Paul Greengrass has made just six movies in the last 14 years, four of them with Matt Damon – and three of those have been part of the Bourne franchise. Damon and Greengrass swore nine years ago they were done with JB, unless a story revealed the character in a way that was significantly new.
So it was reasonable to hope their rapport and high standards would somehow refresh that narrative in “Jason Bourne.” It didn’t. This stale, redundant story goes round in the same tight circles, revealing one piddling new secret and containing one unconvincing change of character.
Bourne has been off the grid for almost 10 years when it starts. (Damon last made a Bourne movie in 2007, so that fits.) CIA agent Nicky Parsons (Julia Stiles) has tracked him for a decade and gives him a file containing background on black ops missions he vaguely remembers. Now he wants to find out what really happened to his dad, a CIA agent killed in a car bombing.
The film enters its rigid narrative pattern at once. Bourne, who barely speaks, goes to a new city – Athens, London, Las Vegas – to collect information, tracked by a CIA assassin known only as The Asset (Vincent Cassel, wasted as usual).
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In each locale, Bourne gathers facts, someone gets murdered, and he moves on after a long and chaotic chase on foot or in a car. Greengrass, who has always been fond of his Shaky-Cam, seems to have shot action scenes here while jogging on a treadmill.
He wrote the script with Christopher Rouse, his longtime editor. They try to build suspense as Bourne ferrets out the tale’s lone secret; it turns out to be the lamest explanation since Blofeld created SPECTRE because his dad gave skiing lessons to James Bond.
Though Greengrass often has interesting takes on morality, the political question here – should we allow extreme surveillance in the name of national security? – is an undigested afterthought. Bourne’s dilemma about whether to rejoin the CIA, presumably because he’s such a patriot, never seems credible. And a fact-checker could have told the writers the director of the CIA has to be appointed by the president and confirmed by the Senate.
None of the three Oscar-winners in the cast gets a chance to do distinguished work. Damon has nothing to play. Alicia Vikander tries to be enigmatic as Heather Lee, a computer genius who’s assigned to capture Bourne but seems sympathetic toward him; instead, she’s merely bland.
Tommy Lee Jones, who plays corrupt CIA director Robert Dewey, expresses only massive indifference. His face, with its large nose and lines as deep as coal seams, now resembles one of those rubber Richard Nixon masks donned by bank robbers in movies. His most famous onscreen line remains his reply to Harrison Ford in “The Fugitive” – “I don’t care!” – and it has apparently become his personal mantra.
Cast: Matt Damon, Tommy Lee Jones, Alicia Vikander, Vincent Cassel.
Director: Paul Greengrass.
Length: 90 minutes.
Rating: PG-13 (intense sequences of violence and action, and brief strong language).