August 13th 2016

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Articles from this issue:

COVER STORY Rating the ratings agencies: FFF and "Watch out"

CANBERRA OBSERVED Despite bumbling, youth detention inquiry is needed

FOREIGN AFFAIRS Erdogan's political coup will transform Turkey

SEXUAL POLITICS Transgender Olympians: what about the AFL?

EDITORIAL Marriage plebiscite: why not a referendum?

SEXUAL POLITICS Gay lobby grasps at normal and natural

MILITARY HISTORY The Western Front, 1916: our costliest theatre of war

MILITARY HISTORY Delville Wood, 1916: South Africa's Gallipoli

EUTHANASIA Disability hate crime: then the rest is silence

BRITISH POLITICS Tories push trans agenda hard in schools, prisons

TAIWANESE HISTORY AND POLITICS Fractious party puts Tsai in a pickle

MUSIC Davis biopic sadly miles off the mark

CINEMA Bourne again, but still lost: Jason Bourne

BOOK REVIEW An empire built on suffering

BOOK REVIEW Freedom of speech


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Bourne again, but still lost: Jason Bourne

by Symeon J. Thompson

News Weekly, August 13, 2016

Jason Bourne is the latest chapter in the series of acclaimed spy thrillers that began with 2002’s The Bourne Identity.

In the first film we were introduced to Jason Bourne (Matt Damon), fished out of the Mediterranean with bullets in his back and no memory of who he was, but with an extraordinary – and deadly – set of skills.

These skills come in handy as he and those he’s with are targeted by ruthless killers and government agencies. In due course he discovers he was part of Treadstone – an experimental CIA black-ops program to create elite, and untraceable, assassins.

The drama of the first three films – The Bourne Identity, The Bourne Supremacy (2004), and The Bourne Ultimatum (2007) – centred on Bourne discovering who he was, all the while evading hostile operatives of the CIA who believed him to be a threat. The series was praised for grounding its action in “realistic” technology and plausible narratives, and was helped in this by the non-CGI nature of the action scenes, which were brutal and unglamorous.

In this movie, Bourne, his memory returned, is living off the grid, making a living through underground fights and trying to survive. He’s trying to cope with the knowledge that he volunteered to become a cold-blooded killer after a terrorist car bomb killed his father, Richard Webb (Gregg Henry), a CIA analyst. He has tracked down by Nicky Parsons (Julia Stiles), a former logistics and support officer with Treadstone, who has discovered that there is more to his story than he ever knew. She is now working with a hacker, Christian Dassault (Vinzenz Kiefer), to expose the CIA’s black-ops programs to the public.

Such a threat is of concern to CIA director Robert Dewey (Tommy Lee Jones) and his head of Cyber Ops, Heather Lee (Alicia Vikander). Dewey is an older sort of intelligence officer, a Cold War warrior who favours direct and decisive action, and who believes that any means necessary may be used to defend the state. He has been “working” with Aaron Kalloor (Riz Ahmed), the chief executive and founder of Deep Dream, a social-media and technology company in the spirit of Google or Facebook. Kalloor is becoming increasingly uncomfortable with Dewey’s demands and is looking for a way out.

Lee has similar values to Dewey, but prefers persuasion to threats. She’s a hacker herself, and is handier with a computer than a gun, while also being a shrewd psychologist. She heads up the mission either to bring in Jason or to kill him, with one of the latest generation of CIA black ops, the Asset (Vincent Cassel), who has his own agenda with Bourne. But all is not as it seems.

Jason Bourne maintains the singular visual style that Director Paul Greengrass established with Supremacy: frenetic close-up shaky cam and choppy editing that disorients the viewer thus emphasising the claustrophobic and uncertain world of espionage.

The uncertainty and anxiety is reinforced by the tense and pounding score. The performances are excellent, for the most part, with Damon’s Bourne subdued and broken by his acquired self-knowledge and conscience, and Jones’ Dewey a craggy and crafty, but brutal, soldier-spymaster. 

But, like X-Men: Apocalypse, Jason Bourne feels more like an interlude than a complete story. The sub-plot involving Deep Dream drives much of the story, stealing focus from the ongoing humanist drama of Jason coming to terms with his past, while a promising story arc that looked to explore the consequences of revealing secret operations is crudely undermined and abandoned.

Unlike the other Bourne movies, which seemed grounded in a sort-of reality, such that the more extreme action scenes and themes seemed plausible, this one goes full Hollywood in the final act, in a scene that is as spectacular as it is unlikely. The computer-talk throughout is more gobbledygook than meaningful, and the computers themselves seem to do whatever the plot needs them to, thus negating the earlier “realism”.

Moreover, as with 2015’s James Bond film, Spectre, the themes of constant surveillance and the partnership between Big Government and Big Business are dealt with in a superficial and simplistic way. Both films seek to comment on this important contemporary debate, but neither seems to have a good grasp of what is actually going on, legally or technologically.

At the heart of the story is Bourne’s personal dilemma – but it is under-explored. He is a patriot who gave his all for his country, and without that grounding lacks purpose. But he can’t come in from the cold, as he is haunted by what he has done, and doesn’t wish to return to it. Jason Bourne may have found out who he is but in truth, he remains lost.

Symeon J. Thompson is a member of the Film Critics’ Circle of Australia (FCCA).


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