Magazine article The New Yorker

Running Men

Magazine article The New Yorker

Running Men

Article excerpt

In "The Bourne Legacy," the screenwriter and director Tony Gilroy has given additional life to the restless franchise by coming up with a new running man, Aaron Cross (Jeremy Renner). Like Jason Bourne, Cross is an unstoppable black-ops hard-ass who defies his superiors and keeps on moving when they try to eliminate him--racing from continent to continent, across shantytown rooftops, through crowded marketplaces, down alleyways. He manages not to drive through the Alps (a favorite Bourne trip), but he humps over spiky Alaskan peaks on foot. Like Bourne, he's very quick: his body moves faster than our thoughts--he's always surprising us. As Jason Bourne, Matt Damon was lean; Jeremy Renner's strong torso is slightly rounded. He looks like a shotgun shell, well packed and deadly. Renner, who played the stolid bomb defuser in "The Hurt Locker," likes to do his own stunts, here including a bruising, vertiginous downward slide between two adjacent walls. (He lands on a bad guy.) A new hero has been launched. But is Renner a star? I'm not so sure.

"The Bourne Legacy" has some fine, violent set pieces, including the longest motorcycle chase in the history of wheels; the movie is basically enjoyable, but it avoids the continuous motion of the previous two films ("The Bourne Supremacy" and "The Bourne Ultimatum"). In those movies, the director, Paul Greengrass, working with the cinematographer Oliver Wood, relied on a handheld camera, always on the move, which caught little pieces of action (a scowling face across the street, a body crashing through a window)--fragments that were then edited into an impression of spatial unity. Greengrass perfected a mood of harried realism and breathless paranoia. Those of us who weren't altogether confused by the two movies were left frazzled and exhausted, but satisfied. Tony Gilroy, however, who worked on the earlier movies as a screenwriter, never hid his distaste for Greengrass's work, which tended to shred his words.

After "Ultimatum," two new screenwriters attempted to write another "Bourne" movie for Greengrass, but he disliked both scripts, and he walked away, taking Matt Damon with him. The task of keeping the franchise alive fell to Gilroy, who wrote the new film with his brother, Dan, and directed it. This time, the characters occasionally sit down and engage in conversation. The cinematographer--Robert Elswit, who shot Gilroy's directorial debut, "Michael Clayton"--favors a stable camera and an easily readable frame. Elswit may even have put the camera, now and then, on a tripod. The world has slowed--slightly.

In an age of movie magic, the "Bourne" series, even at its most accelerated, stuck to grounded action. Gravity mattered in all three films; stunt men, falling earthward, were more central than pixels. And you might say that Jason Bourne himself is a man looking for some solid turf to stand on. His identity has been wiped clean by the C.I.A.; he retains his lethal instincts, but he doesn't know who he is. Adapted from Robert Ludlum's lugubriously written novels, the plots may have been nonsense, but Bourne was the kind of hero--homeless, haunted, alienated from everyone, even from himself--who revived some of the last century's most resonantly forlorn themes. Bourne was existential man in extremis--melancholy and obsessed, a fellow who could define himself only in violent action. He becomes a threat to the C.I.A. when his guilt and rage over what he's done as an assassin lead him to expose the secret operations--Treadstone and its successor, Blackbriar--that he was part of.

Tony and Dan Gilroy have linked their movie to the franchise in a way that I've never seen before. The beginning of "The Bourne Legacy" runs concurrently with the end of "Ultimatum." Bourne, as he did in the last film, shows up in New York. We don't actually see him in "Legacy," but we see scenes, repeated from "Ultimatum," of the C.I.A. panicking over his presence--David Strathairn, as an agency honcho, running around in a sweat, shouting orders. …

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