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Thursday, August 9, 2012 - Page updated at 11:30 p.m.
'The Bourne Legacy' is a good backgrounder but lacks Matt Damon
By Moira Macdonald
Seattle Times movie critic
Matt Damon's Jason Bourne doesn't appear in Tony Gilroy's "The Bourne Legacy" (except in the odd photograph), but he haunts the movie like an especially slippery ghost. This is the fourth installment in the franchise based on Robert Ludlam's spy novels, the first directed by Gilroy (Doug Liman directed the first, Paul Greengrass the second and third; Gilroy was a writer on all three), and the first to feature a non-Bourne hero. In this film, it's as if the camera suddenly gets pulled far back, showing us the infrastructure around Bourne and his world. It's an interesting premise, but the problem is that you miss Bourne — and Damon.
The central character here is Aaron Cross (Jeremy Renner), created by Gilroy as a new hero when Damon (and Greengrass) left the series after the third film. Cross is Agent #5 in a Department of Defense program called Outcome, which trains agents for use in high-risk assignments as part of an elaborate, secret network. (Among his special skills: the ability, previously demonstrated by Damon, to be uncannily in the right place at precisely the right time, as if he just magically materialized there.) Their work, as program creator Col. Eric Byer (Edward Norton) reminds Cross, is "morally indefensible and absolutely necessary"; and the exposure of Bourne, late in the third movie, threatens to bring it all into the open.
It's an intricate and at times confusing plot, zipping from Cross in the Alaskan wild to government offices to the lab of Dr. Marta Shearing (Rachel Weisz), a glamorous researcher whose work involves monitoring the Outcome agents (building a superspy involves much science), and whose life is suddenly endangered because she knows too much. Off she and Cross race — to Manila, because "Bourne" movies require international travel, and to give Cross a chance to demonstrate his impressive passport-altering craft skills — trying desperately to stay alive.
Gilroy, who previously directed the excellent "Michael Clayton" and "Duplicity," seems not quite at home in the action-movie genre; the pacing in this "Bourne" isn't as gripping as the previous films, and I found myself wishing for fewer guns and more car chases. (There's only one good chase sequence, and you have to wait until the movie's two-hour mark for it.) And while Damon brought genuine charisma to the previous movies — he's a rare actor able to combine subtlety with action-movie chops — Renner is a steelier, less vivid presence. Weisz, as always, is moving and effective as Dr. Shearing's terror slowly builds, but she and Renner don't click the way Damon and Franka Potente did in the first film.
"The Bourne Legacy" is filled with nice touches — note how a photo of Joan Allen's CIA boss Pam Landy is seen in one scene on the wall, lit so that her eyes seem eerily hollow, like a corpse — but it's ultimately not quite satisfying. It's a quick, tense trip, rather than a thrill ride.
Moira Macdonald: 206-464-2725 or firstname.lastname@example.org
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