Tuesday, 21 August 2012

The Bourne Legacy

2012. Dir: Tony Gilroy. Starring: Jeremy Renner, Rachel Weisz, Edward Norton, Stacy Keach and Oscar Isaac. ●●●○○

Perspective depends very much on how you look at things. Well, duh! No, I mean that seriously. So as a child when I experienced new movies I was instantly astounded, prepared to proclaim them as cinematic masterpieces. Disney's The Fox and The Hound was the best film ever, Clue a work of comic genius, even the first 18 film I ever saw (Arnie's The Running Man) was claimed as a milestone in on-screen entertainment. For the record only one of those statements would I still describe as true. But what has this to do with my review of The Bourne Legacy? Well, friends, I have never seen a Bourne movie. I have never watched Matt Damon kill someone with a Sunday supplement, nor imagined the moral dilemmas of waking up a programmed Government assassin. So, unlike nearly every other reviewer on the web, I cannot judge Tony Gilroy's franchise extension against the previous trilogy, a comparison that doesn't favour the new film by all accounts, all I can do is compare it to thirty something years of watching action films.

And it's a perfectly acceptable slice of cinema, neither great nor bad, but diverting and fun to watch but utterly disposable.

Given my ignorance of the original movies I'm almost certainly not the target audience, the entire movie concerns a parallel story of The Bourne Supremacy bookended between Paddy Considine's journalist assassination and the trial of David Strathairn's shady CIA controller (brought back in the form of a pointless cameo with Joan Allen and Albert Finney, all of them no doubt enjoying substantial fees for one day's filming). Meanwhile numerous references to secretive projects and Government agencies make very little sense to the casual viewer. The crux being, as the advertising handily suggests, there was never just one. Never just one unaware killer and never just one corrupt agency building an army of unquestioning assassins.

As the news of Bourne's re-integration into society buzzes around the intelligence community, Jeremy Renner's supersoldier Aaron Cross is on exercises in the forests of North America, working his way across mountain and river to Oscar Isaac's isolated cabin. He's an impressive specimen, fighting off wolves bare handed, leaping across vast chasms and breaking records for reaching the shelter. Whilst he and Isaac's sulking number 3 get better acquainted Ed Norton is in damage control mode, pulling strings and closing programmes with cold efficient calculation, and soon Cross has to be taken out of the picture. Cue the start of a long game of cat and mouse where Norton and his cronies scream into telephones whilst Renner trots around the globe, always one step ahead, picking up Rachel Weisz's imperilled scientist and searching for the blue and green pills that stabilize his enhanced capabilities.

The drugs are nothing more than an international McGuffin, explained away with all the pharmacological veracity of primary science project. As the moral implications of taking an injured Iraq vet, with questionably too low an IQ to make an informed decision about his future (yes, this really is a modern Charley) turned into a fit, intelligent junkie able to volunteer for the most complex and dangerous spy missions, not to mention the extraordinary capacity to kill or maim highly trained combatants, are swept aside so Renner and Weisz can have a motorcycle chase on the bustling streets of Manila.

Renner does good action hero, suitably buff yet perennially tortured he has the perfect physicality for this sort of work. Not that he's given much chance to act, there's a nice exchange or two with Isaac, but alas much less chemistry with Weisz, possibly because here character is so underwritten and panicky. Don't get me wrong, no-one does emotional collapse quite like Rachel, but the arc is both predictable and forced.

Where the film sings is the set-pieces. A massacre in a lab is played out in real time with cold, patient camera-work and the extras acquitting themselves well as their plead or bleed through their last moments. Then a major plot twist in Weisz's house is played exceptionally well, switching from an uncomfortable interview to a chaotic gun battle in a blink of an eye. Even the final bike chase, whilst a little too long, showed some great stunt work and some excellent marksmanship.

On directorial and scripting duties Tony Gilroy brings the same high-quality, unimposing style we saw on Duplicity and Michael Clayton but alas he doesn't give his creations the zingy dialogue or intellectual sparring he brought to previous work, leaving us partly detached from the proceedings.

As I said at the beginning The Bourne Legacy isn't a bad film, but it's no great one either. Probably worth renting but not the trip to the cinema. Although personally I'm going to have to fork out on the original trilogy before watching it again.

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