The Bourne Legacy

Though it’s not a terribly memorable or distinguished film, I’m rooting for The Bourne Legacy to do well for one reason: Jeremy Renner. In movies since 1995, Renner first got on my radar with 2002’s Dahmer, in which he turned in a strangely affecting performance as the Milwaukee Cannibal. It took him a few more years, but Renner finally grabbed another lead — and an Oscar nomination — with 2009’s The Hurt Locker. After a couple of support gigs in blockbusters (Mission Impossible: Ghost Protocol and The Avengers), is Renner ready for his close-up? I certainly hope so. Renner has a quiet alertness, a sense of serenity, and a general air of mystery; he gets us to lean forward a bit to access him. He’s physically convincing in action scenes, emotionally persuasive elsewhere. Unless America is really that stuck on Matt Damon in the Bourne franchise, I see no reason that Renner’s work here shouldn’t make him a star.

The movie he’s in needs him badly but just barely deserves him. Directed by Tony Gilroy, who had a hand in the other Bourne screenplays, The Bourne Legacy follows Renner as another super-agent, Aaron Cross, who is marked for death along with several other agents when Jason Bourne (in The Bourne Ultimatum) blows the whistle on the CIA. Cross goes on the run, scooping up scientist Dr. Marta Shearing (Rachel Weisz), who narrowly escaped assassination herself. Cross takes green and blue “chems” to keep his physical and mental abilities at peak efficiency; he’s almost out of chems, and he thinks Dr. Shearing can get him more.

The first half hour or so is intriguing, with Cross hiking and climbing in Alaska and not speaking until well into the movie. After a while, though, The Bourne Legacy turns into an extended chase sequence; Cross and Dr. Shearing make a beeline for Manila, where the chems are, while various CIA goons, headed by an increasingly frantic Edward Norton, try to track them down. I don’t know that I buy Norton as a retired Air Force general turned CIA black-op supervisor — he just seems too young — but he brings clarity and urgency to his role, never letting us catch him playing evil. He’s a guy trying to keep a lid on a boiling-over pot.

The action is comfortably small-scaled and tastefully staged, though the climactic motorcycle chase drones on for so long it becomes an irritant — past a certain point I just wanted Cross’s stoic pursuer to drive off a cliff, or suddenly convert to pacifism and give up, or anything that would make it stop. Gilroy, who also directed Michael Clayton and Duplicity, is better with mood and performance than with action; as if to compensate for not having a big special-effects moment, he lets the set pieces overstay their welcome. The style is a lot calmer than that of Paul Greengrass, who directed the two previous Bourne films with a jittery camera that evoked immediacy but also provoked headaches. Gilroy’s action has more solidity — it’s better centered — but it lumbers a bit.

None of this can be blamed on Renner, or Weisz either — she’s quite convincing in her post-traumatic scenes following the first of many attempts on Dr. Shearing’s life. The Bourne Legacy has an interesting if underused supporting cast, including Scott Glenn, Stacy Keach, Zeljko Ivanek, and various leftovers from previous films, like David Strathairn, Joan Allen, and Albert Finney (all of whom may only be represented by recycled footage — I’m not sure, since I haven’t watched any of the other films again since they first came out). A lot of acting firepower is in service of a side story, the story of what was happening during Bourne Ultimatum, which led me to think: Did Jason Bourne know he was dooming various other operatives when he outed Operation Blackbriar and the Treadstone Project? If so, did he care? I can imagine a fifth film in which a vengeful Aaron Cross goes looking for the guy who consigned him to a life on the run.

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