Amongst the tales of historical power couples – Cleopatra and Caesar, Kahlo and Rivera, Boleyn and King Henry – none have dragged society to their feet in sheer anticipation as the reunion of Paul Greengrass and Matt Damon.
We know the name, and despite their absence in the fourth installment, Damon and Greengrass return to create an extension to Bourne’s journey in revealing the truth of his past and avenging the wrongdoings done to him by those who were responsible.
When Bourne’s ally Nicky Parsons (Julia Stiles) discovers information about his father, CIA Director Robert Dewey (Tommy Lee Jones) will stop at nothing to keep Bourne from discovering their secrets. With the ambitious Heather Lee (Alicia Vikander) commanding operations to find Bourne and bring him in, and the coldblooded Asset (Vincent Cassel) on his tail, Bourne comes out of hiding to traverse the Mediterranean in search of answers.
What the Bourne series prides itself on is its gritty realism and unpolished camerawork that place audiences inside the same space as Bourne as he fights to survive. And the trailers leading up to the film’s release gave audiences little nibbles teasing similarly realistic directing and brutal choreography, with Damon clearly having hit the gym hard since his days on Mars in last year’s The Martian.
And Damon, as always, brings intensity to a character that would feel empty had any other actor worn the same boxing gloves. It’s in the subtle glances and way he walks that brings audiences back to the same complex and damaged character he had first created some fourteen years ago. It would be a lie to say audiences will not be thrilled to see Damon return with the same coldness and commitment that we remember so fondly, and that has certainly been explored in his memorable roles throughout the years since in The Departed, Invictus etc but none as satisfying as Bourne. While his identity crisis is somewhat less of an issue in this installment, Damon still investigates the complexity behind Bourne’s broken past, the effect of emerging technology, and issues of surveillance in a post-Snowden era.
What audiences also affectionately nurture in their cryogenic chambers of nostalgia is the spatial shrewdness Bourne demonstrates time and time again, using the resources at his immediate disposal to get himself out of tight situations and turn them into an advantage, and there are certainly plenty of those in Jason Bourne. No vodka bottle, newspaper or pen is safe from being turned into a weapon of some kind and it’s this pure fun, interwoven through a dark narrative with spices of ruthless physicality, which Greengrass reignites into the Bourne franchise after a partial momentary lapse in the fourth installment. Even the handheld camerawork and tilted angles to inject audiences into the chaos, contrasted with smooth long shots that distance the audience from characters as though preying on them, lend a sense of submergence into Bourne’s voyage that enhances the realism for which Bourne has become so beloved.
It’s the same aesthetic and the same character, but it is not without its flaws. Tommy Lee Jones plays Tommy Lee Jones, and it would have been tantalising to see a little more from his character with, as a suggestion, a change in emotion. Academy Award winner Alicia Vikander is surprisingly under-utilised, despite being on screen and delivering more lines than any other character. Vincent Cassel was intriguing and begged to be explored deeper, but with a twenty-minute car chase constituting the film’s climax, his arc also seemed a tad less than satisfying which, along with Jones and Vikander’s characters, left an odd taste in the mouth. Not an unpleasant taste at all, but slightly odd.
Another who did impress was Nightcrawler alumni Riz Ahmed as Zuckerburg-esque Aaron Kalloor, who brought both sensitivity and charisma to a role that could easily have been cheapened into a one dimensional entrepreneur. The parallels to both Snowden and the Tim Cook controversy were obvious but not overwhelming, indulging in a necessary discussion about governmental surveillance and personal technologies without resorting to a lecture.
Ultimately, despite missing the opportunity to name itself Re-Bourne, Jason Bourne does everything it was meant to do. Even though a little more Damon kicking ass would have been nice, less car chases would have made the climax more satisfying and some of the incredible acting talent felt underused, Greengrass and Damon do return to the original working formula and update it to a contemporary stage. It’s unpolished, it’s visceral and every happy moment feels like it ends with a “but…” and that’s how Bourne is meant to be. A little scattered, a little rough around the edges but packing a punch that could knock anyone to the floor.
Review Score: FOUR STARS (OUT OF FIVE)
Jason Bourne is in cinemas around Australia on Thursday 28th July