Title: The Bourne Legacy
Year: 2012
Genre: Action, Adventure, Thriller
Play time: 
Director:Tony Gilroy
Screenwriters:Tony Gilroy, Dan Gilro
Starring: Jeremy Renner, Rachel Weisz, Edward Norto

Shorn of Matt Damon’s participation, The Bourne Legacy cleverly takes place in parallel to The Bourne Ultimatum, the five-year-old, Damon-starring second sequel that seemingly put the title character to rest.  As the CIA hunted Jason Bourne to prevent the public exposure of its super-secret, super-shady “Operation Treadstone,” it turns out that the Agency and its various cohorts also mobilized to shut down and wipe out another top-secret super-assassin-building program: “Operation Outcome.”  In their ass-covering frenzy, the feds succeed in killing all the Outcome agents except Aaron Cross (Jeremy Renner), who rescues the scientist who kept him supplied with his chemical enhancements (Rachel Weisz) and goes on the run, with a determined ex-colonel (Edward Norton) hot on his trail.

There’s a great deal of wordy set-up and exposition that ultimately proves irrelevant: this is a straight-ahead action film, simpler and far less plotty than its predecessors. The first forty minutes are a bit of a slog, as director Tony Gilroy (who wrote the previous Bourne installments) laboriously cross-cuts between a half-dozen different subplots that – at around the 40 minute mark – basically all converge into a single extended chase sequence. I got worried, particularly since Gilroy seemed incapable of making his film move, his notion of propulsion apparently limited to lumbering pans of the camera and silly zoom-edits to transition between scenes.

Once The Bourne Legacy gets going, though, Gilroy finds his rhythm and it’s basically smooth sailing. If the overarching story is silly, on the ground Gilroy’s approach is the opposite: brainy and logistics-obsessed. The feds’ methods of tracking Cross, for example, are almost totally convincing. Rather than solve every problem with techno-babble and a few magic keystrokes, at one point you actually see a half-dozen people hit the phones and start canvassing local agencies for surveillance data. And there’s pleasure in the wonderfully specific little details here: of course Norton’s slick careerist is out jogging in the rain at 4:40 in the morning. And of course the Manila laboratory that supplies Operation Outcome with its “chems” is run by an assiduous fat Aussie in a green polo shirt.

Paul Greengrass’s fevered shaky-cam is gone, and with it goes the pseudo-verite mood of the previous films. But Gilroy’s steadier hand pays dividends too, particularly since he’s so fond of complex, interesting compositions. (I loved the flashback in which Cross is examined by Weisz’s businesslike chemist: he’s in focus in the background, while she’s an indistinct blur in the foreground, an anonymous drone-for-hire.) The climactic chase scene is paced and edited with a laser precision that Christopher Nolan should study; it’s the best action scene of the year so far.

The Bourne Legacy, then, is loads of fun in an efficient, straightforward way to which this franchise is not accustomed. (Some will take the reduction in convoluted spy-thriller antics as a sign of a dumbing-down, which might be true, but if so let’s just say the sequel works on its own dumbed-down terms.) It’s also, a little sadly, an illustration of the value of Matt Damon. Renner’s a decent actor who does what’s required of him here, but he doesn’t have Damon’s extraordinary mix of credibility and unshowy charisma. Picking up the slack a little is Edward Norton, who goes well beyond the call of duty to add nuance and human (if douchey) detail to a completely thankless role. His performance is emblematic of the approach here: apply uncommon craft and intelligence to a simple, crassly commercial conceit. The Bourne Legacy is worth your time to a surprising degree.

Eugene Novikov

Seeking in movies meaning and reflection in real-time. On the look out for biography, thriller & drama best pieces.

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