August 16, 2012
The “Bourne” films have long challenged viewers to consider the ethical ramifications of constructing supersoldiers. In this fourth installment, the examination continues through the eyes of a new protagonist. He is Aaron Cross, a recent recruit for an off-the-books CIA experiment known as Treadstone. Cross, played by Jeremy Renner, glistens with the rough polish of a young Charles Bronson while making his bones on an Alaskan odyssey – an “Outward Bound” for spies.
To accomplish feats such as overpowering a wolf using his bare hands, or leaping a 20-foot gap separating mountain ledges, Cross, like all of the latest generation of Treadstone ops, “chems” daily. His regimen of blue pills, green pills, and frequent self-sampling of his blood, is enough to make Alice’s head spin.
Once he arrives at his mountain cabin destination, Cross briefly connects with another Treadstone spy. He wants to exchange information, but his co-worker’s extreme paranoia prohibits doing so. That paranoia is justified because unbeknownst to both men, Treadstone’s supervisor, Col. Eric Byer (Edward Norton), has learned Treadstone’s existence may be exposed. To protect himself and his cronies, Byer orders the termination of Treadstone’s five operatives and of the several scientists who routinely examine the spies to compile project data.
By faking his own death, Cross is able to escape drones sent to bomb him into oblivion, but in order to make that escape permanent he must retain his enhanced skills, and to do that he’ll require a new source of “chems.” In a parallel story, Dr. Marta Shearing (Rachel Weisz) is the sole survivor at Treadstone’s Labs after her co-worker mysteriously goes postal. Cross arrives in time to save Shearing from Byer’s plot to finish the job, thus compelling her to help him if she wishes to live.
Compared to previous Bourne movies – films that are no slouches in the action department – this chapter’s mile-a-minute chases and gun battles are fiercer and almost maniacal. What sets this saga apart from others featuring similar levels of action is its smart adherence to barely plausible realism. Director Tony Gilroy, a writer for all three earlier movies, maintains an intimate connection with his protagonist, showing and telling us just enough backstory to justify Cross’ surprising perspective on the program.
While most of the audience was riveted from start to finish, a young woman several seats to my left, spent the entire film either texting or snoozing. Obviously it wasn’t her kind of movie. Those who enjoyed the earlier Bourne films are likely to appreciate this one, although it’s more strongly related to “Ronin,” or “Three Days of the Condor.”
I’d welcome the making of more “Bourne” films in the style pioneered by Matt Damon along with directors Doug Liman and Paul Greengrass, but this take on the conspiracy flick is the one that makes my heart skip a beat.