At the movies: Rebirthing the Bourne franchise |

At the movies: Rebirthing the Bourne franchise

Lisa Miller
Special to Lake Tahoe Action
In this image released by Universal Pictures, Tommy Lee Jones, left, and Alicia Vikander appear in a scene from "Jason Bourne."
AP | Universal Pictures


* *1/2 (B-)

Directed By Paul Greengrass

Starring Matt Damon, Alicia Vikander, Julia Stiles, Tommy Lee Jones, Vincent Cassel,

Universal, Rated PG-13, Action, 122 minutes

Films such as “Jason Bourne” cause me to wonder whether the public feels more concerned or reassured by the existence of our “intelligence community.”

It’s no secret that ex-spy Jason Bourne (Matt Damon) has been a thorn in the CIA’s side going on 15 years, and that the organization would rather kill Bourne than deal with the potential fallout of letting him live.

As the film opens, Bourne is living off the grid as a globetrotting street fighter, taking down presumed champions with a few quick blows. Damon looks the part, upper body muscles undulating across his abdomen, chest, arms and shoulders. When Bourne removes his muscle shirt, the camera pans to show each ripple. Then until it reaches his back, lingering over bullet hole scars from his former job.

When an old friend contacts him in Greece, Bourne’s existing from one fight to the next. She’s former colleague and fellow company renegade, Nicky Parsons (Julia Stiles), who has uncovered new information about the Treadstone program that stole Bourne’s memory, turned him into an unstoppable assassin, then set out to kill him.

Nicky accesses Treadstone’s archived black ops files, unaware her activities sound an alarm at the CIA. Back in suburban Virginia, ambitious cyber analyst Heather Lee (Alicia Vikander) spots the intrusion and brings it to director Robert Dewey (Tommy Lee Jones). He orders special teams and a super-elite assassin — known as “The Asset” (Vincent Cassel) — to follow Nicky to her rendezvous with Bourne, then “neutralize” them both.

Bourne’s memory, wiped clean long ago, has fully returned, though he still doesn’t know much of what went on in the CIA’s Treadstone program.

Bourne and Nicky repeatedly disappear into Athens’ anti-austerity riots around Snytagma Square, but back in Virginia, Heather uses Greece’s surveillance network, combined with her facial-recognition software, to find them. For their part, neither Bourne nor Nicky seem to know that hats, hoodies, sunglasses, or meeting in a rural location far from spying eyes, might conceal their location.

Nevertheless, this 15-minute passage constitutes the film’s most exciting and coherent setpiece as Bourne repeatedly gives their pursuers the slip (i.e. stealing a motorcycle and piloting it up a long, steep flight of stairs), before being efficiently reacquired by Heather. Our omnipresent viewpoint allows us to see each side’s strategy, and while we root for our rogue couple, the odds against them seem overwhelming.

Director Paul Greengrass and Matt Damon, whose last “Bourne” film was released in 2007, mutually agreed that their next “Bourne” movie should address both our fear of terrorists and love of social media, leading to our appalling lack of privacy. To this end, Greengrass concocts Silicon Valley billionaire Aaron Kallor (Riz Ahmed), founder and CEO of Deep Dream — a program that mines computers, phones, and online surfing to enhance our electronic experiences. Promising the public their secrets will not be reviewed by anyone, billions of users climb aboard with nary a sign of protest or paranoia. If only they knew who funded Kallor’s enterprise, they wouldn’t be so naive.

Among its numerous problems, the film dissipates tension first by failing to establish emotional connections to any of its characters, and then by having each character evolve to seek the deaths of nearly every other character. Rule No. 1 is you can’t trust any government official — ever! So where does that leave us citizens? Our smart phones are too damn smart, but living off the grid is nearly as uncomfortable as is being broke.

Conspiracy lover and director Oliver Stone’s “turn off your cell phone announcement” prior to the film, has Stone admonish us for giving up our freedom in return for ease of access. Damned if we do, damned if we don’t. Thus it has ever been.

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