August 11, 2012

The Bourne Legacy

It's a bad movie with good moments. Jeremy Renner is a much more believable action hero than the academic-looking Matt Damon, who appeared in the first three Bourne movies. Renner looks like he could be the leader of a militia (I'm having flashbacks of The Hurt Locker, which I loved), and he's got a subdued temperament that provides occasional relief from this big, brutal, mechanical thriller.

The movie opens with Jeremy Renner wandering through snow-capped mountains somewhere in the Rockies. He's "gone rogue" and is on the run from his own government. Director Tony Gilroy cuts between scenes of Renner the Wilderness Man and scenes of high-security CIA wonks who are searching for him with their fancy computers, simultaneously conjuring up ways to combat a forthcoming newspaper story that will threaten them. Edward Norton heads these scenes, and he's perhaps as unappealing in this role as he was in Moonrise Kingdom. There's something utterly pathetic about his character: the runty, pencil-necked technophile who's pulling the strings from the safety of a computer desk and a cell phone. He's much more interesting in movies where he's portrayed as strong and threatening and vital, as in American History X. Here he seems like a younger version of the always slimy David Strathairn, who has a small role as another government guru.

There is one particularly disturbing scene of a gunman mowing through some scientists in a lab (where the heroine, played by Rachel Weisz, works as a researcher.) It's probably all the more frightening because these kinds of seemingly random outbursts of workplace violence have become so commonplace in real-life. There are several smashingly directed sequences, such as one scene where Weisz is accosted by agents in her own home, who are ostensibly there to question her, but who we later find out have far more insidious intentions.

The chase scene at the end is a good example of where The Bourne Legacy goes all wrong. It's the cinema of exhaustion. Motorcycles weaving through bumper to bumper traffic in downtown Minela, Phillipines, and somehow nobody important is seriously injured by the onscreen chaos. These are the moments in movies when you withdraw your emotional investment from the plot and the characters, partly because you can't really tell what's going on because of the editing, which cuts fast on purpose, probably to hide mistakes (either in logic or in execution).

Stacy Keach livens things up in Washington, briefly, with his particular brand of blowhard tough-guyness. He looks like a more macho version of Dick Cheney: the Dick Cheney who wouldn't accidentally shoot someone on a hunting trip. But Keach doesn't have enough screen time to save those scenes, which are virtually half the movie for the first hour, from their abject mediocrity. The banter between government officials is blandly written, badly worked out by the director and the actors, and shimmers with the falseness of self-importance.

It's only Renner and Rachel Weisz, who herself becomes a target of the government via her involvement in Renner's Outcome program (she was the one who, somewhat unwittingly, injected the spies with drugs that caused strange neurological and chemical changes inside them), who give this movie any appeal. Their scenes together are interesting enough to keep you from wanting to leave the theater. It's the Renner and Rachel Show by the end, at least until the chase scene, when the movie reverts to all the reliably dull cliches in the genre playbook.

Oscar Isaac shows up at the beginning of the film, when Renner is still on the lam in the Rockies, and he turns out to be a fellow "Outcome agent," holed up in an isolated cabin. Isaac is an actor who continues to deliver good performances in small roles, and it would be nice to see him land bigger parts. With Joan Allen, Scott Glenn, and Albert Finney (briefly). Written by Tony and Dan Gilroy.

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