Review: ‘Bourne’s’ identity rests solely on action

Matt Damon’s fourth turn as the super-spy has several bravura action setpieces but Bourne feels run into the ground

Adam Graham Detroit News Film Critic

Jason Bourne is better than “Jason Bourne.”

Matt Damon’s fourth go-round as the super-spy — his first turn as the character since 2007’s “The Bourne Ultimatum” — has the familiar markings of a “Bourne” movie, which is to say it has a gritty, bare-knuckles approach and hand-held realism. But there’s something different this time around, and it’s not just the gray overtaking Bourne’s hairline.

This time in particular, Bourne seems tired — tired of running, tired of piecing together his past, tired of facing down another shadowy government conspiracy. (This one involves the leaking of important documents and issues of privacy online, important earmarks of the post-Edward Snowden world.)

Maybe Bourne’s simply done it all before, and the mechanics of a “Bourne” movie don’t call on him to do much more than grimace, chase down those who have wronged him and punch his way out of sticky situations. And the audience feels it, too, as Bourne becomes the least interesting character in his own movie.

Thankfully, ace writer-director Paul Greengrass stages three breathless marquee action sequences, including a smash-em-up car chase down the Las Vegas Strip that would make even the “Fast and Furious” gang stop and gawk. So even if we’re dealing with a half-speed Bourne, it’s still more rousing than most action pics, and its grounded sense of reality — even among the heightened chaos of Greengrass’ direction — renders it a cut above the competition.

The globe-trotting adventure opens in Greece, where Bourne is off-the-grid, laying people out in some sort of outdoor fight club ring. (Pity the fool that meets with Bourne’s left cross.) Cut to Bourne’s trusty pal Nicky Parsons (Julia Stiles), who has hacked a CIA list of Black Ops, which is hilariously labeled “Black Ops.” (There are high levels of super-obviousness throughout “Jason Bourne”; at one point Parsons slips Bourne a Zip drive with encrypted information that is marked “ENCRYPTED” in all caps.)

The Black Ops list contains valuable information about Bourne’s past, his father and his recruitment into the CIA. Parsons meets up with Bourne in Athens, and their contact puts them on the radar of CIA director Robert Dewey, played by Tommy Lee Jones who wears his patented cragginess like a well-tailored suit.

Also tracking Bourne is CIA agent Heather Lee (Academy Award winner Alicia Vikander), though she’s more interested in bringing Bourne in than bringing Bourne down. The manhunt also includes a shadowy assassin played by Vincent Cassel.

Stakes set, Greengrass executes a stunning chase through the streets and alleys of Athens, and takes his time laying out a grid of the city that is as thorough as a Google Maps rendering. A lesser director would hurry to the finish, but Greengrass has the confidence to let it slowly, methodically unfurl, and it ranks among the most thrilling sequences in the “Bourne” canon.

“Bourne’s” storyline doesn’t have near the same level of attention to detail, as Damon’s character was put through pretty much everything he could have gone through in the original “Bourne” trilogy and continues to tread familiar ground. You’ll remember — or perhaps you won’t — the series attempted to move on without him with 2012’s Jeremy Renner-starring “The Bourne Legacy,” but that film’s troubled production and disappointing box office returns set Damon up for a comeback in the role.

Damon’s not the problem — at 45, he’s cut out of wood and is credible as a tortured tough guy. But at this point, the Bourne character is feeling run into the ground. He’s still on the hunt for the secrets to his past, but it’s his present and his future that is in doubt.

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Twitter: @grahamorama

‘Jason Bourne’


Rated PG-13 for intense sequences of violence and action, and brief strong language

Running time: 123 minutes