Wednesday 21 February 2018

Film review: Bourne is back to his brutal best

Matt Damon and Paul Greengrass reunite for a triumphant return to form

Forget me not: Matt Damon returns to the Bourne franchise
Forget me not: Matt Damon returns to the Bourne franchise

Paul Whitington

Spare a thought for Jeremy Renner. He was the poor soul who agreed to stand in for Matt Damon in the 2012 thriller, 'The Bourne Legacy'. He wasn't even playing Jason Bourne, but another disaffected secret agent with bad recall, and the film wasn't all that bad really. It was just a bit ordinary, and Mr Renner, a fine character actor, turned out to fatally lack the charisma required to head up an action thriller. That quality is possessed in bucket-loads by Mr Damon, who had departed the franchise after the excellent 'Bourne Ultimatum' (2007), commenting with admirable clarity that "we have ridden that horse as far as we can".

That 'we' includes director Paul Greengrass, and his involvement in this fifth Bourne movie was surely a prerequisite to Matt Damon's return. In 'The Bourne Supremacy' and 'The Bourne Ultimatum', they had rewritten the rules of the action thriller using sparse dialogue, no buddy jokes, fast editing and fight scenes that seemed sickeningly real. The Bourne stories might not be about much, but in Greengrass and Damon's hands they were visceral, compelling.

Why make another one? Why the hell not: although the recent Bond films have borrowed many of this franchise's stylistic touches, the Greengrass Bourne movies remain, in their way, untouchable, and in Jason Bourne the director attempts to outdo himself with a chase sequence of quite bewildering complexity. It happens in Athens during an anti-austerity riot, and provides a gripping centrepiece to this breathless and brutally efficient thriller.

Presumed dead after falling from a high building into the East River at the end of 'The Bourne Ultimatum', young Jason is made of sterner stuff, and re-emerges on the dusty plains of the Greek/Albanian border, where he's eking a living as a bare-knuckle fighter. He's tracked down by his old friend Nicky Parsons (Julia Styles), who's hacked US government files to find vital information about how Bourne, or David Webb as he was back then, was enlisted in the Treadstone programme.

She's also uncovered an incendiary clue to the nature of his father's death, supposedly at the hands of a terrorist, but her activities have been monitored from Washington, and she's inadvertently led the CIA to Bourne.

When Nicky and Bourne meet in Athens, CIA chief Robert Dewey (Tommy Lee Jones, in suitably odious mode) has organised a well-laid trip, and Bourne leads his agents on a merry dance through an anti-austerity riot.

Chief among Dewey's agents is a merciless hit-man played by Vincent Cassel and known simply as 'The Asset'. And when Bourne's pursuit of the truth eventually leads him to Las Vegas, the scene is set for a memorable showdown.

Bourne's journey takes him to some of his old haunts, like 'London, England' and 'Berlin, Germany', but he doesn't have much time for nostalgia because he's under more or less constant attack.

If Dewey and his henchman are his chief oppressors, he has an ally of sorts in Heather Lee (Alicia Vikander), an ambitious CIA handler who sees Bourne as an opportunity rather than a threat. She and Tommy Lee Jones bicker their way through the film, and in a sub-plot that interested me only slightly, Riz Ahmed plays a cocky social media mogul whose ethics have been fatally compromised by Mr Dewey.

They chat, but Bourne says practically nothing, reacting like a jungle cat to each challenge thrown at him and uttering no more than 10 sentences during the entire film.

It takes a special kind of film actor to make a performance like this work, and Mr Damon certainly fits that bill. His worry-lined face speaks volumes, and he has the knack of making you constantly wonder what's going through his head.

"Holy f***," I shouldn't wonder, during some of those terrifying action sequences that he, Mr Greengrass and their editor choreograph and execute so impeccably well, and which culminate in a one-on-one combat sequence that's genuinely unsettling to watch.

Films coming soon...

Suicide Squad (Will Smith, Jared Leto, Margot Robbie, Joel Kinnaman, Viola Davis); Up for Love (Jean Dujardin, Virginie Efira, Cedric Kahn); Sweet Bean (Kirin Kiki, Massatoshi Nagase, Kyara Uchida); 66 Days (Gerry Adams, Fintan O'Toole).

Jason Bourne

(12A, 123mins)

4 Stars

Irish Independent

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