The old-school Cold War spy thriller is Bourne again.
Jason Bourne (Matt Damon) has been hiding out with his girlfriend Marie (Franka Potente) ever since discovering clues to his identity: he’s a rogue CIA assassin and one of the deadliest. After a spook (Karl Urban) shows up in India to kill him, Bourne wonders why anyone would seek him out after two years of leaving him alone. Still, he sets out to do what he promised to do if anyone ever came after him: kill everyone involved.
The character of Jason Bourne is himself a Cold War relic of 1970s just before The Bourne Identity book was released originally in 1980. Everything has changed since the Russians quit, so the screenplays based on those books have taken a decidedly different turn by involving people who themselves are still trying to get out of the game with something to show for it. Amazingly, the same sense of a lone spy betrayed behind enemy lines still works on the big screen, and a great deal of that credit has to go to Matt Damon for making us care about the demons of a cold-blooded out-of-work assassin.
Not since Robert De Niro’s underappreciated Ronin (which is worth a look for the car chase sequences alone) has the feel of this kind of story been successfully duplicated on the big screen before The Bourne Identity, and the sequel carries the torch further yet. Jason Bourne makes espionage look easy and seasoned veterans look like amateurs, but as fun as it is to watch, the story remains equally deadly since Bourne seldom escapes unscathed (not that deters him at all from his next target).
Damon doesn’t have much to say this time around since Bourne works much more alone this time (you’ll understand why). This must have been a dream for Matt as an actor because his determined face can only give away the smallest indications of what he’s thinking while his actions tell the rest. Brian Cox delivers another professional yet slimy character to love hating for what he’s already done, while Joan Allen emerges as a determined but cool-headed group leader that discovers she’s still cleaning up for a mess that her former male counterparts have long since abandoned. Julia Stiles is a footnote in the story (but no less than she was in the original) and it’s nice to see Karl Urban still kicking butt even if he’s playing for the bad guys this time.
Working against the film is a poor and continual use of steady-cam, and I use that term loosely since there’s almost nothing steady about it (no wonder Bourne suffers from headaches and occasional blurred vision). The plot isn’t terribly complicated either, but like all good riddles and mysteries, the answer always seems obvious after you’ve figured it out. It should come as no surprise that Bourne will survive to see another sequel (since there are more books as well) but one can only hope they can keep it all this interesting.
(a three and a half skull recommendation out of four)