Movie Review: “Jason Bourne”

Matt Damon, Alicia Vikander, Tommy Lee Jones, Vincent Cassel, Julia Stiles, Riz Ahmed, Ato Essandoh, Bill Camp
Paul Greengrass

There are film franchises where each installment comes with a checklist of the beats the film will hit. A chase, a shot, a musical cue, a line of dialogue, a plot device, those sorts of things. “Jason Bourne” takes that idea to an absurd level. This is a film where the audience isn’t just reminded that they’re watching a Bourne film (though they are, constantly); at times, they’re watching a featurette on the making of a Bourne film. Several scenes are staged in such a manner that they look like test runs of the final shot, rather than the final shot. The plot is rather threadbare for a series that prides itself on convoluted story lines, but the most damning thing about “Jason Bourne” is what a bloodless, cold viewing experience it is. From start to finish, I was not emotionally invested in a single thing that took place. In fact, I couldn’t wait for it to be over – definitely a first for a Bourne film.

Jason Bourne (Matt Damon) is living off the grid, making money in underground fighting. He receives a visit from former operative Nicky Parsons (Julia Stiles), who tells Jason that she has hacked the CIA database and has uncovered information on Treadstone, the now-defunct program of which he was a part, as well as their latest program, which involves surveillance. The database hack draws the attention of Heather Lee (Alicia Vikander), a talented and ambitious coder who works for CIA director Robert Dewey (Tommy Lee Jones). Dewey enlists an assassin, known only as The Asset (Vincent Cassel), to find and kill Bourne. As Lee listens to Dewey talk about Bourne, she starts to question Dewey’s motives and volunteers to run point on Bourne’s capture (or death) in order to discover if there is more to the story.

There are two ripped-from-today’s-headlines subplots that are supposed to add intrigue and perhaps make for healthy conversation afterwards, but both play like square pegs jammed into round holes. Nicky stole the data to publish on a Wikileaks-type site; she only shared it with Jason because it would help him fill blanks in his memory. The other plot involves the new surveillance program, in which a social media giant teams up with the CIA to secretly spy on its users. Both are topics worthy of discussion, and yet neither of them is handled with the nuance that they deserve. They are just means to an end.

Speaking of filling blanks in Jason’s memory – that bit got old very quickly, especially when it was obvious what the missing piece was going to be. Jason’s Awful Truth flashbacks should have been heartbreaking, considering the circumstances, and yet those scenes seemed more focused on getting the ‘young Jason’ shots right (a growing trend in film, unfortunately) than they did on getting people to care about what they just saw.

The actors are fine, sort of. Damon can do this role in his sleep, and Jones practically is sleepwalking here. Vikander, though, may have had the easiest role of all; she shows less humanity here than she did in “Ex Machina,” and she wasn’t even human in that film. They’re setting her up to have an intriguing character arc in future installments, but that doesn’t really matter if this film doesn’t work and those installments never happen.

The lion’s share of the blame with regard to “Jason Bourne” falls on Paul Greengrass, its director and co-writer. He has done better, and he knows it. There is a (ridiculous) car chase at the end of the film that seems to have no purpose other than besting “The Blues Brothers” as the film that destroyed more cars than any other. Once the car chase ends, the chase continues on foot, but while that was happening, all I could think about was the dozens upon dozens of people who were injured by the car chase.

A quick search of the words ‘Paul Greengrass visceral’ pulls up over 50,000 hits, and in the past, the word ‘visceral’ has fit Greengrass’ films well. Here, however, it does not. Breaking a bunch of stuff on screen does not make a movie visceral – it makes a movie noisy. Both Matt Damon and “Jason Bourne” deserved better than this.