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The Bourne Legacy

August 22, 2012

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I was working in a movie theater when the Bourne Identity hit the theaters in 2002. The film never sold out but for months it had a steady flow of people watching it. Word of mouth was solid and it proved to be a surprise hit. Watching Matt Damon run silently through a field with an old gun while outsmarting a world-class sniper was beautiful in its simplicity. Then, there was the Parisian fight scene that wowed audiences with its quick action and use of pens as killing devices. A new action star was born. The movie featured a realistic approach and featured an everyday man who was as afraid of his violence as were his victims. The movie influenced Casino Royale and Batman Begins. Here was a man looking for answers and dispatching of victims in practical ways and not by rocket launchers and biceps. The Bourne Identity was famous for its quiet hero and intense moments and nice love story. After the success of Identity Paul Greengrass jumped into the directors chair for Supremacy and Ultimatum and took the series to new levels with his shaky cam and globe-trotting tendencies. What followed was a billion dollar franchise that still had some gold left to be mined.

The Bourne legacy is a wonderful  parallel continuation of the Bourne series. Replacing Matt Damon is the superb character actor Jeremy Renner. Renner successfully takes the reins as Aaron Cross with his impressive physicality and different take on a dangerous man. He is a chemically enhanced agent who becomes entangled in the web that Jason Bourne spun. Renner’s back story unfolds as multiple levels of government pursue him throughout the world. The action chases and dialogue create an intelligent film involving capable/violent people. Chris Ryan of the Hollywood prospectus podcast made a wonderful point when he said he “loves watching competent people.” This film features highly competent people accomplishing extraordinary things with ease.

Most of the worries I had about fancy fleeces and Bourne fatigue were assuaged quickly. Director/writer Tony Gilroy is a master wordsmith and he made the jump from Bourne writer to director.  He creates three-dimensional characters with small actions and little exposition. The characters are not defined by dialogue. They are established with scenes that show and don’t tell us. For instance, The head of the CIA and his boss are in over their heads. The only option they have left is to call Edward Norton to clean things up. When you first see him he is running in the pouring rain at 4:45 AM. Norton’s sin eater character in captured in ten seconds. He is a driven, unflappable and successful man.

Renner proves to be magnetic but this film belongs to Edward Norton. A man who runs everything but stays behind the scene. If the Ghostbusters had trouble they would call Ed Norton. He is a man who gets things down in quiet, violent and competent ways. His speech to Renner about sin eating is a highlight in a film full of highlights.

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Rachel Weisz carries on the strong female character arcs in the Bourne world. Her work as an intelligent yet disheveled doctor is enduring and believable. Also, Oscar Isaac (Drive) continues his successful string of character roles in his quiet Alaskan scenes with Renner. You enjoy the two of them together and much like the Grantland staff I’d pay to watch the two of them eat stew together. Louis Ozawa Changchien is also believable as Cross 2.0. He carries on the tradition of badass assassins who pursue the good guys. His stoic and violent ways fit right in with Clive Owen, Karl Urban and Edgar Ramirez.

The film had a fantastic opening weekend pulling in $40 million and is currently at $98 million if you add foreign and domestic. The film is proving to be a successful gamble that will easily make the $125 million production budget back. The only discouraging thing is that it has a confusing 55% on Rotten Tomatoes and only a 59% user rating.  This sub par percentages are understandable but discouraging because I feel like people are not appreciating the fantastic writing. Hopefully, it will leave the door open for a Renner/Damon team up in which they battle Norton and other fascinating assassins. The Bourne series has been defined by its ability to excel and influence. I really hope that they continue making movies about this world.

The Bourne Legacy is a lean, intelligent and a fantastic addition to a successful and influential trio of films.

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