Sunday, 19 August 2012
THE BOURNE LEGACY
(Tony Gilroy, 2012) In the considerable absence of both the star and key director of the first three Bourne films, series writer Tony Gilroy has crafted a sequel which is in fact a clever spin-off. In so doing, he recalibrates many of the elements which made the original films such pleasurable popular entertainments, to extremely mixed effect. The template for Bourne films is surprisingly strong and Gilroy perhaps departs from it a little too much. His story takes place in the same universe and timeframe as Paul Greengrass' The Bourne Ultimatum and fleetingly includes some of the same characters but it focuses on new, if somewhat familiar, players. Chief among those is Aaron Cross (Jeremy Renner), an "Outcome" Agent from another one of what emerges are many US Defense Training Programmes creating perfect killers (or "assets" as the lingo of these films has it). Cross has been altered and augmented by "chems" partly designed by a Dr Martha Shearing (Rachel Weisz) which make him more physically efficient and mentally sharp. Both characters find themselves on the run from the suits in Governent (led here by Edward Norton and Stacy Keach) when Bourne's actions expose the entire programme to risk, and the decision is made to destroy it and kill everyone involved. Cross needs his chems - his junkie-like desperation is one of many interesting angles Gilroy takes on this story - and he needs Shearings help to get them, leading them to Manilla in the Phillipines. The first act is by far the best and most intriguing in the film - Gilroy interlaces the events from The Bourne Ultimatum while drip-feeding the audience information about this other corner of the Bourne universe. We see Cross battle the elements alone in the Alaskan wilderness while Shearing examines another Outcome Agent and the Bourne mess unfolds, sending Defense Bureaucrats running for cover, trying to shift the blame. What Gilroy does brilliantly here is something Greengrass only suggested; he depicts the upper echelons of US Government as an explicitly corporate entity, characterised by the impersonal blandnesses of meetings in generic conference rooms, dominated by business-language and the sort of terms that reduce human life to abstraction without any emotional weight. As such, Norton's character doesn't really have any character; he is the ultimate corporate executive, intelligent, calculating, hard-working and utterly without morality, he is all about the bottom line. This seems a sort of extension of Gilroy's work on the terrific Michael Clayton; another film where one man goes up against the terrifying might of an enormous Corporation. That was a drama with thriller elements, whereas The Bourne Legacy is an action-thriller, and Gilroy's approach is a bit of a problem. For this is very much a Writers film, full of long scenes where people talk in rooms. The best example is a jarringly lengthy interrogation of Shearing by two agents in her home, during which tension slowly grows until the action explodes with Cross' arrival. Another is Cross and Shearing's long exchange in the car as they first escape, which is crucial to the eventual emotional charge their relationship bears but still seems a mite overlong. Greengrass would probably have cut these scenes down, but Gilroy indulges himself, which damages his films pacing; this film feels a lot longer - due mainly to middle-act drag - than the punchy, staccato briskness of the three originals. Also less punchy are the films action sequences; some may find the refusal of Greengrass' death-by-a-thousand cuts shakycam style refreshingly classical and coherent, but it renders the action scenes here good, when in Greengrass' hands, they might have seemed great. They may even have the faint whiff of obligation; Gilroy doesn't seem to relish them, and he even fails to include the blistering hand-to-hand fight so central to each of the previous Bourne films. That's a shame, since Renner is a fantastic action lead, convincingly rugged yet capable of an impressive emotional range. He suggests Cross has a great deal of internal conflict even before his bosses try to kill him, but once the hunt is on, he has little to do beyond run, jump, punch and shoot. He and Weisz have some chemistry but both are a little wasted here. Visually, Gilroy is competent and nothing more. While DP Robert Elswit makes predictably beautiful use of the Alaskan mountains, Manila is never really evoked the way Greengrass effortlessly did with Moscow, Tangiers or Berlin, and there are no really memorable or startling images here. It all peters out after that gripping opening, and is disappointingly bereft of any climactic confrontation - Cross and Shearing just want to get away, setting up an obvious possible sequel - even if the scale of the final action set-piece is impressive. It's never boring, is filled with interesting ideas and good moments, but The Bourne Legacy is a definite step down from the first three Bourne films.