Almost every principal actor in the fifth, furiously flamboyant phase of the Bourne franchise, is better than Matt Damon who plays the eponymous part with an excess amount of emotionless grit and too little intensity.
It’s like watching a magician at a show where the lights fireworks and stage props are better than the actual act.
That in itself, is not such a bad thing, when you consider the alternative: everyone could have been awful as they are in this week’s other release “Suicide Squad”, and not just because they play awful characters. Reprehensible characters can be eminently watchable, even enjoyable within limits. Bourne’s bad guys prove it.
Everyone is morally compromised in “Jason Bourne”. The film begins with Nicky Parson(Julia Stiles, stunningly robust) hacking into the CIA account. This is where we meet the CIA group spearheaded by Tommy Lee Jones whose facial wrinkles conceal a cornucopia of wicked crinkles. Yes, CIA’s top-man is compromised and corrupt. He wants Bourne dead. Bourne can’t die. Not yet. He has debts to repay and miles to go before he crashes in a speeding vehicle.
We see Tommy Lee Jones at some point trying to arm-twist a social media tycoon Aaron Kalooor. Aaron’s nationality is concealed. But it is hinted that he is from a troubled Asian country… possibly India and Pakistan.
Aaron is played with magnetic gusto by Riz Ahmed whom we remember in Mira Nair’s “The Reluctant Fundamentalist”. Even in frenzied crowds amidst excitable mediapersons, fans and government agents Ahmed makes Aaron stand out.
The same goes for Vincent Cassel as a ruthless CIA-sponsored assassin sent out to chase down and slay Bourne. This guy wants Bourne seriously dead. Yes, him too. Cassel chews up Damon in every scene that they have together. Why isn’t he playing Bourne’
This brings me to Matt Damon, dapper and devilish and yet distractingly devoid of dynamism, Damon gives ‘Strong Silent Sullen’ a new vapid definition. Why is he so darned imperturbable’ Is he hiding more than we can see’ Or is he plain dumb’ Can’t be only the suffering and the angst of the past.
Bourne is not the first screen hero out to avenge his father’s murder. Amitabh Bachchan did it with steely resolve and volcanic energy in “Trishul”.
The screen explodes when Damon is around.
Damon’s limitations as an actor are seriously displayed when he is face-to-face with Alicia Vikander, that amazing portrait of controlled turmoil whom we last saw as the transgender Eddie Redmayne’s wife in “The Danish Girl”.
Vikander plays a CIA recruit with conflicting loyalties. Clearly, the future of the Bourne series lies in her hands.
Damon’s limitations as a character that never opens up because of memory loss are further heightened by more immediate problems of confronting Bourne’s inner demons while their extraneous counterparts chase him down some exotic locations, including Greece and Las Vegas.
The chase sequences are exhausting rather than exhilarating. The climactic meltdown between Damon and Cassel is so prolonged, over-the-top and desperate to please the audience, the film begins to feel like a brothel where the sex workers have run out of tricks.
Nonetheless, “Jason Bourne” is not a bore. Parts of it are expertly played-out con games where the hunter and the prey exchange places without knowing the exact moment of the swap.
Cast aside your doubts about the tenability of long-lasting franchise films. This one delivers the thrills. Parts of the plot do sag. But director Paul Greengrass constantly has redemptive swerves waiting around the corner.
Now if only Damon stops being so disdainfully detached from the action. It’s like a grand wedding where the groom just doesn’t show it. Or maybe he doesn’t quite get it.
By Subhash K. Jha
Film: “Jason Bourne”;
Director: Paul Greengrass;
Cast: Matt Damon, Alicia Vikander, Riz Ahmed, Tommy Lee Jones,Vincent Cassel and Juilia Stiles; Rating:***