There is a close up of 69-year-old Tommy Lee Jones in an early scene of “Jason Bourne” that made me laugh.
At this stage of his life as a consummate character star, his face is one of the wonders of American cinema. In this particular close-up, it is a glowering mass of wrinkles, bumps, creases and blotches. The bags under his eyes are so large he looks as if he just packed them to take a slow boat to China.
Among the many things lost by dumbing everything down and infantilizing it whenever possible, was the movies’ general understanding of the glory of the human face, particularly the ugly, lived-in visage of the sort that Rembrandt, Ghirlandaio and El Greco loved to paint. Paul Greengrass so loves Jones’ face that he stuffs “Jason Bourne” with it.
Nor is that all. As that opening glower tells you (it varies only slightly as the movie proceeds), he’s one of the movie’s bad guys even though he’s playing the head of the CIA. A major CIA operative – who is called only “the asset” in the movie by Jones and Alica Vikander, his ambitious No. 2 – is the movie’s other bad guy of note. He’s played by Vincent Cassel, the French acting son of actor Jean-Pierre Cassel and another whose face is glorious and arresting in close-up: eyes like a hawk, a chin you could use as a writing utensil.
Jason Bourne is played by Matt Damon again for the first time in nine years. This, at 45, is an older Damon – beefier, more muscular, with a roughed-up face almost completely devoid of the old pretty boy. When we first encounter Jason Bourne, the self-exiled former CIA assassin has become a lost man who gets by in the world by knocking the jelly out of people in pickup street boxing (not quite bareknuckle; combatants are allowed to wrap a cloth around their fists.)
A little more age suits Jason Bourne. He looks tougher, meaner and more weary and conspicuously unconcerned by the damage he inflicts on others. The Bourne movies have always been Damon’s refuge from trivialized pretty boys and a few years look good on him. (They didn’t exactly hurt Sean Connery as the years piled up after “Dr. No.”)
The beautiful unlined faces of Julia Stiles and Vikander indicate that, as yet, their characters haven’t been hopelessly corrupted.
The director, as always with Damon’s Bourne, is Greengrass, a master of kinetics mixed with glowering close-ups (see ”Captain Phillips,” “United 93” and “Green Zone”). Trust me here, after a whole movie of people staring and glowering and being threatening or threatened, you might well conclude that a joke or two on the fly might have been welcome. A bit of demonstrated emotion, too.
It is all well and good that Greenglass is giving us the notion that there are people in the intelligence world who have effectively computerized themselves – people who have turned themselves into disposable machines in a struggle for dominance. It’s just not enough that throughout the whole movie we’re watching, as always, Jason Bourne working to uncover one of the deeper riddles of his identity. (What DID happen to Dad? He’s played by Gregg Henry, the actor so good as the buffooning presidential politician on “Scandal.” His face, in a couple of close-ups, has been roughed up so much, he looks as if Jones was sitting next to him in the makeup room and they were struggling for parity.)
At the same time, there’s a bigger mystery: A CIA Black Op called Iron Hand which is – guess what? – a surveillance program for everyone on earth run by the CIA. Coming right on the heels of the Russian Wikileaks disruption of the DNC, the timing of this movie is eerily perfect.
In its opening, we see Stiles in Iceland calmly and quietly performing a hack that is, we’re told, “as bad as Snowden.” I wish its fate had been a little bit clearer at the end but then I wish the bruising, rib- and groin-crushing fight scenes had been clearer, too.
The action scenes, nevertheless, are sensational, which is usually the case when Greenglass is running things. So is the movie’s tautness and unrelenting narrative drive.
There’s no CGI here, just massive SWAT tanks racing through the streets of Las Vegas bouncing ordinary traffic 30 feet into the air.
It may be rhetorical to call what happens in this thriller “thrills,” but there’s plenty of excitement in its pedal to the metal.
Checking back in with the bone-crunching, engine-revving saga of Jason Bourne was a very grand move indeed by Damon, Greengrass and Co.
3 stars (Out of four)
Title: “Jason Bourne”
Starring: Matt Damon, Alicia Vikander, Tommy Lee Jones, Vincent Cassels, Julia Stiles, Rez Ahmed
Director: Paul Greengrass
Running Time: 123 minutes
Rating: PG-13 for intense violence and action and some rough language.
The Lowdown: Jason Bourne tries to solve a riddle from his past and save the world from universal surveillance.