Bourne Legacy, The C+
“The Bourne Legacy,” the fourth installment of the hugely popular Bourne franchise, is barely decently directed, failing to deliver the requisite thrills and exciting set-pieces expected of an actioner, while overemphasizing an uninvolving story and a set of new characters that like to talk and talk, but are not particularly interesting.
With good reason, when Tony Gilroy was assigned to helm, there was nervousness among the series’ afficionados and Hollywood insiders. The last chapter, “The Bourne Ultimatum,” directed by maestro Paul Greengrass, was not only the most critically acclaimed, but also the most commercially successful, grossing over $220 million in the U.S. alone. (The franchise has made more than $1 billion globally)
Tony Gilroy is an intelligent writer (the suspenseful and engaging “Michael Clayton,” the bright and witty “Duplicity”), but, judging by the effects here, he is not a skillful action director or a technically proficient crafstman. Since this is his first entry into the action genre, which has become more and more of a sight and sound spectacle, he decided to focus more on the narrative and characterization, but to no avail. The end result is a disappointing sequel.
Matt Damon, who played the titular role in all three segments, had charisma, good looks, and dramatic acting chops to tackle the job. In contrast, Jeremy Renner , a well grounded actor, is not as physically handsome as Damon, and he lacks the latter’s onscreen charisma to carry the picture on his shoulders. I don’t mean to suggest that Renner, who is a fantastic actor (“The Hurt Locker”) is the main problem, just a contributing factor to why, among many many reasons, this installment does not work, though it’s not an embarrassing debacle.
Building on the foundation of the Borune phenomenon created by Robert Ludlum, as writer and director, Gilroy has tried–in vein, I think–to expand the tale with a more intricate, but unnecessary complicated story, and a larger, more elaborately detailed but less engaging conspiracy than those prevailing in the former chapters.
For those who need a reminder: Jason Bourne was first introduced, when he was pulled unconscious from the Mediterranean waters. Over the course of three films, made during a decade, we followed his journey to survive and to discover his “true” identity (a workable concept, even if we realize that there’s no such thing as one true identity).
We watched his CIA bosses handling an increasingly desperate worldwide manhunt, while learning about the Treadstone program and Bourne’s specialized skills. At the trilogy’s conclusion, five years ago, many of us felt that the story was exhausted thematically, that there is no new or fresh angle to hook us (and in many ways we were right).
Facing a number of challenging tasks, Gilory relates a darker layer of intrigue, a deeper mythology, reinventing in the process a new hero who must battle to stay alive when his very own program suddenly becomes a liability.
In this saga, we are led to believe (not always compellingly, I might add) that there are various intelligence programs, that the CIA’s Treadstone was only one of the early developments, and that Bourne’s actions have created tremendous anxiety and real fear that other, darker and riskier programs might be exposed.
It turns out that Aaron Cross is just one of six agents in a program called Outcome. Unlike the CIA’s Treadstone, the Outcome agents have been specifically developed and trained by the Department of Defense. As such, Outcome agents are meant to operate in isolated, high-risk, complex and complicated intelligence assignments, which strong potential impact on global politics.
In tune with the times, the scientific foundations of the Treadstone agents have been substantially upgraded and advanced. However, the shared origins of the two programs make Outcome more vulnerable, that is. more open to public exposure.
Enter Colonel Eric Byer (the estimable Edward Norton), the director of the black-line agency NRAG (National Research Assay Group). Ultra bright, committed and tough, Byer has built these programs, kept them funded, and marketed them to various U.S. intelligence services, which were eager to acquire them in the post-September 11 climate.
Without spoiling the fun by revealing too much of the elaborate plot, it’s suggested that Byer’s programs are threatened as the CIA fails to contain Bourne. Realizing that Treadstone’s fall will expose the working relationship between two of his chief medical directors, Byer struggles with the dilemma of whether or not to sacrifice Outcome, knowing that by doing so he would eliminate the talented and loyal science and medical researchers who had helped to create it in the first place.
Byer is not the only one concerned with erasing the infected program in order to preserve the rest of his work. Dr. Marta Shearing (Oscar-winning Rachel Weisz), a research scientist in the Maryland laboratory of corporate pharma-giant Candent, has supervised the groundbreaking science that’s responsible for Outcome. It’s top-priority, top-secret job for Shearing to monitor the Outcome agents, if and when they pass through the area.
In addition to Norton and Weisz, two gifted actors that are not readily associated with the action genre, Gilroy has cast other terrific performers. Stacy Keach plays well ret. Admiral Mark Turso, Byer’s chief advisor and link to the Pentagon.
Dennis Boutsikaris is cast as Terrence Ward, the CEO of The Candent Group, a big, scientifically innovative pharma company, disregarding issues of medical ethics under the general ideology (or excuse?) of national security. Oscar Isaac, as Outcome #3, explores with Jason the various conflicts and tensions from a more rational perspective, only to realize that he has signed up for more than he had bargained for.
The distinguished British actor Albert Finney plays yet another doctor in this tale, Albert Hirsch, the medical director behind Treadstone. Joan Allen makes a welcome return to the franchise as Pam Landy, the cool CIA’s internal investigator, whose relationship with Bourne began earlier, and Scott Glenn is cast as the tough but baffled CIA director.
Tony Gilroy and co-writer Dan Gilory maintain as long as they can the enigmatic nature and shifting persona of Jason, his public image as a number, a category, a clinical subject, a guinea-pig.
However, it’s no seceret that it’s not particulalry enticing when an action thriller revolves around cerebral characters that are scientists and researchers, wh like to discuss, argue, and dispute. Indeed, for a suspenseful tale, a genre that sceams for exciting outdoor scenes, “Bourne Legacy” contains more than the usual number of indoor sequences, based on talk, talk, talk.
Gilroy shows strain in locating the dramatic center of his story, which is too diffuse, and in integrating the exterior chase and other action set-pieces into the overly intellectualized, too complicated narrative to sustain viewers’ interest for the duration of the tale. Thus, in the end, “Bourne Legacy”emerges as a film that lacks unified vision and consistent visual style, despite the work of the brilliant cinematographer Robert Elswit (“There Will Be Blood”).
Cloaking in at two hours and fifteen minutes, “Bourne Legacy” overextends its welcome by at least 20 minutes or so. It might be a good idea to put to rest the Bourne phenom.
Jeremy Renner’s performance may divide critics; I thought he was O.K., if not spectacular But the reason why he was cast may be pfinancial: Renner got $5 million for this movie, whereas an actor of Matt Damon’s caliber gets three times as much.
Director: Tony Gilroy
Screenwriters: Tony Gilroy, Dan Gilroy, story by Tony Gilroy, inspired by the “Bourne” series created by Robert Ludlum
Producers: Frank Marshall, Patrick Crowley, Jeffrey M. Weiner, Ben Smith
Executive producers: Henry Morrison, Jennifer Fox
Director of photography: Robert Elswit
Production designer: Kevin Thompson
Costume designer: Shay Cunliffe
Editor: John Gilroy
Music: James Newton Howard
MPAA Rating: PG-13 rating
Running Time: 135 minutes
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