Tag Archives: spy thriller

Review – Jason Bourne (12a) [2016]

Jason Bourne - title banner

Star Rating: 2.5/5

Director:

  • Paul Greengrass – Bloody Sunday, Bourne II-III, Green Zone, Captain Phillips

Cast:

Music Composer:

  • David Buckley – Blood Creek, From Paris With Love, The Town, The Boy Downstairs
  • John Powell – Bourne I-III, Paycheck, X-Men III, Green Zone, Rio I & II, How To Train Your Dragon I-III

In 2002, The Bourne Identity came out, starring Matt Damon as the titular character. Based on Robert Ludlum’s best-selling novel, audiences followed Jason Bourne, the CIA’s amnesiac, super-assassin find out who he was. The Bourne Identity was such a success, it was followed by The Bourne Supremacy (2004), The Bourne Ultimatum (2007) and The Bourne Legacy (2012), in which (strangely) Matt Damon/Jason Bourne was absent.

Jason Bourne (Matt Damon), having gone into hiding from the CIA, fights in (quasi-legal) bare-knuckle duels to make a living.

Jason Bourne (Matt Damon), having gone into hiding from the CIA, fights in (quasi-legal) bare-knuckle duels to make a living.

Now, nine years after Matt Damon last played the role, Jason Bourne is back in (the unimaginatively-titled) Jason Bourne. But after having found out (seemingly) all there was to know about his past, what new information could he learn? And, more importantly, does it make for worthwhile viewing?

Jason Bourne begins with Nicky Parsons (Julia Styles) hacking into the CIA and stealing files about Treadstone, the top secret project that Jason Bourne was part of when he first joined the CIA. Whilst hacking, Nicky finds out that Jason’s father, Richard, had a role in Treadstone. So, she goes to Athens and finds Bourne doing quasi-legal bareknuckle fighting for cash.

However, no sooner does Nicky tell Bourne that she has information about his father, the CIA are after them. Bourne now has to evade the CIA once more. Yet, at the same time, he must chase down the necessary people in the CIA who can answer questions about his father.

Jason Bourne is a typical Bourne film, just updated by the touching upon of how Wikileaks founder, Edward Snowden, and data-storing internet companies affect the workings of the CIA. Otherwise, the film has high-octane chases; some good chase sequences, the first of which is particularly well put together, occurring during an anti-austerity riot in Athens; some close-up, shaky-cam fight sequences; and several unexplained plot contrivances. All of which makes for fun viewing.

CIA Director Robert Dewey (Tommy Lee Jones) keeping close watch of his bent-forward protégé, Heather Lee (Alicia Vikander).

CIA Director Robert Dewey (Tommy Lee Jones) keeping close watch of his bent-forward protégé, Heather Lee (Alicia Vikander).

Yet, apart from that, there really is not much to Jason Bourne. If anything, this is a step-down from the standards previously set by the first three Bourne films. The directing and editing are awful. Part of the appeal of the original Bourne films was that the camera was so close, shaking and sufficiently cut that one felt like they were part of the fights. That happens again here and it is all right. But it is not all right for the camera to shake when there is no fight going on (seriously Paul Greengrass, invest in a tripod) or to cut fight/action scenes every second or so, as it makes one sick.

Also, viewers learn little we did not already know about the eponymous character… other than that Bourne is a doubly super-assassin. It is amazing (staggering in fact) that Bourne is still able to stay three steps ahead of his former masters, despite being out of the game for nine years. He has always been too good and too intelligent for his masters, but this time it is past the point of credulity since he has not been trained to understand and tackle the technology he is up against now. But, no, he understands how to use it and manipulate it just fine.

Perhaps, that is why all the cast look so unenthused. Matt Damon says little, but looks the part: tough and mean (then again, this could be Damon’s grumpy face at the prospect of facing another day of shooting). Alicia Vikander, for the first time in her stellar career, is badly miscast and unconvincing as the ambitious head of the cyber operations of the CIA. Her character’s motives are never clearly explained, which is half of the problem. The other half is that Vikander looks too young for her character’s role, and her character is too weak to be in the position Greengrass has put her in; especially, when compared to the similar role (and apt) Joan Allen played in Bourne II-IV.

The Asset (Vincent Cassel) trying to keep up with Bourne.

The Asset (Vincent Cassel) trying to keep up with Bourne.

The other characters of note in Jason Bourne are played by a grizzled, weather-worn Tommy Lee Jones (coming from nowhere to be the senior CIA man) and a scary, super-assassin played by Vincent Cassel (who is called The Asset. Yes, Greengrass and the other writers are so creatively bankrupt that they failed to give Cassel’s character a proper name or at least a fear-inducing codename.) Neither Jones’ nor Cassel’s performances are memorable, and (embarrassingly) Brian Cox and Karl Urban, respectively, played the exact same roles as they do in The Bourne Supremacy. As a result, one has a terrible sense of déjà vu watching Jason Bourne, and not in a good way.

