With re-boots, re-writes and re-imaginings de rigeur these days, it’s not all that surprising that Robert Ludlum’s famous super-spy gets to have another go around in the eponymous Jason Bourne. This stylish thriller re-unites star Matt Damon with Bourne Supremacy and Bourne Ultimatum director Paul Greengrass. It hardly seems nine years since Ultimatum; but there was 2012’s spin-off The Bourne Legacy (helmed by Tony Gilroy) in the interim.
Although the timelines in Jason Bourne aren’t entirely clear, it’s some considerable time since the events of Ultimatum and our hero has gone off the grid and off the rails somewhat. In the opening sequence, Bourne is taking part in (probably illegal) bare-knuckle boxing bouts in Greece, with predictable success. However, Nicky Parsons (Julia Stiles) still has unfinished business from her CIA days and manages to access highly classified files about the Agency’s “black ops”; including the infamous Treadstone program. Armed with the downloaded files, she seeks out Bourne in Athens to ask for his help in getting them to Wikileaks-style rebel Christian Dassault (Vinzenz Keifer). But Nicky has brought more than she bargained with her. Her infiltration was detected by the CIA and savvy analyst Heather Lee (Alicia Vikander) is tracking her movements. Under the watchful gaze of CIA Director Robert Dewey (Tommy Lee Jones), a plan is hatched to bring down Parsons (and – they hope – Bourne) involving the ruthless assassin known only as the Asset (Vincent Cassel).
With no more books to work from, director Greengrass and co-writer Christopher Rouse (Captain Philips) have essentially crafted an original screenplay using only the inspiration of Ludlum’s work. They take the Bourne character in a different direction. While he’s still a very able spy, he’s decided to take his life in a more subdued direction. He basically doesn’t want to be a killer-for-hire anymore. He’s content to be a Batman-like character who can match it with the best of them in a fist fight but who baulks at firing a gun. The reasons for that are explained quite briefly here, so it would help to at least be familiar with other films in the franchise to fill in the background.
They also provide a motivation for Bourne involving a tragedy from many years earlier (quite a common trope, and one that’s not all that interesting here); though this is cleverly overlaid with a “will-he-or-won’t-he” sub-plot involving attempts by Lee to bring him in from the cold (see what I did there – well, they do it in the movie too). Cyber-security – or perhaps more correctly, insecurity – gets an airing, though it never reaches Mr Robot style paranoia.
As you’d expect from a Bourne movie, there is a travelogue of exotic locations, from Reykjavik to Las Vegas and plenty more in between. As you’d also expect, the set-pieces are thrillingly executed. This is one instance in which the “shaky-cam” cinematography Greengrass favours actually works. The climactic car chase through the tinsel-town streets of Las Vegas could just be the greatest in the history of cinema to date; and the movie is worth the price of admission for that alone.
In the title role, Matt Damon doesn’t get a lot of lines, but more than makes up for it with a powerhouse physical performance that never lets up over the film’s two-hour running time. Vincent Cassel is similarly taciturn as the Asset, but also inhabits the rather nasty character. That leaves most of the talking to Alicia Vikander (The Danish Girl) and Tommy Lee Jones (The Homesman) as the CIA agents with somewhat different views and (possibly) competing agendas. Riz Ahmed (Nightcrawler) has a small role as a tech entrepreneur; although there are hints that if this film spawns sequels (which seems a distinct possibility), his role could become much more significant.
I had a great time with Jason Bourne. From the opening credits, you barely get a chance to draw breath. This is a brilliantly made action thriller – even if the plot doesn’t really bear a lot of scrutiny.
Director: Paul Greengrass
Cast: Alicia Vikander, Matt Damon, Julia Stiles, Tommy Lee Jones, Riz Ahmed
Release Date: 28 July 2016
Rating: M – Mature themes and violence
David Edwards is the editor of The Blurb and a contributor on film and television