And this time, it’s personal! Well, more personal than the last three times. In this fourth installment of the popular espionage series, our assassin-turned-fugitive steps out of the shadows from a dark corner of the world (in this case illegal fighting rings) to once again put himself under the blinding spotlight of the CIA. As far as the plot is concerned, it’s pretty standard, pot-boiler fare. This is a bit of a shame, because now that the series is ‘off-book’ you’d think Greengrass and his writing team could take the character somewhere new and really put him through the ringer to see what Bourne is truly made of. Instead, we get something of a retread. Bourne is given a carrot, follows it, it leads back to the CIA, they try to capture him, send an assassin, he eludes them, rinse, repeat, add conditioner, etc. So plot-wise, we’re not talking about anything inspiring here. There’s some new information uncovered (which I won’t spoil here), but it feels ret-conned (a retroactively revision of the plot to suit the writer’s narrative needs) and so like a little bit of a cheat. It’s not terrible, it’s all just a bit too familiar by now, especially three films in.
Not only is the plot uninspiring, but the characters are basically carbon-copies of previous archetypes. Deadly foreign assassin: Check. Female CIA personnel who is tasked with capturing Bourne: check. Grumpy CIA head honcho trying to cover it all up: Check Check. In fact, they went an extra step further this time in casting. The man responsible for catching the world’s greatest fugitive? Tommy Lee Jones! Isn’t that a little, I dunno… ON THE NOSE? Thankfully we didn’t get any “every gas station, residence, warehouse, farmhouse, henhouse…” speeches this time. But I’m sorry to say the years have not been kind to the 69 year old acting titan – his face has more crag than a rocky canyon in a spaghetti western. And these days the only expression he can manage is somewhere between annoyed and ‘Grumpy Cat’. But hell, if Tommy can’t catch Bourne, then I guess no one can. Damon, while still in good form (those guns though) is more of a shell of a man than a character; a stoic, laconic wanderer who is lost in his own torment . Bourne is now the kind of tortured hero that would do well in Gotham City. Watch your back, Battfleck…
How about the action then? Bourne has become famous for its fights and chases and yes, it holds up, but only just. The melee encounters are briefer than ever, and despite a spectacular chase through Las Vegas in the third act, the final mano-a-mano confrontation between Jason and his new nemesis paled next to previous duels. Unlike Gareth Evans (The Raid, Raid 2), Greengrass has no interest in building up the suspense of a big showdown between two master fighters. Had they gone to greater lengths to create something special here, I could have forgiven the box-ticking exercise they passed off as a story.
Stylistically, the film is much the same as the previous Greengrass/Damon films. One of my biggest complaints about this series has been the consistent over-use of hand-held “shakey cam”. Editor Christopher Rouse (who edited the last 2 films) still seems hell bent on showing us the bare minimum of information while keeping the pacing so quick that the images register more as a montage. This is a modern style of visual storytelling that I’ve been lamenting since The Bourne Supremacy. Call me old-fashioned, but I still like to see what’s going on in an action scene. I like to get a feel for the geographical space around the characters, see them move, see their blows blocked or connect and generally understand what they’re doing (at least visually). These days, it’s a fine line between creating a kinetic action sequence that thrills and cutting the shakey footage so fast it comes across as amateurish and unplanned (see: Taken 3). For your action fix, you’ll want to wait for John Wick 2 next year. And for the love of God …Greengrass, stop allowing the cinematographer to zoom the lens for no reason. It’s not cool (not even in a retro 70s way), it’s not “documentary-style” it’s just unnecessary.
When ‘The Bourne Identity’ film adaptation arrived – excluding the 1988 TV snoozer starring Richard Chamberlain – some 14 years ago (God I feel old just typing that) it was something of a shot in the arm for the spy thriller genre. Here was a man who’s greatest weapon was his mind and his ability to improvise – Ok and his ability to lay the smackdown when required – but he was always a man who thought first and punched later. In 2016, the Bourne franchise has become much like Bourne himself – muscular, lean, but weathered and showing scars of previous encounters. If there’s still life in this old dog, Greengrass and Damon are going to have to get it back up on its feet and give it something to fight for, or put it down for good.
Maybe it’s time for that Renner/Damon team-up movie?
Sash Nixon is an award-winning filmmaker who lives in HamilTron, where he also writes screenplays, acts and occasionally cosplays. He makes a mean noodle omelette, and is a Level 15th Dan black belt in the art of Colouring (pencil grade).