Lickety-split is how everything goes in the latest Jason Bourne adventure starring Matt Damon and directed by Paul Greengrass, an old hand at shaping this series (The Bourne Supremacy (2004)); The Bourne Ultimatum (2007)).
For those of you unfamiliar with Mr. Bourne, a hero of Robert Ludlum’s bestselling novels, he was introduced to our local cinemas in Doug Liman’s The Bourne Identity (2002), floating face-up in the ocean, unconscious, with several bullet wounds. Picked up by a foreign fishing boat, Bourne awakens to the fact that he doesn’t know who he is. Just to make sure we get the point, he has an interior monologue that is narrated aloud: “Do you know whom I am?”
Later he asks the same question to a crooked gent (Chris Cooper) at the CIA: “Who am I?”
The response: “You're U.S. Government property. You're a malfunctioning $30 million weapon. You're a total goddamn catastrophe.” You’re a trained assassin.
For the rest of the film, and the series, if memory serves me well, the CIA tries to kill off or manipulate Bourne, as he searches for his true identity.
The late Roger Ebert probably encapsulated the Bourne enterprise best in his review of Identity: “A skillful action movie about a plot that exists only to support a skillful action movie. The entire story is a set-up for the martial arts and chases. Because they are done well, because the movie is well-crafted and acted, we give it a pass. Too bad it's not about something.”
Truly, few people can helm a film that’s about nothing (Ultimatum) or about something (Bloody Sunday (2002)) as skillfully as Greengrass can. With innovative editing (Christopher Rouse), sweeping cinematography (Barry Ackroyd), and a solid cast that seems to be saying something of significance even when it’s not, this eponymously titled latest addition has two plot lines. A corrupt CIA is vehemently trying to mow down anyone who might reveal its new hush-hush project to transform select folk into dehumanized killing machines. Main target: Bourne. The secondary storyline has the CIA trying to manipulate the owner of a Facebook-like service into spying on his customers for them.
Connecting the few lines of dialogue supplied by Greengrass and Rouse are nonstop chases through buildings and crowds of protesters, followed by nonstop chases both in cars and on motorcycles. There are, of course, the anticipated crashes, and the equally expected fisticuffs, all accompanied by the at-times tedious and grating compositions for strings by composers David Buckley and John Powell. On the plus side, Damon takes off his shirt to display his newly hypermuscularized physique, but for some reason that’s not repeated.
We have seen all this accomplished with more heart in the previous Bourne efforts and in the Road Runner cartoons. Also, with more restraint that built at least a little tension. Here Greengrass keeps nearly every scene going on for far too long, often passing from exhilarating to exhausting.
At his greatest, the director, has expressed in the past the epic madness of our computer-driven age and the self-centered corruption at the heart of our governments. Here he seems to almost become the victim of this state of affairs as opposed to its chronicler. - Brandon Judell
Mr. Judell has written on film for The Village Voice, indieWire.com, the New York Daily News, Soho Style, and The Advocate, and is anthologized in Cynthia Fuchs's Spike Lee Interviews (University Press of Mississippi) and John Preston's A Member of the Family (Dutton). He is also a member of the performance/writing group FlashPoint.