All-in-all, Jason Bourne is an entertaining film, if an unnecessary addition to the Bourne series. The movie contains the standard tropes that audiences enjoy, plus Matt Damon is back. But the film adds nothing new to the franchise, and from the directing, to the acting, to the plot, to the general lack of imagination in the film, one cannot help but note that the movie is riddled with problems. What’s worse is that so much of Jason Bourne has been copied from other Bourne films. And there is no worse an insult to a sequel than for it to be deemed a poor imitation of its predecessors.

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Review – Spooks: The Greater Good (15) [2015]

Spooks - title banner

Star Rating: 3.5/5

Director:

  • Bharat Nalluri – Killing Time, The Crow, Spooks, The Player

Cast:

  • Kit Harington – Pompeii, A Testament of Youth, Seventh Son, Game of Thrones
  • Peter Firth – The Hunt For Red October, Pearl Harbour, Spooks, Risen
  • Jennifer Ehle – The King’s Speech, The Ides of March, Contagion, Zero Dark Thirty, A Quiet Passion
  • Tuppence Middleton – Cleanskin, The Imitation Game, Jupiter Ascending, War And Peace
  • Elyes Gabel – Game of Thrones, World War Z, A Most Violent Year, Scorpion
  • Tim McInnerny – Spooks
  • Eleanor Matsuura – Alan Partridge, The Love Punch, Residue, Burn Burn Burn
  • Michael Wildman – Family Affairs, A Bunch of Amateurs, Act of Godfrey, London Has Fallen
  • Lara Pulver – Spooks, True Blood, Edge of Tomorrow, A Patch of Fog
  • David Harewood – The Ruby In The Smoke, Homeland, Grimsby

Music Composer:

  • Dominic Lewis – Free Birds, The DUFF, The Player

When one watches a TV series from the beginning, one usually becomes emotionally invested in the characters. Whether it is Jack Bauer from 24, Homer Simpson from The Simpsons, the inbetweeners from The Inbetweeners, or the leading police officers from 21 Jump Street, viewers usually acquire affection (or disdain) for the characters, and normally they carry their sentiments on into the film adaptation(s) or spin-off(s). But what if one has not watched the TV series that a film is based on? Can one still enjoy the film to the same extent as if one had watched the show? Spooks: The Greater Good may give us an answer.

Harry (Peter Firth) convincing Will Holloway (Kit Harington), an ex-agent, to trust him and to rejoin M:I-5.

Harry (Peter Firth) convincing Will Holloway (Kit Harington), an ex-agent, to trust him and to rejoin M:I-5.

Spooks is based on the British TV series with the same title that aired between 2002-11 (although it was also called M:I-5 in some circles). The film is a spy thriller. At the start of the movie, Adam Qasim (Elyes Gabel), a terrorist wanted by US authorities, is in the hands of M:I-5. He is on his way to being handed over to the CIA in London when the vehicles driving him are attacked in a heist. Threatened with the deaths of agents in the streets, M:I-5 orders the agents to hand over Qasim to the armed attackers.

Now free, Qasim plans a terrorist attack on London. While M:I-5 looks for him and determines what he intends to do, Harry Pearce (Peter Firth) disappears. He is convinced that there is a traitor in M:I-5 who let Qasim free, and he re-recruits Will Holloway (Kit Harrington), an ex-agent, to help him find out who the traitor is.

Spooks is a solid espionage thriller. The film is quite grounded and beguiling with good acting and humorous dialogue. For one who has not watched an episode of Spooks the TV series, there are probably some subtleties that go unseen. But not seeing these does not make the film any less entertaining. Furthermore, the film is written in such a way that the allegiances (and rivalries) between key personnel in the upper echelons of M:I-5 are spelled out quite early on in the film. So, one should not have a problem understanding who is on whose side… until they switch sides, of course. But that happened in the TV series regularly, like in 24, and is also part and parcel of the spy genre in general. How much emotional investment in Spooks one needs prior to watching the film is debatable.

June (Tuppence Middleton), an M:I-5 agent, going in with a fellow agent to take out some terrorists.

June (Tuppence Middleton), an M:I-5 agent, going in with a fellow agent to take out some terrorists.

Yes, it may have helped to know what the shifty Harry Pearce, played well by Peter Firth, is like before going into the film in the same way it may have helped to watch The Simpsons on TV to appreciate what makes the blundering Homer Simpson so endearing before watching The Simpsons Movie. Similarly, watching Spooks the TV show may have helped to get to know supporting cast members played by Tim McInnerney and Lara Pulver. Both reprise their roles from the show well but are given little screen time during the movie (especially compared to Peter Firth’s character).

