Friday, August 10, 2012

The Bourne Legacy [2012]

MPAA (PG-13)  CNS/USCCB (A-III)  Roger Ebert (2 1/2 Stars)  Fr. Dennis (3 1/2 Stars)

IMDb listing -
CNS/USCCB review -
Roger Ebert's review -

Bourne Legacy (directed and cowritten by Tony Gilroy along with Dan Gilroy based on the Bourne Series of novels inspired by the Bourne trilogy by Robert Ludlum [IMDb]).

To a fair amount of critics and presumably moviegoers, the Bourne series of films really should have ended with the adaptation of the Ludlum's third and final novel in his Bourne trilogy.   In most cases, I'd agree with that assessment.  However in this case, I do actually see a rather compelling (rather than purely financial / profit-making) purpose in continuing the series beyond the three original installments.  This is because as Bourne Legacy rightly points out, the "secret government program" in which the Jason Bourne character had been a member would have been _much bigger_ than simply a single agent named Jason Bourne.  There would have been other agents.

So Bourne Legacy is precisely about "another agent," one whose name is Aaron Cross (played by Jeremy Renner), with similar if ultimately different questions than Bourne.  If Jason Bourne's fundamental quest was trying to figure out who the heck he really was or had become, Cross's questions were "what exactly am I ultimately part of?" and "how many others are there 'like me'?"   So I found Aaron Cross' character easily as compelling as Bourne's was in the first Bourne film, Bourne Identity [2002].  I also do believe that Tony Gilroy had more freedom in exploring the nature and ramifications of the program to which both Jason Bourne and Aaron Cross belonged in making Bourne Legacy than when he was simply making films out of the remaining novels of Ludlum's trilogy.  (I didn't particularly like Bourne Supremacy [2004] or Bourne Ultimatum [2007]).

Here I would add a note of respect for another film that Tony Gilroy had written and directed, Duplicity [2009], which along with the first Bourne film, Bourne Identity [2002], I had found to be probably the most compelling spy story of the past 10 years.  As in Duplicity [2009] (which was actually a semi-serious / semi-comedy about contemporary industrial espionage) so in Bourne Legacy (which gloried in the "compartmentalization" of government sponsored intelligence operations), it would seem to me that Tony Gilroy has as good a knowledge and _intuition_ as anybody today about how contemporary intelligence operations work. 

The compartmentalization of the program to which Jason Bourne and Arron Cross belonged (and its members resulting isolation...) also makes for a relatively simple story to tell.  There were very few characters of consequence present in the current story:  There was Cross, presumably a "field agent" who we meet on a (solitary ...) "endurance training exercise" out in the wilds of Alaska.  There was the program's chief "handler" back at Langley/Washington (played by Edward Norton).  And there was a "biochemist" Dr. Marta Shearing (played by Rachel Weisz), who Cross remembered because he had once been ordered to "come-in" to a lab, presumably somewhere in the Washington D.C. area, where after a physical, she had given him a couple performance enhancing drugs (both physical and mental) to take as part of his regimen from then on.

It was obvious that those drugs had been given to him (and presumably to other agents in the program) to improve his performance (and he seemed to particularly enjoy the intellect enhancing drug that he was given for reasons that are explained in the film).  Yet the larger question of "why" he (and presumably other agents) were being given these drugs wasn't particularly clear (Yes his performance would obviously "improve," but why? why would that be important?)  Yet, he followed the orders, until, of course, it suddenly became clear to him that the program was being "rolled up" (ended) from "far away" (Langley/Washington), for reasons that were, once more, "unclear."  So, of course, much ensues ...

Hence as much as I know that many viewers would wonder "why is there a Bourne movie being made _without_ Jason Bourne?" I honestly think that I "got it."  And I also will maintain that this is probably the best "Bourne movie" since the first one, even if it doesn't have Bourne in it, precisely because it helps present  Bourne's "world" from another (and perhaps larger) perspective.  So give the film a chance.  I think it's far better than one would originally expect it to be.

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