One of my favorite movies of recent times is The Bourne Legacy. People had low expectations for it, as Matt Damon was not aboard to reprise his title role in this fourth Bourne movie. They brought Jeremy Renner aboard as Aaron Small and with Rachel Weisz, the results were stunning. The last half hour was one of the best chase sequences I have ever seen.
Robert Ludlum invented Jason Bourne – I was a big Ludlum fan too. His books were formulaic, of course, even predictable. What I liked, however, was that every good guy was a potential bad guy, and there were no saints. Americans were not exceptions. In the world of spycraft, they were all shits.
When Ludlum died they kept his name alive using ghost writers, but the franchise jumped the tracks. Suddenly Americans were the good guys, and the books followed rote American stereotypes of world affairs. It became a bore-fest.
As well done as the Bourne Legacy was, there were two elements within it that challenge my willing suspension of disbelief. One was the world of journalism presented in the movie, where news reporters are honest people trying to find out what powerful people are doing. The other was a congressional committee sleuthing about trying to expose the shady world of “Treadstone,” the underworld black op intelligence program that sponsored Bourne and Small. The intel community, in the movie, fears journalists and elected officials.
What bullshit. In the real world, journalists are not curious and congressional committees operate only for show. Both are deeply infiltrated with moles.
Bob Woodward is the perfect example, the supposedly courageous journalist was but a Machiavellian agent in an intel operation to bring down the Nixon presidency. His boss, Ben Bradlee, was a CIA mole. The then-owner of the Washington Post, Katherine Graham, had a strange “suicide” in her own home that thwarted her husband’s efforts to divorce her and remove the Post from her control. Had Philip Graham not suicided, she would have been out.
This is her speaking in Langley in 1988:
We live in a dirty and dangerous world. There are some things the general public does not need to know and shouldn’t. I believe democracy flourishes when the government can take legitimate steps to keep its secrets and the press can decide whether to print what it knows.
She sounds a tad compromised, ya think? This perhaps has to do with that mysterious day when Phil came to her home to enjoy drinks and repartee before retiring to a room below to blow his brains out. Her notion that “democracy” requires secrecy is contradictory on its face, and not beyond reason, grant it. But her notion of accountability is more like the real world that Ludlum toyed with, where they are all dirty.
She was dirty, as were Bradlee and Woodward. That’s the country I’ve come to know so well, the one that is never portrayed in TV and movies. Instead (and sadly Bourne Legacy suffers from this flaw as well), movie and TV journalists are always honest and inquisitive, and politics magically operates without bribes, legal and not. Elected officials carry out their oaths. When they don’t, they are exposed by those pesky incessant annoyingly brave journalists.
It’s a fantasy, nothing more. But damn if Bourne Legacy does not grab my attention and hold it throughout (just as The Fugitive did twenty years ago – obligatory tribute to Harrison Ford to the right).