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A super-secret scientific program using the work of Dr. Marta Shearing (Rachel Weisz) in the depths of the American intelligence community is developing a genetics program to improve their field agents both physically and mentally. Several agents are being tested. One of them, Aaron Cross (Jeremy Renner) barely escapes death, the attack on him part of a dramatic shut-down plan by the senior ranks, led by ex-Air Force Colonel Eric Bayer (Edward Norton), to escape public scrutiny. The crisis had been triggered by a journalist (Paddy Considine) investigating the matter, working from leaked secret documents.

Review by Louise Keller:
The answer to the question on everyone's lips, whether the Bourne franchise works without Jason Bourne, is a resounding yes. Set in stunning international locations, The Bourne Legacy delivers a story with scale, thrilling action and an exciting new protagonist in Jeremy Renner as Aaron Cross, who fits seamlessly into the espionage reality originally created by Robert Ludlum. Rachel Weisz as Dr Marta Shearing, the bio-chemist involved in experimental and morally indefensible behavioural techniques is a great asset and putting her as a credible, feminine woman of substance with the ultimate tough guy, is a winning combination. Tony Gilroy, who wrote the screenplays for the three previous films in the franchise knows the texture of this fictional world exceedingly well and directs as well as collaborating with his brother Dan on the screenplay.

In a breathtakingly beautiful opening sequence shot in the Canadian Rocky Mountains, doubling for Alaska, we meet Aaron Cross in the freezing water by a waterfall. We have no doubts about his survival skills as he makes his way across the wolf-infested, snow-covered mountains. The bones of the plot begin to take shape as the camera shifts to different locations around the world, although at this point, much of the details fly over our heads. Edward Norton's Col. Eric Byer, the man behind the contentious, secret programs Treadstone and Blackbriar is calling the shots, and it is not until the scene in which a bio-chemist goes berserk on a shooting rampage, that the pieces of the puzzle start to fit together. Outcome, the behavioural science unit where agents are injected with viruses to promote higher pain threshold, greater strength and intelligence has to be shut down, irrespective of the fact that Aaron and Marta are collateral damage.

Superb editing by John Gilroy (Tony's brother) brings great pace to the film, exemplified in the astonishing action sequences. James Newton Howard's music score is suitably complex, enhancing, never overshadowing the narrative. Renner is the perfect action hero climbing up walls, cascading between them and leaping off rooftops. I found him more charismatic than his previous acclaimed roles in The Hurt Locker and The Town.

The tension builds from the moment Aaron and Marta and thrown together in a remote location in dramatic life-threatening circumstances and reaches its climactic peak during the thrilling lengthy chase sequence. It is here that Renner zigzags impossibly on a motor bike through chaotic traffic in Manila, Weisz hanging onto him for dear life. Watching Weisz's face through this sequence is a treat - her expression mirrored the emotions I was feeling, especially when she takes off her helmet en route - to use as a weapon. It doesn't matter that we don't know details of the manic local assassin hot in pursuit; this is edge of the seat, thrilling action. While the editing is crisp and fast, we never lose track of where we are, nor of the context in which the characters are found.

All the performances are excellent and the inclusion of Joan Allen, David Strathairn, Scott Glenn and Albert Finney from the previous films adds credence. Look out for Shane Jacobson (Kenny), who is terrific as the boss in the Manila high security lab, where the local workers are a sea of pale pink lab coats and hats. The Legacy the Bourne franchise has left proves to be one that has many more adventures to come. Ultimately the film relies on the charisma and credibility of Renner and Weisz, who deliver in spades on this well conceived and executed action-packed platform.

Review by Andrew L. Urban:
Bravely asking the audience to stick with it for the frustrating first half of the film, multiple Bourne screenplay writer turned director Tony Gilroy delivers a mixed bag in this 'extender' of the franchise. He knows the background and the elements only too well, and stays there. The internal organs of the American 'body espionage' are at war as one organ spreads its poison - and now in danger of being exposed, wants to kill off its evil brainchild, including all the agents who know about it. Such brutality used to be reserved for the Soviets in Cold War spy thrillers, but the new world order requires mainstream filmmakers to cast Americans as both goodies and baddies.

The opening section of the film, as it cuts back and forth between Aaron Cross doing some extreme mountaineering in the wilds of Alaska for reasons never given, and the various arms of his intel agency planning a shut-down, is frustrating and confusing - and unnecessary. It takes too long for us to get the hang of the story (or at least some general notion of it) which means we are not as invested as we should be, nor is the tension tight enough as a result.

I suppose it's a bit picky to complain about the keyboard-clatter of date and time stamps that pop up on the screen, but it signals a deeper laziness or lack of originality. All the same, Gilroy has a strong sense of drama and he mostly directs with a sense of urgency suitable to the genre. He is less well advised when it comes to the major, obligatory climactic chase sequence in the bursting streets of Manila. The talented cinematographer Robert Elswit (There Will Be Blood, Magnolia, The Town) has succumbed to the current fad of shooting fast chase and action scenes with as much camera movement as possible to add to the already zippy images, reducing them mostly to pictorial rubble.

The chase is also blighted by an absence of logic and credence: how and why do the Manila police descend en masse on our hero? Surely not on the orders of a US spook? It's left unclear.

The good bits: the grandeur of Alaskan wilderness is stunning and the location is superbly utilised. Renner makes a fine action star, and it doesn't matter whether he is a bomb disposal specialist or a secret agent on the run from his own people. Rachel Weisz is excellent as Dr Marta Shearing, the scientist working in the labs on the genetic scheme and becomes a central figure in the plot, and the secret hierarchy - such as Edward Norton, Stacy Keach, Donna Murphy - are all wonderfully credible, as is Sonnie Brown in a creepy role as specialist psych - with a gun.

There is a great little surprise in finding Aussie Shane Jacobson (of Kenny fame) playing Mackie, security manager at a Manila facility housing the most secret lab in the plot.

One of the film's best - but most chillingly relevant - scenes takes place in one room, a highly secured laboratory, where one of the scientists pulls out a gun and begins a killing spree. Well done, but its sole purpose seems to be to underline how playing with this science is dangerous. That's one of the natural domains of sci-fi, of course, and this film flirts with it.

The production team bristles with talent, from design and cinematography to music and the variety of locations, from Alaska and Washington to Manila, add to the film's scale.

Whether you are a fan of the Bourne franchise or not, you should see The Bourne Legacy as a matter of cinematic interest; you just may think you got your money's worth with 'the good bits'.

Published December 13, 2012

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(US, 2012)

CAST: Jeremy Renner, Edward Norton, Rachel Weisz, Stacy Keach, Donna Murphy, Albert Finney, David Strathairn, Oscar Isaac, Scott Glenn, Joan Allen, Paddy Consadine, Shane Jacobson

PRODUCER: Patrick Crowley, Frank Marshall, Ben Smith, Jeffrey M. Weiner

DIRECTOR: Tony Gilroy

SCRIPT: Tony Gilroy, Dan Gilroy (inspired by Robert Ludlum)


EDITOR: John Gilroy

MUSIC: James Newton Howard


RUNNING TIME: 135 minutes





DVD DISTRIBUTOR: Universal Sony Pictures Home Entertainment

DVD RELEASE: December 13, 2012

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