CVIndependent

Sun08092020

Last updateMon, 20 Apr 2020 1pm

It’s been nine years since the last Bourne movie that mattered. (The Bourne Legacy, with Jeremy Renner, back in 2012 was a joke.) After saying he wouldn’t play the part again, Matt Damon is back as Jason Bourne, with director-buddy Paul Greengrass in tow.

The result: Jason Bourne, a tedious, desperate and sad extension of the Bourne storyline.

At the end of The Bourne Ultimatum, Damon’s Bourne woke up after a bridge dive and swam off into an unknown and unpredictable future. It seemed to be a fitting and perfect end to the character, or perhaps that particular story arc. Bourne found out his real name, learned why he was an assassin with amnesia, and got himself a little revenge. Case closed, right?

Wrong. Money matters, and Universal wanted to keep the Bourne locomotive on track. An attempt to keep the franchise going with a new star (Renner’s awful Legacy) was stale. Then Universal saw an opportunity with Damon, who hadn’t had a major hit in many years. (Damon decided to go back to Bourne before the release of The Martian last year, a movie that garnered him an Oscar nomination and showed he was still bankable.)

Greengrass and his writers have come up with a way to further confuse Bourne about his identity. As it all turns out, there’s more to his amnesia: HE DOESN’T KNOW EVERTHING AFTER ALL! He’s also got some daddy issues.

The film starts with Bourne pulling a Rambo III, subjecting himself to public fights as a means of fueling his unquenched inner violent side. Former work associate Nicky Parsons (Julia Stiles) meets up with Bourne in Greece to tell him that she discovered some more stuff about his identity while doing some computer hacking. For Jason Bourne … it’s not over yet.

It’s embarrassing to watch Damon and Greengrass go through the motions of the tired scenario they have put into play. One year after perhaps his most enjoyable and fully dimensional performance in The Martian, Damon is forced to put the now-boring Bourne pants on again. His performance lacks dimension, emotion and humor. It’s not entirely his fault: The part is written that way. Ten years ago, Bourne was a cool role for Damon, one that allowed him to strip down and do something different. He’s grown as an actor since then, and has essentially outgrown Bourne. It feels like a step backward for him.

Greengrass tries to beef things up on the villainous end by employing Tommy Lee Jones as a CIA jerkface, which is a move as predictable and clichéd as casting Tommy Lee Jones as Tommy Lee Jones. Jones invests nothing new into his character, a type he has played many times before.

Oscar winner Alicia Vikander shows up as an ambitious CIA employee looking to make her mark. Her performance here is more robotic than her actual work as a robot in Ex Machina. Vincent Cassel is also onboard as a hired assassin called “The Asset.” Man, somebody had to work overtime to come up with that name.

There had to have been a better way to do this. How about giving Bourne a new career, one that he’s happy with—and then having him find out something is still wrong in his past? Or could they have simply made him a paid assassin who is truly screwed up thanks to his past? The new gimmick Greengrass and friends come up with to further extend Bourne’s identity crisis is not shocking, surprising or inventive. It feels drawn out.

Attempts to modernize Bourne with mumbo jumbo involving a tech mogul (Riz Ahmed) and a new social-media platform make parts of this movie feel like a jettisoned episode of Silicon Valley.

Star Wars: The Force Awakens stands as the best recent attempt to continue a franchise without making it feel forced, desperate and like a blatant attempt to cash some checks. Jason Bourne does nothing to better the franchise. This storyline needs to end here.

Jason Bourne is playing at theaters across the valley.

Published in Reviews

Tom Hanks stars in another real-life-event film in which his character is stuck in a small, dangerous space for a long time—and we know how the story turns out.

Even though most of us know how Captain Phillips will end, Hanks and director Paul Greengrass (The Bourne Ultimatum, United 93) somehow make the story suspenseful. As he did in Apollo 13, Hanks makes us terrified and confused for his character. (If you somehow don’t know the outcome of the true story, go see the film, and be doubly frightened.)

Hanks plays Richard Phillips, captain of the Maersk Alabama cargo ship. While on its way to Kenya in 2009, his ship encounters Somali pirates who try multiple times to board his ship. They eventually succeed, putting into play a crazy hostage drama that results in Phillips being taken aboard a space-capsule-sized lifeboat with his captors.

In every stage of the thriller—from the moment Phillips spots the pirates, through his initial face-to-face confrontation with them, and into the search for the hiding crew members—Hanks is masterful. His Phillips maintains a certain level of calm and smarts, but isn’t superhuman or oblivious to the terror of his situation.

Augmenting the story with a terrifying yet somehow sympathetic performance is Barkhad Abdi as Muse, the pirate leader. One of the major strengths of this film is the relationship between Phillips and Muse—one that starts with Muse informing Phillips that he is no longer the captain of his own ship.

Without necessarily portraying Muse as a victim, Abdi’s performance and Greengrass’ direction hint that Muse is being forced into his reprehensible actions. We first see Muse in Somalia as he’s being bullied into action by a village elder who tails him in a bigger boat and seems to be suggesting dire punishment if Muse doesn’t comply with hijacking plans to extort millions from the Americans. Whether or not this is a true account, it definitely makes Muse a more-fleshed-out character. As for the interplay between Abdi and Hanks, it is chilling, fraught with tension and always on the edge of explosion.

In the supporting cast, Michael Chernus distinguishes himself as chief mate Shane Murphy. You might recognize Chernus from his geeky-guy role in Men in Black 3. This time out, he’s asked to show the dramatic goods, and he comes through nicely. Catherine Keener shows up in the first scene as Phillips’ wife, and then disappears completely. We don’t get any scenes of her biting her nails while awaiting word about her husband’s fate.

The movie seems to be a fairly accurate representation of what actually happened, although some crew members of the Maersk Alabama have taken issue with Phillips’ account in his book, A Captain’s Duty, on which the movie is based. Some of them are saying Phillips acted irresponsibly, ignoring warnings to stay at least 600 miles off the Somali coast due to pirates in the area, and not following proper procedures when the pirates boarded his ship.

Taking all this into consideration, the story in the film remains engrossing, with Greengrass keeping the action realistic and believable. Film buffs might be relieved to know that Greengrass and his crew are relaxing a bit with the shaky-cam, something that got a little tiresome in his Bourne movies. Yes, there’s some shakiness, but nothing that distracts from the action.

Hanks delivers the role in a sort of strange Boston accent that I had a hard time identifying. It’s not all that distracting, really; just pretend his character is Australian, and you’ll be OK. He’s so good here that he can butcher an accent and still be worthy of an Oscar nomination.

Captain Phillips is playing at theaters across the valley.

Published in Reviews