The 400-Word Review: Jason Bourne
By Sean Collier
August 1, 2016
The five films in the “Bourne” franchise have always been marked by a frenetic, chaos-first style of cinematography and direction. In action sequences, the camera weaves like a frightened bystander, catching glimpses of combat, while shots cut from one to the next before the viewer has time to acclimate to the scene.
Is it effective? The first or second time you see it, sure. As a departure from cinematic convention, it’s a style that will disrupt the viewer’s expectations when used sparingly.
By the time you get around to the fifth film in a series? Maybe you should just show the camera what’s happening.
In Jason Bourne, the long-dormant spy (Matt Damon) is tracked down first by former ally Nicolette Parsons (Julia Stiles) and then by a duo of CIA higher-ups (Tommy Lee Jones and Alicia Vikander). She wants to help him clear up some information about his past — why this is important to her is never truly clarified — while they want to kill him, probably. Meanwhile, the CIA is sparring with a social-media kingpin over privacy rights in a subplot hanging onto the film by a thread.
The earlier films in the franchise made the stakes seem real and the urgency palpable, lending the action sequences a visceral tension. In Jason Bourne, however, the machinations of the plot feel forced and toothless; there’s never a fine reason for Bourne’s return, never a clear sense of the goals pursued by the villains and no drive whatever from one scene to the next.
The result is simply tedious. Between a story that never captivates and action that’s never artful, Jason Bourne’s two-plus hours of runtime are an unpleasant slog. Longtime franchise writer Tony Gilroy has departed, and this is the first film in the series not based on a book (perhaps that explains the lack of a story). Director Paul Greengrass relies on his tried-and-true — and tired — tricks, adding little and innovating never.
And the admirable cast seems to have been directed to steel their collective jaws, furrow their brows and deadpan their way to the end credits.
This franchise has dedicated fans, and they will likely find enough in Jason Bourne to justify a trip to the multiplex. But in an era where summer blockbusters frequently go impossibly big, a tentpole that doesn’t try to innovate is almost unforgivably lazy. Being forgettable is a capital offense.
My Rating: 3/10
Sean Collier is the Associate Editor of Pittsburgh Magazine and a member of the Broadcast Film Critics Association. Read more from Sean at pittsburghmagazine.com/afterdark