“You Know His Name”
Directed by Paul Greengrass
Starring Matt Damon, Alicia Vikander, Tommy Lee Jones, Vincent Cassel, Julia Stiles and Riz Ahmed
Based – really loosely – on a novel by Robert Ludlum, 2002’s The Bourne Identity kinda sorta changed the nature of the espionage action movie… I won’t say completely and forever, but substantially and in ways that are still felt today. It brought a harder edge to action with its brutal fight scenes and jarringly intimate, naturalistic camerawork. The franchise made star Matt Damon into a megastar as Jason Bourne, an amnesiac assassin turned into the perfect weapon by a CIA program called Treadstone. It was followed by the increasingly loose adaptations The Bourne Supremacy (2004) and The Bourne Ultimatum (2007) and then in 2012 by The Bourne Legacy, with Jeremy Renner’s Aaron Cross replacing Matt Damon’s Jason Bourne in what was intended to be the start of a new chapter in the series. After the lacklustre box office and critical response of Legacy, the series returned to type, lead and director with 2016’s Jason Bourne.
The Late Sequel
Series veteran Nicky Parsons (Stiles), hacks a CIA black ops database for information on its ongoing program of superspies and other shenanigans. With cyber-ops supremo Heather Lee (Vikander) on her trail, Parsons contacts Bourne to arrange a meet in Athens during a riot.
Parsons is killed by the Asset (Cassel), a post-Treadstone assassin deployed by CIA director Dewey (Jones), but gives Bourne the files, which not only reveal Ironhand – a plan to use social media giant Deep Dream as the hub in a massive invasion of privacy – but also the fact that Bourne’s father was the founder of Treadstone. After a London meet is sabotaged, Lee sneaks Bourne into the US to confront Dewey at a conference in Vegas, where Dewey has brought the Asset to eliminate the CEO of Deep Dream (Ahmed) and Lee before they can hurt him politically.
What’s wrong with it?
Deep Dream is the Google system that uses a convolutional neural net to find dogs in images.
Despite the relentless advance of the surveillance state, the omniscient CIA monitoring machine is pretty hard to believe, or to reconcile with Bourne’s success in staying out of sight for almost a decade. At one point Lee types into a command line ‘run predictive algorithm’, which feels like it isn’t the kind of thing that belongs in a command line.
Parsons, the only other veteran of the first movie, gets shot down, essentially because they didn’t have anything for her to do or any other way to remove her from the story. Or perhaps because they wanted to feed out information more slowly than she would have done.
Parsons’ cyberactivist partner, Christian Dassault (Vinzenz Kiefer), plugs a USB drive of stolen CIA data into a wirelessly networked computer. Maybe he should have invested into a Faraday cage instead of a wall full of training weights. I half expect there to be a deleted scene of him asking Parsons if she even lifts.
What is the Asset’s codename? Collateral, perhaps? Or Liability?
I’m pretty sure SWAT vans don’t work like that.
The final chase sequence is reminiscent of The Blues Brothers.
The Asset wants to kill Bourne because he was captured and tortured when Bourne exposed Project Blackbriar, but Bourne wants to kill the Asset because Liability killed his father.
Not a word of a lie, the head of cyber-ops asks one of her tech goons to ‘enhance’ a blurred image, and it turns into Julia Stiles.
Jason Bourne reminds us once more that America, and specifically the CIA, is why we can’t have nice things. That if the CIA had their way every European capital would be riddled with bullet holes blast craters and corpses. Even as Collateral pursues Bourne through the riot-torn streets of Athens, casually head-shotting passing civilians, it’s hard not to think that it is in some way their fault that the Greek economy is in the pan, or that Brexit is in some way precipitated by the four armed CIA agents the Asset leaves lying around London.
What’s right with it?
As ludicrous as the plot is, none of the players ever breaks face, playing the most insane assertion as if it were pure art.
The fight scenes remain some of the most grittily effective in cinema, and remind us just why Daniel Craig’s Bond was the way he was.
Heather Lee is one of the more interesting female characters in the series, like Supremacy and Ultimatum‘s Pamela Landy, but with the ruthlessness as well as the intelligence to match, or surpass, her male colleagues.
How bad is it really?
In 2002, Jason Bourne would probably have created as much of a splash as The Bourne Identity did, although its mass surveillance plot might have seemed far-fetched. In 2016, however, it’s basically just more of the same. It’s a little unfair, perhaps to judge a film on this criteria, but ultimately it’s not enough for Jason Bourne to be well done.
Best bit (if such there is)?
Setting up for his op at the big tech expo, Bourne basically walks around, blithely nicking surveillance gizmos to make up his spy kit.
What’s up with…?
- The Asset? I mean, he is such a liability. Why did they even bother to get him out of Syrian prison?
Production values – Jason Bourne is brilliantly made, there’s no denying it. 2
Dialogue and performances – The performances are universally excellent, but the dialogue really tops out at functional. 8
Plot and execution – The plot of Jason Bourne is just that little bit more ludicrous than earlier installments, and the car chase just a step too far. 9
Randomness – Why is the Asset such a walking disaster area? Why is Christian Dassault such a useless hacktivist, but such a devoted lifter? 6
Waste of potential – In its own terms, Jason Bourne is a little silly, and a little too po-faced for what it has to say, but as the late sequel/post-Legacy soft reboot of the wildly successful original trilogy, it’s lacking a certain… va va voom. 12