“SOMETHING IS WRONG”. So goes a text message that Alicia Vikander’s Heather Lee sends Matt Damon’s Jason Bourne, before the final climactic drop in director Paul Greengrass’s Jason Bourne. If I’d had Matt Damon’s cell number, that would probably be the exact text I’d have sent him half-way through the movie. For, co-writing with Christopher Rouse, Greengrass reprises his place in the director’s chair, and Matt Damon as Jason Bourne – but with an outing that’s less spear more phishing. And here’s the disappointing nub – the original thumb-a-minute Bourne novels were written by the redoubtable Robert Ludlum in a fashion that was entertainingly claustrophobic, chillingly mysterious, and compulsively suspicious. You and Bourne didn’t know whom to trust, where to go, and what to do next. Ludlum ensured you held your breath and the book in a single-night read.
In the movie trilogy, Greengrass changed a lot of the plot details and intricacies, but retained the core darkness of Ludlum’s books. The movies were fast-paced, the action was swift and merciless, and the result very satisfying. Which is why, when director Greengrass brings back Bourne from the rubbles of a buried past into the present, you expect nothing less than pulsating action careening on a spine that is noir-ish and tantalizingly scary. That spine, unfortunately, is more osteoporosized than delightfully dank. There’s another reason why Ludlum’s spine-tinglers worked admirably – the Bourne crux was premised on his personal experience of a memory blackout, that he sautéed with real-life spy stories. Here, the sauté is all plastic chips, no fish.
In Jason Bourne, the story re-treads into the once-upon-a-time cabalistic Treadstone program, throwing in a Blackbriar asset, who’s named just that – the Asset (Vincent Cassel), gray hat Heather Lee (Alicia Vikander) who’s now the head of the CIA’s Cyber Ops division, the current CIA director Robert Dewey (Tommy Lee Jones), and of course, Nicky Parsons (Julia Stiles) who sets the raison d’être ball for this project rolling on its way. Nicky, she an ex-CIA agent – involved with the Treadstone project that originally recruited Bourne – now working with hacktivist Christian Dassault, based out of Reykjavik, hacks into the CIA mainframe server. And discovers files related to Treadstone, and the truth behind why and how Bourne was recruited.
So much does this discovery shock Nicky that she travels to Greece to locate Bourne and hand him the files she copied from the CIA’s system. And these are the moments to savor in the movie – there’s some superbly shot anti-government protests that turn violent, even as the two meet; meanwhile, Heather Lee figures out who’s behind the hack and also what Parsons was after.
This sets into motion Lee’s attempts to get Parsons and Bourne in, even as director Dewey sends Asset to take both of them out. The action here is breath-taking, even if the hand-held camera sequences (Greengrass’s much-loved motif) make you go “Go slow!” once a while. And this is as far as the satisfying trip runs. With Parson’s exit, Bourne and you are left to figure out things on your own. And this is Jason Bourne’s undoing – even as Bourne finds out a hint about his and his father (Richard Webb, played by Gregg Henry, so brilliant in the TV series, The Killing) and a past link to the Treadstone program, you’re hoping all of this comes to a reveal that’s shocking enough for this project’s reprise and Parson’s au revoir. You hope. From here on, it’s all surveillance monitors jumping in your face, Bourne playing cat-and-mouse with the CIA, Heather Lee seemingly playing both sides, and you wondering whether all of this kerfuffle is going somewhere at all. To add another layer of deviousness to the plot, the director throws in Aaron Kalloor (Riz Ahmed), CEO of Deep Dream, a social media enterprise, and who has deep-running links with the CIA’s Dewey to launch an inimical surveillance program.
All of this seems to be an afterthought, the primary force behind this project ostensibly being, “Hey! Let’s bring Damon back as Bourne!” Which results in the movie seeing Greengrass employ all the techniques he did in the trilogy – and here’s the damning cinematic dingle for Jason Bourne’s path – this time around, it doesn’t work. And that’s because director Greengrass executes a whiplash of action and sequences that aim to please, but minus a script and a killing reason (pun intended), they aim to squeeze – your eyes. With the additional burden of 3-D, Jason Bourne ends up being an exercise of refractory strain that’s really no fun. There’s not one scene here that justifies this project being projected in 3-D, and you wonder what was the point of it all? To be fair, there is a breath-taking car chase in Las Vegas, but you’ve seen more and better in Spectre. Ditto for the surveillance program that kicked off a breathless cartel meeting in the Bond movie.
And that is the other soused-in-irrelevance-grouse – at the end of it all, you remain calm and unmoved by it all. Jason Bourne doesn’t even make a half-hearted attempt to be relevant to our times – why, even Avengers : Age of Ultron had a better reason to do what it did. That leaves the cast then, to redeem Ludlum’s legacy. Fresh from her triumphant Academy Award winning turn in the gripping The Danish Girl, Alicia Vikander is very effective as the Cyber Ops head who seems to be the only one who trusts Bourne, and the only one Bourne can repose faith in. Tommy Lee Jones as the predictably evil-intentioned CIA director is as sharp and superb as ever, possibly lending more heft to his character than it deserved.
The usually edgy Vincent Cassel has very little to do, except to aim and hoof it. And in the eponymous role, Matt Damon seizes the onerous task of lending some semblance of thought and credibility, and succeeds brilliantly. His is an act to watch, his eyes on a studied simmer, his greying side hair lending just that much of old-worldliness to his role. Damon is on the ball throughout the movie, his action and quiet intensity making this movie worth a dekko.
Barry Ackroyd’s cinematography is as classy as ever, though to me, the 3-D took away some of the intended dimension and depth. Composers John Powell and David Buckley score a thumping triumph, the drums crashing, the triangles tinkling your suspense nerves, the violins relentless in their tension and build up. But one scene is spectacular – in the end, after their meeting in a park, Bourne walks away, and Alicia Vikander walks in the other direction – there’s some swirling, haunting violins, deep piano tinkles, an insistent cowbell, and then as she turns, the violins rise and then, without warning, do a roller coaster dip that’s absolutely and completely unfettered goose bumps – a masterpiece, that.
Bottom-line – Jason Bourne is a reminder that sometimes it’s best not to be reborn and re-Bourne. Unless Ludlum comes back and gives cinema a compelling reason, let by-Bournes be by-Bournes. And even before you think about it – please, no Son of Bourne series either.
Watch the trailer of Jason Bourne here: