(2016, Paul Greengrass)
[3 out of 5 stars]
[Image courtesy of Universal Pictures]
I’m not usually bothered with shakycam. But during the very long action sequence showing the CIA tracking down Jason Bourne (Matt Damon) in Athens during a riot, I felt the pang of nausea and David Stratton’s voice in my head saying: “see what I mean”. It might have been the stomach medication I’m currently taking but I was ready to hurl my popcorn and boba tea at the screen. It took away my experience of the sequence because I barely understood what was happening and I just wanted to close my eyes. When I felt slightly better I began to examine whether the super quick cutting and the restless camerawork served any purpose. In short: no.
There were shots inside the CIA control room of agents watching the action unfold on their screens and the handheld camera would zoom in and fidget like it was being operated by an nine year-old kid who’s never held a camera before. During conversations and scenes of the agents working in their office, I found the technique really unnecessary. Doing that in the action itself makes sense but doing it in the environment of the control room does not and it would have been best filmed with steady medium and close-up shots to contrast the action in Athens.
In terms of shots on the ground, the camerawork made more sense and it made the action really dynamic. There were a wide variety of techniques employed from overhead shots to extreme close-ups. The mounted camera on the vehicle during a chase was really well done. The problem this time wasn’t the camerawork, it was the editing. Most shots rarely lasted for more than five seconds and there was a lack of choreography and rhythm with the way these shots are pieced together. The editors had to juggle multiple viewpoints from key characters: agents from the control room, Jason Bourne, Nicky Parsons (Julia Stiles) and the Asset played by Vincent Cassell. There was differentiation between the locations through the colour palette - shades of orange and brown in Athens and blues and blacks in the CIA - but when the shots are cut this quick it just amounts to a dizzying disarray.
After that action sequence in Athens, however, I was able to acclimatise to the jittery filmmaking. The globe-trotting, double crossing aspects of the story are familiar to anyone who’s ever seen a spy film but the actors who play in them have enough screen presence to elevate stock standard storylines.
Matt Damon is really fantastic and emanates such physical strength but balances that with the inner turmoil the character endures regarding his secretive past. The final fight scene between him and Cassell is a satisfying culmination of all the frustration Bourne has built up over the course of the story translating to a fantastically staged fight sequence. The sound mixing in this scene caused some flinching and wincing from the thwacks and the cracks as the two pummel each other.
I was particularly excited to see Alicia Vikander who plays a young agent who, maybe naively, makes herself responsible in bringing back Bourne. Her character is clearly there to help set up the next instalment in the franchise but at least we have something to look forward to. I am, however, not looking forward to more shaky cam. I’m getting old.