Matt Damon has long been an interesting choice for the character of Jason Bourne, a man assigned that name as a false cover identity after he was brainwashed by the CIA to become a super-agent and then suffered amnesia. Damon is one of Hollywood’s most outspoken liberals, so the very idea of him playing a gun-wielding killer when he openly advocates widespread gun control has made for an intriguing dichotomy.
But it’s that duality that helps make him the perfect choice for the Bourne film series, since the movies themselves deal with the character’s inherent moral conflicts. Having a thoughtful actor like Damon in the role, rather than a generic muscle-bound action hero, helps lure audiences in for the rare kind of adventure that engages the mind as well as providing visceral kicks.
It’s been nine years since “The Bourne Ultimatum” seemed to draw the series to a close after a trilogy of smash hits, but director Paul Greengrass (who handled “Ultimatum” and “The Bourne Supremacy” in 2004 after taking the reins from Doug Liman following 2001’s “The Bourne Identity”) has returned as well, making this an artistically legitimate effort in addition to a global box office cash cow.
The new movie finds former Bourne (Matt Damon) living off the grid, surviving by taking part in brutal fistfights on an underground professional fighting circuit. Meanwhile, his former friend and colleague Nicky Parsons (Julia Stiles) is also living on the run, taking part in a hacking activist network in which she downloads highly classified files about the assassin training programs that included Bourne both in his current false name and in his real birth name, David Webb.
Passing the information to Bourne in order to make him aware of his true past and let him know he was innocent in his violent past due to brainwashing, Nicky arranges to meet him in Greece after she realizes her hacking was discovered. CIA director Robert Dewey (Tommy Lee Jones) brings in another assassin known only as Asset (Vincent Cassel) to shoot Bourne and Parsons, setting off a chain of globetrotting chases, fights and shootouts that leapfrog to London and climax in Las Vegas.
It’s there, in Sin City, that Dewey plans to appear at a debate with the founder of a Facebook-style social network about cyber security vs. privacy rights. The catch is, Dewey has far more nefarious intentions in mind that Bourne has to race against time to stop.
“Jason Bourne” is a fast-paced, highly exciting and perfectly executed thriller that de-emphasizes the direct political allusions of the earlier Bourne films in favor of a broader approach more focused on entertaining rather than forcing a message on viewers. It’s also a very nuanced movie, thoughtfully showing the arguments for and against the CIA programs depicted in the movie, but ultimately portrays Bourne as a patriot who wants the best for America.
As Bourne, Matt Damon continues to be a lean mean fighting machine, acing his action sequences ranging from a harrowing motorcycle chase through an even more epic car chase and countless fistfights and gun battles. Jones oozes smug self-assurance and steely resolve in his position as the CIA director, while the broad array of other actors all handle their fast-paced antics admirably.
The move has no sex or nudity, and maybe five uses of Christ’s name in vain, with no other foul language of any kind. While the movie has frequent action, only a couple of moments are cringe-inducing, such as when the main villain walks in on a bloody man who’s bound and gagged and it’s implied that he shoots him point-blank in the head. Otherwise, “Bourne” has plenty of intense chase scenes, shootouts and fistfights, but all are presented tastefully in a way that teens and adult action fans can easily enjoy. And with Damon in the lead, there’s a solid movie star who has made a movie everyone can enjoy and is eminently Dateworthy.
Greengrass has fashioned a film that is at once pulse-pounding and thoughtful, offering a harrowing look at the surveillance technology that we all live under today, in which it is all but impossible to escape capture or death if the government targets you. Yet its title character, while conflicted, remains a man who loves his country and simply wants to do the right thing to keep it safe. Here’s hoping our real-world secret operatives have the same kind of conscience.