Movie reviews: Jason Bourne contains more action at the expense of character development

A boy comes of age in a struggling economy and spy Jason Bourne returns more machine than man

"Rock and roll is about taking risks," proclaims Brendan to his adoring younger brother Conor in Sing Street(PG13, 106 minutes, opens tomorrow, 5/5 stars).

Brendan's philosophy - a gentler version of the "burn out, don't fade out" motto - is taken to heart and drives the younger man to go for the girl out of his league, form a band and write his own songs instead of doing covers.

Dublin in the 1980s is a hard place for Conor (played with a winning swagger by first-time actor Ferdia Walsh-Peelo). The Irish economy is tanking and money woes are tearing apart his parents' marriage. Playing the bickering couple are Aiden Gillen from television's Game Of Thrones and Maria Doyle Kennedy, whose film career started in another quite different movie about struggling musicians, The Commitments (1991).

As a cost-cutting measure, Conor is moved from a private school to a public one, a cauldron of chaos run by the brutal Brother Baxter (Don Wycherley), who takes an instant dislike to the soft, artsy kid.

Matt Damon returns as superspy Jason Bourne; and actor Ferdia Walsh-Peelo (above, fourth from left) stars in Sing Street.
Matt Damon returns as superspy Jason Bourne; and actor Ferdia Walsh-Peelo (above, fourth from left) stars in Sing Street. PHOTO: SHAW ORGANISATION

Bit by bit, Conor grows up, mainly by falling in love - with the unattainable Raphina (Lucy Boynton); the music of Hall & Oates, A-ha, Duran Duran and Joe Jackson; and with the lads in his band who, like Walsh-Peelo, are mainly musicians acting for the first time.

Writer-director John Carney made two other films in which pop and rock do the job of dialogue and action - the Oscar-winning Once (2007) and Begin Again (2013).

But this is the most autobiographical of the three. What it lacks in the bigger-budget, star-filled polish that was Begin Again is compensated for in charm - there are irresistible levels of it in the downbeat Irish humour, in how the boys relate to one another and in how Conor stands up for himself in a world that wants to bring him down to its level.

Most transporting of all are the musical sequences, when the band play the songs that Conor and guitarist Eamon (Mark McKenna) bring them. These sequences, sometimes shot in the style of 1980s VHS video documentary, at other times as Technicolor fantasies, are like replays of the good times in the teenage life that you never had, but wish you did.

Matt Damon (above) returns as superspy Jason Bourne; and actor Ferdia Walsh-Peelo stars in Sing Street. PHOTO: UIP

Jason Bourne(PG13, 124 minutes, opens tomorrow, 3.5/5 stars) - the title, when paired with the shot of Matt Damon's face, is an unsubtle way of telling you that this is the original recipe, the Coke Classic, the real deal.

What you actually get is the old Bourne, retooled as the Dark Knight. The super-assassin is angrier, more angsty and about 200 per cent grimmer than the one left behind in what was thought to be the final Bourne picture, The Bourne Ultimatum (2007).

The new Bourne movie picks up some years after Ultimatum. Bourne, real name David Webb, wanders the earth as a vagabond warrior. Vengeance for the killing of his wife and the retrieval of his past before the Central Intelligence Agency's Operation Treadstone destroyed it have brought him no peace.


Former operative Nicky Parsons (Julia Stiles) relays to him a key piece of his past, one that brings him back into conflict with the CIA, in particular director Robert Dewey (Tommy Lee Jones), whose subordinate, the tech maven Heather Lee (Alicia Vikander), thinks she can bring Bourne in from the cold.

British director Paul Greengrass - who directed The Bourne Supremacy (2004) and Ultimatum - and the studio have upped the ante on visuals at the expense of story.

Three sprawling action setpieces dominate - one chase scene at a Greek austerity riot, a crowd panic sequence in London and the capper, a car chase involving dozens of crashes and flips, set in Las Vegas.

Bourne has always been an efficient killer, but the superspy is now more machine than man. He is almost a T-1000 cyborg from the Terminator series, perhaps as a consequence of trimming away character in favour of action.

Another element that has been amped up - and definitely not for the better - is Greengrass' penchant for rapid inter-cutting and documentary-style handheld cameras.

His much-copied jitter-cam technique is now applied at ridiculous levels. Nothing stays still for more than a couple of seconds and during the action scenes, the cuts flash by, registering as impressions instead of images.

The bones of the story are strong. Greengrass should have had the confidence in Damon, Jones and Vikander to allow them to tell it the old-fashioned way, by keeping the movement in front of the camera, not on the camera itself.

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on July 27, 2016, with the headline 'Tough cookies young and old'. Print Edition | Subscribe