Nevertheless, for every actor reprising their character, there are a handful of new characters. Jennifer Ehle, Tuppence Middleton, Eleanor Masuura and, chiefly, Kit Harington were never part of the TV series. Suffice to say, all of them have a role in the film and add something different to the plot. Fans (and non-fans) of the show cannot have known these characters or anticipate their motives prior to the movie. This means that the film is going to deviate from the show and that whatever happened previously in the TV series is unlikely to be crucial.

Jon Snow... I mean, Will Holloway being the hero and using a gun to take out a foe instead of a sword.

Jon Snow… I mean, Will Holloway being the hero and using a gun, instead of a sword, to take out a foe.

Yet, if fans (and non-fans) are arguing over how alike Spooks the film is to Spooks the TV series, they are arguing over the wrong issue. How closely the film resembles the show pales in comparison to the problem of the film’s tone. Director Bharat Nalluri cannot make up his mind if he wants the film to be taken seriously, like Tinker Tailor Soldier Spy, or as a spoof, like Kingsman: The Secret Service. Bearing in mind the title of the movie reads and sounds close to ‘spoof,’ it may have been logical to make the film as a satire, as James Bond was pre-Daniel Craig. (Or maybe that conclusion is borne from not watching the TV series?) Either way, Spooks’ tone is confusing. Add in the (numerous) implausible plot twists and it is understandable that viewers get into a fuddle as to what sort of a film they’re watching.

Over-all, Spooks is an enjoyable spy thriller. It has been put together well enough to ensure that viewers who have not watched the TV series that preceded the movie are not worse off than those who did. The tone of the film may be puzzling and some of the Byzantine-like scheming makes no sense. However, Spooks: The Greater Good has got good acting, dialogue and intrigue, with semi-grounded action. Thus, like any film with such ingredients, Spooks is a decent movie and worth a watch.

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Review – The American (15) [2010]

Star Rating: 2/5

When one thinks of a spy film, the Bourne series, Munich and Salt spring to mind. Those movies were action packed and fast-paced; and in Salt, one at least watches Angelina Jolie wearing tightly fitted costumes and doing all kinds of interesting stunts and kicks. The American, on other hand, has little of these qualities; and George Clooney (From Dusk Til Dawn, Ocean’s Eleven, The Ides of March), playing the role of an American spy in Italy, fails to appeal to the audience in the same way that Matt Damon, Eric Bana and Jolie do in their respective films.

Clooney making out with Violente Placido at a picturesque and secluded stream.

In saying that, the director, Anton Corbijn (Control), has deliberately gone for a very different type of spy film relative to other recent movies within the genre. He has gone for an artistic film. One is forced to admire the beautiful Italian sceneries as well as tolerate the silence that dominates much of the film. The lack of dialogue in The American is reminiscent to Francis Coppola’s Lost In Translation. Consequently, there are numerous (and arguably pointless) scenes of Clooney alone, saying nothing. A lot of the time, the same is true when Clooney is with people. Questions asked to him are often left unanswered, which is poor-show from Corbijn.

Clooney, refreshingly, is not his usual charming self in The American. He cuts a sombre and lonely person throughout much of the film. Even in scenes when he is with people, like when he is with the priest having religious conversations or when he is with the escort/prostitute, Clara (Violenta Placido), Clooney is almost always distant, cold and unable to speak his mind. One imagines this could be indicative of spies in general: they can’t reveal their real jobs as that would most likely endanger their lives, their mission and their country. Occasionally, we see the paranoia that goes through the mind of a spy; for example, the constant look over the shoulder. But Clooney does not capture a spy’s paranoia as well as the actors in Munich do, which is a shame for him. That is not to say that Clooney does a bad job in this film. But devoid of a script, not to mention his smooth-tongue and amiable smile, he is not the same actor.

Clooney holding a rifle with a silencer as he practices his shooting accuracy.

Still, Clooney is one of the few bright spots in The American. (Other decent aspects include the gorgeous women he meets and sleeps with.) Irritatingly, the storyline, if there is one at all, has no context. Throughout the film, one wonders: why Clooney is in this small town in Italy; who he’s working for; who he’s targeting; and if he is an asset or a liability to his organisation. If the plot were fast-moving, Corbijn might have gotten away with this. But as it is slow, the movie is disinteresting and boring.

What’s more, The American is not especially entertaining. It does not matter how picturesque the Italian landscapes are or if some of the paranoia’s of being a spy are illustrated; a film’s first job is to entertain. Thus, Corbijn has let down Clooney as well as his audience.

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