As well as being three of the most entertaining action-thrillers in recent history, the original Bourne series also revolutionised the way films of this kind were made. Including genuinely gripping action sequences alongside strong lead performances, series director Paul Greengrass employed an unglamorous, stripped-down realism in The Bourne Identity, which felt genuinely fresh at the time of the its release. The style has been copied by many since – most notably in Daniel Craig’s first two outings as national hero 007 – and while this film doesn’t quite live up to the standards of the original trilogy, it’s great to have Matt Damon back as Bourne once more.
Like last year’s Spectre, the makers of this film have decided to reboot the Bourne series with modern-day relevance, deciding to go with a plot heavily conscious of post-Snowden America and the surveillance era. In Iceland, ex-CIA agent turned do-gooder Parsons (Julia Stiles) manages to breach US government systems along with some Wikileaks-style hacktivists, downloading mass amounts of data containing government secrets onto a handy USB memory stick, as well as some handy subplot details concerning Bourne’s father. She locates Bourne (clumsily giving his whereabouts away in the process) and breathless city-hopping ensues – to Berlin via Reykjavík and Athens, onto London and Las Vegas, where the film’s thrilling finale takes place. There’s more than a few action-packed set pieces in between, the best being a car chase amidst civil riots in Athens.
The film’s digital awareness is probably pushed to its limits at times. In one instance, the infamous whistleblower is used as a literal measure of the potential impact of a security breach – “Could be worse than Snowden.” There’s also plenty of furious laptop tapping in dimly lit rooms and the dialogue is sometimes a bit heavy on the techspeak – “use SQL to disrupt their databases,” “they’ve found a backdoor,” and so on. Rather than giving the film a sense of tech-authenticity, these examples come across as a bit heavy-handed, occasionally verging on the edge of cliché.
Outside of these instances, though, the film’s cyber-conscious elements are generally plausible and succeed in giving the plot extra weight. One notable success is “Day Dream,” a social media behemoth with plausible ties to Silicon Valley reality. Run by the charismatic young tech entrepreneur Aaron Kaloor (Riz Ahmed), the company has Google and Facebook levels of ambition – “we’re a community transcending national boundaries” – but has a dark secret at its core. Kaloor made a Faustian pact with the CIA while his company was still in its infancy, where investment was pumped into the tech startup in exchange for users’ data. His conscience having grown alongside his success, the young entrepreneur tries to renege on this deal, only to be indicted by federal agents on obscure charges, proving that if the truth doesn’t catch up with you, the past certainly will.
Another of the film’s better aspects is its casting, with some highly talented actors enlisted alongside Damon. Vincent Cassel plays “the Asset,” a hitman of vaguely European origins and the latest scorned figure of Bourne’s past, who takes on the mission of taking out Bourne with notable enthusiasm. Each previous Bourne film has had a similar character and their presence is as necessary as ever in this film, with Cassel bringing a tangible and physical counterpoint to the film’s digital focus. Tommy Lee Jones is also more than credible as the stone-faced CIA dinosaur, a world-weary West Texan who thirsts for Bourne’s blood and possesses both tech-savviness and little regard for privacy concerns. While their analogue presence brings a lot to this film, the usually fantastic Alicia Vikander feels a little underused, playing the young and rather forgettable head of the CIA’s cyber ops division Heather Mills.
If there’s any criticism of this film, it’s that Bourne is a little unrealistically up to date with modern technologies and surveillance methods. Played by a visibly greying Damon, Bourne is considerably older than he was in the previous films and has spent some time off the grid in exile, but manages again to stay one step ahead of his government chasers. Despite his age, Bourne is as physically and intellectually infallible as ever, but it would have been an interesting and realistic point of dramatic tension to play on Bourne’s increasing vulnerability in an era of relentless technological change. As well as this, there’s a rather unlikely tumble from a five-storey building as “the Asset” has him cornered. Bourne’s fall is mitigated by a piece of cable wire acting in seeming contradiction to physical laws, and he’s up again in seconds.
As with all previous Bourne films, though, this is a satisfying and compelling action-thriller, with its subject matter enough to anchor it plausibly and pleasingly in the modern day. If there’s a single most worrying threat to modern Western freedom, then it’s light-of-day government surveillance on state citizens. While it’s probably too late to reverse the situation today, with most individuals worryingly apathetic to internet freedom and some actively resistant, different attitudes will come about through a change in mainstream conversation. Jason Bourne does its part in initiating this – and in highly entertaining fashion as well.
Director: Paul Greengrass
Screenwriters: Paul Greengrass, Christopher Rouse
Starring: Matt Damon, Julia Stiles, Alicia Vikander, Tommy Lee Jones, Vincent Cassel, Riz Ahmed
Producers: Matt Damon, Paul Greengrass, Gregory Goodman, Frank Marshall, Jeffrey M. Weiner, Ben Smith
Director of Photography: Barry Ackroyd
Music: John Powell, David Buckley
Runtime: 123 minutes
Jason Bourne is out on Blu-Ray and DVD on the 6th December.