‘Jason Bourne’ gets closer to the chaos and danger of real-life protest
Hell-bent and mercurial as ever, the latest “Jason Bourne” film is a news clip on amphetamines. Fictional intrigue is woven into real-world drama so that riots in Athens pulse with both Hollywood escapism and the kind of gritty, detailed images that flash on CNN in the hours before a government collapses or a dictator scurries away on a helicopter.
The cleverness and conceit of “Jason Bourne” is how in one scene it uses the Greek financial crisis to suit its visceral whims. In a sustained panorama of nearly seamless editing, Bourne (Matt Damon) appears like a mythological shape-shifter as the stirrings of revolt rattle the ancient capital. The momentum spirals from whisper to roar: placards, pumped fists, Molotov cocktails, police, tear gas, wounded protesters, water cannons, sirens, helicopter spotlights and pitched battles spreading through a city on the brink.
In a case of art imitating life, the scene took me back to 2011, when I covered the Egyptian revolution that erupted in Cairo’s Tahrir Square and engulfed the country. The sky popped with gunfire, songs and fireworks. Riot police moved in. Snipers perched on rooftops. The celebratory turned ominous as a crowd of tens of thousands — a fascinating and oddly seductive organism — bristled and swirled with the disparate agendas of revolutionaries, Islamists, soldiers, parents, students and government-hired thugs.
A protest is an arcing narrative broken into subplots. It can surge into stunning moments of violence and then go hushed. It is scented with sweat, blood, burning tires and vinegar-soaked rags to cut the sting of tear gas. Images and scenes are swift and fierce: bandaged men carried into mosques, boys cursing and hurling stones, barbed wire, barrels, tanks, palm trees aflame, bullet wisps, chanted slogans, the dead dragged to sidewalks and countless footsteps echoing down boulevards and alleys.
Recent documentaries, including Evgeny Afineevsky’s “Winter on Fire: Ukraine’s Fight for Freedom” and Jehane Noujaim’s “The Square,” about the Egyptian uprising, swept audiences into the smoke, fear, rage and danger of street protests. The movies resonated with the drama of a feature but rang with the air of authenticity; there were no actors, and real lives were at stake.
Watch the trailer for “Jason Bourne.”
By infusing documentary-style realism, “Jason Bourne” captured with multiple vantage points a crowd’s fury unleashed beneath the lights of the Acropolis. One senses the gods looking down with amused alarm. Director Paul Greengrass, centered by Damon’s train-like doggedness, summoned chaos with balletic restraint. (Unfortunately, the Las Vegas car chase toward the end is the overdone opposite, an endless screeching scourge.)
But the revolt in Athens — one can recall the not-too-distant past when Greeks protested for months as their prospects tumbled and their debt widened — was closer to the genuine thing than Hollywood often gets. Studios increasingly prefer the comic book to the complicated, careening light years from reality into parallel fantasy worlds and characters sheathed in titanium, Spandex and urethane. But “Jason Bourne,” which was No. 1 at the box office over the weekend, suggests that an unadorned man battling earthly forces can still be riveting.
It is hard for a feature film to sketch true the intricacies of wars, rebellions and other nation-altering moments. Something happens when the real is transposed through the dramatic. A bit of the soul and intimacy get lost. The lens can only distill so much; something needed lingers beyond the frame. The world’s traumas and conflicts are stubborn to the designs of art and are more powerful than a director’s vision or special effects gimmickry.
“Jason Bourne” reminds us, however, that it is possible for a few minutes in a long movie to get close to the authentic, whether it’s the Arab Spring, the anguish in Greece, the failed coup in Turkey, terrorism in North Africa or the withering war in Syria.
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