It turns out you can teach an old dog new tricks. That’s if the dog is super-soldier former CIA agent Jason Bourne (Matt Damon), and the trainer is director Paul Greengrass, who helmed Bourne “Supremacy” and “Ultimatum.” After the misfire that was “The Bourne Legacy,” a misguided attempt to pass off the franchise to Jeremy Renner, Damon and Greengrass ably right the ship with a Bourne film that looks and feels like the kind that we’ve always loved.
“Jason Bourne” delivers everything that we expect from this franchise. We want Damon making swift, brutal work of his enemies, landing heavy punches and turning mundane household items into deadly weapons. We want him burning rubber on narrow European streets, burning out the clutches on any motorized vehicle he can hijack. We want CIA bigwigs, illuminated by the glow of computer screens shouting “enhance!” at surveillance footage and exclaiming in awe: “It’s Bourne.”
This time around, the plot concerns a hacking. “It’s worse than Snowden,” Agent Jeffers (Ato Essandoh) barks at his boss, CIA director Dewey (Tommy Lee Jones). The missing files contain information about all of their Black Operations, including Treadstone, the recruitment program that turned David Webb into Jason Bourne, and Iron Hand, their plans for total, invasive national surveillance.
Dewey’s been making inroads in Silicon Valley to that end, particularly with social media company founder and tech rock star Aaron Kalloor (Riz Ahmed), who would like to keep his deals with the government secret. Everything is almost startlingly timely, in a ripped-from-the-headlines way — from the debate over digital privacy, to the culminating showdown at a Vegas tech conference, where a rogue CIA asset (Vincent Cassel) seeking revenge on Bourne for his imprisonment in Syria, plows a SWAT vehicle through traffic.
It’s a breath of fresh air to see Damon back in this role, one that draws on his innate strengths. His All-American star persona allows us to understand that though Bourne is a lone ranger who doesn’t hesitate to use violence, we innately trust his moral compass. That’s because we know Bourne, but also because of the patriotic, good guy qualities that Damon effortlessly expresses.
Julia Stiles returns as Nikki, Damon’s trusty gal Friday, though there’s a new cyber ops whiz kid at the CIA in Heather Lee (Alicia Vikander). Oscar winner Vikander seems at times miscast, but she manages to make the ambitious, self-serving Heather into a deeply complicated character, neither ally nor enemy.
Greengrass’ camera is anxious, unsettled, constantly shifting on its feet, and he and editor Christopher Rouse keep an antsy trigger finger on the rapid-fire editing. An early action set piece of a motorcycle chase during a Greek political protest demonstrates the best thing that Greengrass brings to the Bourne films — a tightly controlled sense of chaos that rides the line of anarchy, presented at eye-level, on a human-sized scale.
That scale allows the filmmakers to wrestle with global issues within the scope of individual actors, who are rooted in their own histories, with their competing goals, making their own choices. Bourne’s always had an issue with his own motivation, frantically searching through his past muddied by government programming for a slice of identity. He needs his history so he knows what he’s fighting for, and this film offers another puzzle piece.
Cast: Matt Damon, Tommy Lee Jones, Alicia Vikander, Riz Ahmed, Julia Stiles, Vincent Cassel.
Director: Paul Greengrass.
Screenwriters: Paul Greengrass, Christopher Rouse.
A Universal Pictures release. Running time: 123 minutes. Vulgar language, intense action, violence. Playing at area theaters.