Saturday, August 6, 2016

Jason Bourne Movie Review

Jason Bourne’s story was told through a trilogy of films that concluded nearly a decade ago. From The Bourne Identity, which saw Matt Damon playing the title amnesiac trying to figure out who he was, why people were trying to kill him, and how he was so capable with his fists, his language, automobiles, and weapons, to the capper The Bourne Ultimatum in which he remembers everything and handily exposes the CIA program that made him who he was we saw Damon and director Paul Greengrass (for the two sequels) reinvent the action spy thriller for the new millennium. Bourne’s story being complete, the franchise attempted to skew in a different direction with Jeremy Renner starring. Now Damon and Greengrass have reunited, I suppose catching on to the popularity of series reboots that have cropped up all over Hollywood in recent years.


Now simply titled Jason Bourne, our hero is brought back into the fold when Nicky Parsons (Julia Stiles), the CIA handler who served as one of his contact points in the earlier films hacks some files from the CIA database (“It’s worse than Snowden,” is a line tossed in to add topicality) that show that Bourne’s history is more complicated than he believed or that any of us ever cared about. But that’s okay because I thought those movies were great and I was looking forward to a new chapter.

There is a new CIA director, Robert Dewey (a tired and gristled Tommy Lee Jones), and a young head of the CIA’s Cyber Ops Division, Heather Lee (Alicia Vikander). She’s a real up-and-comer, champing at the bit to show her mettle and advance quickly through the ranks. They track Parsons to Athens in a dizzying display of hand-held camera, quick cuts, and shots of giant computer monitors with maps and schematics and images from CCTV flitting by. This kind of boardroom boredom will come up again and again every time the suits in DC are trying to find out where someone is. And they’re always successful, mainly through the use of facial recognition technology, gained through access to seemingly every CCTV camera in the world. But there are times when they can instantly identify their target with technology, and then mysteriously there are others where it takes ages before someone says, “We’ve identified Bourne arriving at Las Vegas airport” hours ago. Why did it take so long this time when you knew within minutes that Parsons was in Athens?

The plot is sort of inconsequential, but it involves Bourne learning more about his volunteering for the Treadstone program, the real work his father did, and who was really responsible for his death (all of which is completely new story material except for Bourne volunteering). And I’d be okay with what is essentially a stylistic rehash of what we already went through with Bourne previously if it were supported with a use of technology that made at least a little bit of sense. The facial recognition and capability to follow someone so easily through protest riots in Syntagma Square is just the tip of the iceberg. Jason Bourne deals a whole lot in hacking (topicality again). Screenwriters Greengrass and Christopher Rouse have tried to make the movie relevant by incorporating cyberattacks and rogue actors intent on exposing secrets. Parsons was working for Christian Dassault, a Julian Assange type who talks about democracy and transparency and wants to get his hands on the files she stole. There’s also a sidebar plot point involving a nebulously realized social media platform known as Deep Dream with a founder (Riz Ahmed) who looks the very part of a Silicon Valley tech type with his business casual style. Again, in maintaining a kind of topical relevance throughout, he has made a deal with the devil bargain with Dewey to use the platform as a gateway to gathering information on people worldwide. Metadata is just the beginning!

But let’s touch briefly on the way Greengrass depicts how hacking and detection work at this level because either he has no idea and failed to consult any experts or he doesn’t care and somehow thought you could go so far off the grid of believability that it wouldn’t matter. For starters, when Parsons hacks the CIA, sirens practically sound at the headquarters. They know instantly. And instead of severing the connection or shutting down the mainframe, Lee infects the download with malware that will send an alert when the file is opened? Huh? And then Bourne opens the file later on Dassault’s laptop, which is mysteriously connected to the Internet even though it belongs to a dude who is overly suspicious of government intrusion. And then…and then Lee is able to use the Wifi signal on a cell phone in the room to remotely delete the files before Bourne can save and distribute them. I mean, I’m no expert on this stuff, but even I know this is an absurdly high level of bullshit.

I give credit to Greengrass for not relying too heavily on computer generated effects for his two enormous action set pieces. The first lasts about fifteen minutes (no exaggeration), which is an unbelievably long time for an action sequence. It begins with the mild protests in the square in Athens with Bourne and Parsons evading some CIA goons, takes them on a foot chase followed by a motorcycle chase evading police barricades, Molotov cocktails, and glass bottles thrown from rooftops, all while also being pursued by a former Blackbriar assassin known only as “the asset” played by Vincent Cassel. The second is perhaps the most ridiculous car chase that was not deliberately tongue in cheek. It surpasses the chase at the finale of The Bourne Ultimatum for sheer absurdity. On the streets of Vegas, Bourne (driving a Dodge Charger) chases down the asset who is in an armored SWAT truck. After driving through several smaller vehicles like a snowplow to an embankment, the two vehicles wind up crashing through the front of a casino with the Charger winding up impossibly balcony high before falling back to the ground. It’s all so stupid, but Greengrass, a skilled director of action, apparently did it all with real cars. So that’s something.

Unfortunately, Jason Bourne doesn’t really add anything to the title character’s story. He throws more punches, gets hit harder, kills more people. The CIA bureaucrats continue to be shady dealers who can’t be trusted. And Greengrass seems to have increased the number of edits per minute he makes, not just in action scenes, but for dialogue also. It’s a dizzying effect, much more so than any of his previous work. Someone needs to help him rein it in a little.

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