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Jason Bourne | Review

Bourne Again Again: Greengrass Returns to Action Franchise with Middling Results

Paul Greengrass Jason Bourne PosterDirector Paul Greengrass returns to the Robert Ludlum action franchise he inherited from Doug Liman back in 2004 with the fifth installment of the series, Jason Bourne, which also serves as the restoration of star Matt Damon, who went on hiatus for the 2012 chapter, The Bourne Legacy. Although the self-assured marketing promotion features the tagline “You know his name,” this particular examination of the originating protagonist, co-written by Greengrass and Christopher Rouse, does little to shed any light on its hero’s rather banal personal motivations to return to the fold. A decade or so ago, when Damon and Greengrass left behind the property with 2007’s The Bourne Ultimatum, the films were an example of the auteur’s capabilities as an efficient proponent of hyperkinetic actions sequences (and back when such terminology was freely used to describe nearly all his visual coups). With Rouse also serving double duty as editor, the team happily retained their capability to mount pulse-pounding, explosive chase sequences, but sadly, the thrust of its titular hero’s personal woes is hardly enough to hang another two hour plus PG-13 feature on.

Drowning out his sorrows as a prizefighter in a Greek bare-knuckle sweat pit, the super skilled secret op is allowed the opportunity to discover why he was headhunted by the CIA for the poster child of the Treadway program in the first place, and a chance to lay some demons to rest concerning the tragedy which claimed his father. Bourne’s ex-contact Nicki Parsons (Julia Stiles) pops up on the grid after obtaining some secret government files which implicate Bourne’s own father as a responsible party in his son’s crafting as a government weapon, leading her to swoop in on her old friend during fisticuffs in Athens. But her accessing of the files has alerted interested parties in Langley, and new CIA director Robert Dewey (Tommy Lee Jones) is eager to clear up the loose ends represented by the rogue agent, siccing one of the agent’s most vehement enemies, a man only known as Asset (Vincent Cassel) on him. However, ambitious new analyst Heather Lee (Alicia Vikander) has different notions on how to corral Bourne, potentially utilizing the situation to her benefit as they track him from Berlin to Las Vegas, where rising tech savant Aaron Kalloor (Riz Ahmed) is about to unveil a new software program, Deep Dream, a platform the CIA had been previously allowed to use as a way to spy on people.

Arguably, Damon’s Bourne was never quite the most compelling figure in his own saga, an everyman vaunted as an accidental secret ops figurehead whose commitment to his contact Nicky Parsons provided him his only real tangible relationship component (and Julia Stiles provides this latest chapter with its solo emotive moment). Instead, much of the franchise’s momentum has been equally shouldered by various villains, like a delicious Joan Allen (The Bourne Supremacy) or Ultimatum’s use of Albert Finney. But each ride on the Bourne rollercoaster is more or less the same song and dance—some CIA official is out for blood and/or a new or resurrected super secret assassination program has violent designs for his demise. Jason Bourne is no exception, with Tommy Lee Jones netting some laughs as a withering CIA director who turns out to be, not surprisingly, a ruthless OG. Alicia Vikander is an inspired new presence, who wears ambition as stiffly as her coiled hair-do, but the incredibly neutered ending doesn’t do her character any logical favors. Riz Ahmed is on hand in a thankless role as a Mark Zuckerberg type who finds his integrity a bit too late.

On a more positive note, Greengrass and Rouse have lost none of their prowess for a meaty action sequence, unveiling two extended high-octane arrangements worthy of note, such as a car chase through the fiery streets of Athens where Bourne and Parsons elude Cassel’s deadly assassin during a violent protest, and then again during an inspired Las Vegas chase scene with Cassel in a stolen SWAT vehicle. Unfortunately, these moments are hardly enough to justify the existence of this latest Jason Bourne endeavor, and although this could potentially jumpstart the property, it does and will remain one of those peculiar franchises built precipitously on the shoulders of a humdrum anchor.

Despite Greengrass’ continual efforts to inject topicality into these scenarios, this time around with paranoia regarding privacy issues in the post-FB social media obsessed climate, you may know Jason Bourne’s name, but you’ll continue to forget what exactly he’s all about.


Los Angeles based Nicholas Bell is's Chief Film Critic and covers film festivals such as Sundance, Berlin, Cannes and TIFF. He is part of the critic groups on Rotten Tomatoes, The Los Angeles Film Critics Association (LAFCA), FIPRESCI, the Online Film Critics Society (OFCS) and GALECA. His top 3 for 2023: The Beast (Bonello) Poor Things (Lanthimos), Master Gardener (Schrader). He was a jury member at the 2019 Cleveland International Film Festival.

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