan base to his company’s conventions, and preaches the virtues of privacy and secrecy; yet his company Deep Dream may well be assisting the CIA in its more nefarious spying on private citizens.    

Where does Bourne fit into all this? His discovery that his late father, who he always believed blamelessly held down a desk job at the agency, might himself have been involved in shady dealings.  It’s another reason for Bourne to feel angst-ridden.

The film is scrupulously well-directed, with Greengrass continuing his signature style of fast-cut, edgy, nervous jump shots – a visual equivalent for all the paranoia and suspicion inherent in the plot. The script (by the director and his editor Christopher Rouse) is occasionally difficult to follow, but perfectly coherent. This isn’t a film that stints on portraying violence, and a few scenes are seriously bloody; but they at least indicate how high the stakes are between opposing factions.

Damon himself has matured to a point when he effortlessly dominates every scene. Whether he’s looking mournful or resolute, we never forget Bourne is a troubled soul, at a loss to put the world to rights. The first words we hear are his: “I remember everything.” It’s no spoiler to observe that this simply isn’t true; a fact that leaves the door wide open for yet another instalment in Bourne’s story.  

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