Actions speak louder than words.
Matt Damon doesn’t say a whole lot in “Jason Bourne,” his fourth turn as the amnesiac assassin out to find himself in a clandestine world. But he doesn’t need to either.
The world around Bourne has changed dramatically since his last on-screen appearance nearly a decade ago in “The Bourne Ultimatum.” NSA contractor Edward Snowden’s releasing of classified documents outlining secret U.S. surveillance programs watching over everyone all the time have a profound impact on “Jason Bourne.”
It’s probably a good idea not to say very much when every conversation, movement and keystroke is being compiled, catalogued and analyzed at every turn. The world of the original “Bourne” trilogy has evolved into a much darker and scarily plausible one.
“Jason Bourne” finds a tortured Bourne putting himself through unnecessary pain as a way to atone for his sins as an assassin, when former CIA colleague turned radicalized hacker Nicky Parsons (Julia Stiles) tracks down Bourne after stealing information on covert kill-squad programs like the one Bourne was born from. Using the intel, Bourne goes on an intercontinental quest for answers, including startling information about his father.
Despite how similar “Jason Bourne” is to all the other “Bourne” films, it’s still the best traditional action movie to hit the big screen since last year’s “Mission Impossible: Rogue Nation.”
Damon gives yet another dazzling performance, saying much more with his body language than he has to in the approximately 25 lines of dialogue Bourne has in the film. The ruthless, almost robotic efficiency he displays during action sequences is wonderfully offset by moments of genuine emotion as he flashes back to memories of his father.
Texas native and Academy Award winner Tommy Lee Jones takes aim at bringing Bourne down as CIA director Robert Dewey, a character that feels like an older version of Jones’ iconic U.S. Marshal Sam Gerard in 1993’s “The Fugitive.” It’s a solid, unspectacular role-filling performance that gets consistently shown up by whichever other stars are in the scene, which is unfortunate as it constantly feels like there’s more Jones could give to the role.
Oscar winner Alicia Vikander breathes new life into the “Bourne” franchise as CIA cyber-ops chief Heather Lee, perhaps the most complex and dynamic character outside of Bourne himself in the entire series of films. Vikander shows an adept hand at playing both sides (the government and Bourne) against the middle while she seeks out her own unknown end.
The biggest lesson that Hollywood can learn from films like “Jason Bourne” is that superior acting talent can elevate standard action fodder to new heights, something the “Bourne” franchise has shown time and again with performers like Clive Owen, David Strathairn, Chris Cooper and Joan Allen.
Veteran character actor Vincent Cassel is yet another example of this at work, following in the footsteps of Owen and Karl Urban before him as the nameless, shadowy killer just one step behind hunting Bourne. Viewers learn more about Cassel’s character, known simply as “The Asset,” than previous iterations of this character and Cassel is a perfect actor to carry the heavier load. His performance is menacing, yet elegant and a terrific counterbalance to both his rival, Bourne, and boss Dewey.
The biggest weakness in “Jason Bourne” has to be the mediocre direction of Paul Greengrass, now on his third turn at the helm of the franchise. Greengrass’ insistence on over-utilizing the shaky-cam motion style of cinematography he popularized in “Bourne Supremacy” makes the new film extremely herky-jerk, even in static scenes of dialogue that don’t need any stylistic frills.
While the shaky-cam style provides a frenetic energy to action sequences, “Jason Bourne” suffers from the fact that there is so much chaos in everything from major car chases to the simplest of hand-to-hand combat scenes. Greengrass gets in his own way trying to replicate the visual style and thoroughly impedes viewers’ understanding of most of the major set pieces in the film.
For all its limitations, “Jason Bourne” is anything but a bad movie and every single installment in the “Bourne” franchise proves to be a superior piece of action filmmaking, including the much maligned “Bourne Legacy” offshoot starring Jeremy Renner.
Moviegoers are probably going to want to watch the first three “Bourne” movies with Damon before heading out to catch “Jason Bourne” on the big screen. But watch quickly as “Jason Bourne” is a deadly fun time and an absolute must see at a local movie theater.