Jason Bourne: Director Paul Greengrass Reteams with Star Matt Damon in Making Franchise’s New Chapter

jason_bourne_posterDirector Paul Greengrass and star Matt Damon reteam for their fourth installment of the Bourne franchise, this time simply and aptly titled Jason Bourne, disclosing some interesting aspects of the hero’s backstory that we didn’t know, sort of raison d’etre for making this picture in the first place.

The reunion is more than welcome.  Nominally speaking, this is the fifth chapter of the Bourne saga, if you include The Bourne Legacy, made in 2012 with Jeremy Renner replacing Damon as the lead character. That segment, not directed by Greengrass, was artistically underwhelming and commercially underperforming, resulting in a global haul of $276 million, which is half of what the third segment, The Bourne Ultimatum, grossed (about $450 milion), when Greengrass and Damon joined forces.

 

 

The teaming of helmer and actor has not always been magical, and doesn’t necessarily guarantee success, as one should remember the disappointing Iraq war movie that Greengrass and Damon made together, Green Zone, which was both an artistic and financial flop.

It’s been a decade (nine years to be exact) since Damon played the charming but enigmatic, skillful but amnesiac spy, and in recent interviews, the star has indicated the impact of again while it comes to performing the demanding and risky stunt work.

Based on the evidence, there is no need to worry, and Damon, who’s 46, seems to be at the top of his form, coming off the biggest hit of his career, Ridley Scott’s vastly entertaining, intimate yet epic The Martian ($630 million worldwide), which also brought him a well-deserved Best Actor Oscar nomination.

On that picture, Damon was practically alone, relying on his wits, skills, and good sense of humor. Greengrass is a shrewd director, and he knows that he needs to provide a good reason for bringing back Bourne and putting him at the center of what has become a slightly too familiar globe-trotting thriller.

Thus, as co-writer, with frequent collaborator Christopher rouse, who’s also the film’s editor, he has provided a passably engaging narrative, even if most of the characters (including Bourne) still remain narrowly conceived and one-dimensional.

As the film begins, Bourne is living off the grid, trying to avoid the watchful eye of the new CIA director Robert Dewey (Tommy Lee Jones), who still wants the assassin eliminated.

The first sight of Bourne, glimpsed in rural Greece as he engages in bare-knuckle fighting for pocket money in order to survive, is not entirely plausible, but the text needs to establish that he has fallen from grace and good fortune and now has only his brawn and toughness to rely on. In other words, he needs to be rescued and to be given some guidance,  new purpose to live.

It’s quickly established that in the intervening years Bourne has been squandering his training on cheap, grungy underground prizefights. That is until Nicky Parsons (Julia Stiles) shows up with a good reason to reengage him with what he is really good at.

The tale acknowledges that times, politics, and especially technology have radically changed over the past decade, and the new dangerous players now are those in control of global information—sophisticated hackers who can invade the most secure systems–and also governments that have less respect for the privacy of their individual citizens.

Parsons, along with a WikiLeaks-like crusader named Christian Dassault (Vinzenz Kiefer), aim to reveal the CIA’s shady dealings, which plans to force its way into a social network called Deep Dream. Sneaking past the agency’s firewall from a warehouse in Reykjavik, Parsons steals classified information on Treadstone, the black-ops program for which Bourne was recruited, and its successor, the code-named Iron Hand. The stakes are high as the new information implicates even Bourne’s own father (Gregg Henry), a mysterious figure.

Once Bourne discovers that the CIA is working on this ambitious spy program, and more importantly, that he might learn what had happened to his agent father, he comes out of the shadows, which had made him the target of a ruthless hitman named The Asset (French actor Vincent Cassel, quickly becoming the villain of choice in international cinema).

There’s a new female cast member, Oscar-winner Alicia Vikander (The Danish Girl), who plays Heather Lee, a resourceful hacker and intelligence expert who works under Dewey, but later shift her allegiance to Bourne. It’s a variation of the role that Joan Allen played in earlier Bourne movies.  In her smart and sexy interpretation, what is essentially a secondary character, interacting with Bourne via secretive texts, becomes something more intriguing.

There’s another welcomed new character, Aaron Kalloor (Riz Ahmed, star of HBO’s The Night of) of Silicon Valley, collaborated with Dewey in exchange for the latter’s help in establishing his start-up. But Kalloor now feels the need to assure his 1.5 billion users that his Deep Dream platform will not allow the government in, against Dewey’s interest.

Like the previous segments, the saga hops from Berlin to Athens to London to Sin City.  Jason Bourne builds to a strikingly overblown—and ridiculously absurd– set-piece in Las Vegas, with an elaborately staged car chase, which again demonstrates the masterful craftsmanship of Greengrass and his team when it comes to thrilling action in busy urban locales.

Damon, as noted, remains a major box-office draw and essential player to the franchise’s international status, but likely to get mixed reviewers, this sequel should surpass the success of the previous chapter, if not reach the spectacular grosses of the initial segments.